Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Something fishy about the cabinet formation process

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/09/2009

96667988211Hariri Jr has replaced several of his political aids during the past few months with new ones. But he seems to remain rather ill advised. How can you explain his recent move?

1- He informs the President of the new draft he has prepared (in accordance with the 15-10-5 formula).
2- He doesn’t inform neither his electoral allies nor his electoral “rivals” of how he allocated the seats.
3-The composition of the proposed cabinet is leaked to the press.

Such an approach is unheard of in the history of coalition governments. It comes closer to how things are done for the composition of a majority government in which an undisputed leader (usually a president, but sometimes a chancellor or Prime Minister) chooses who (s)he wants for whatever position (s)he wants within the ranks of his/her party (or even another one if (s)he so chooses, like we have witnessed recently in France and the US). So how could Saad Hariri have mistaken these two approaches? How didn’t he predict that his rivals and allies would both reject this approach?

There are two possibilities:

  • either he failed to predict an obvious outcome, which can only mean that he is incompetent, imprudent and badly advised. Let’s go beyond the accusations and see why this could be the case.
    • Father image. Rafik Hariri used to do the same consultations, hear each party out (including the Syrian authorities who used to impose on him their requests), and then decide on a composition and hand it out to the Syrian authorities who informed their allies, heard their complaints and then arbitrated between the disagreeing sides. This system pleased everyone and was highly effective. The composition of governments were not a problem. The Syrians had their way and Rafic Hariri could play the Sultan even though he received a couple of humiliating bows on the way. Saad Hariri is replicating his father’s behaviour. But he know that times had change and that there is no longer a powerful arbitrator. But does he believe that this enables him to play the Sultan, like his father?
    • Misreading of the political situation. Could each camp believe all the nonsense it is producing to feed its public? This is quite possible. We know authoritarian regimes suffered from that because their press had no independence whatsoever, indulged in its biased opinions and invested a lot of time in flattery & political overbidding. Even though Lebanon is far from being autocratic, the function of the press is quite similar to the one found in authoritarian regimes, only instead of working for the Regime, they work  for (or take sides with) a leadership or camp.

  • or he expected such a reaction, which can only mean that his proposition wasn’t a serious proposition, it was just a bargaining manoeuvre or chip. Now why did he do it?
    • to test his allies and rivals. But is that really necessary? It is quite obvious that both camps lack cohesion and the christian leadership lacks discipline (on either side of the divide). Michel Aoun’s reaction was expected and so was the Kataeb’s and the Lebanese Forces’.
    • to test the cohesion and solidarity within each camp (i.e. the Opposition® and the former March XIV®). But did Saad Hariri really need to do that? It is quite obvious that the camps are composite, and each part wants to prove its autonomy, but hardly anyone is willing to break away.
    • to win time. But why does he need to stall? what is likely to change to his benefit? On the interior scene, there are no signs of change. On the regional scene, there are very little signs of change, and even if a change happens, several political actors are independent enough to resist change or even shift “regional” alliances.
    • to push the negotiation forward. OK, let’s suppose that this is the case, in what direction is such a move likely to modify the negotiations? Could Saad Hariri want to go toward a “majority” government. He can’t do that without a strong Shiite ally. The Shiite community and its leadership wouldn’t allow it (no community will accept to be sidelined unless it is forced militarily to accept its marginalization, which was the case of the Christian community under the Syrian “mandate”). Saad Hariri knows it, Amal knows it and Hezbollah knows it: even if the March XIV® press & pundits hammer otherwise. So he’ll go back to working on a “national unity” government. No chip has changed hands, but each camp’s public and “opinion maker” is well inflamed. This is certainly the only outcome of the “proposal”, so could it be its only objective?
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