Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Lebanese idiosyncrasies 2: “the Opposition”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/10/2006

In most countries, the political meaning of the word opposition is quite obvious. It refers to the parties that are not in government. This definition could be described as a formal or institutional definition of what an opposition is.

In Lebanon, things are more complex and the word opposition could refer to parties that are part of the government and parties that are not represented in parliament. We speak of “parliamentary opposition” and “non parliamentary opposition”. Moreover, some parties represented in government are sometimes called the opposition. Through this qualification, we discover a more literal non-institutional definition for opposition. A party or individual can be deemed part of the opposition even when he belongs or is represented in the government if he opposes the government’s policies or the political position of the majority of ministers in government (or of their political group). This rather odd usage and definition of ‘opposition’ is made possible by the fact that governments in Lebanon are of the broad coalition type and that there is no real solidarity between their members. When ministers disagree with a decision taken by the executive they hardly ever resign. They sometimes boycott cabinet meetings for weeks or even organise mass rallies against that policy.

Some examples:

The “Christian opposition” (2000-2005)
During the Syrian mandate over Lebanon, most of the Christian parties and movements (such as the Kataeb base, the National Bloc, the National Liberal Party, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic movement) were referred to as the Christian opposition. They were generally considered as truly representative of the Lebanese Christian population but none of them was represented in government or parliament. Some individual Christian parliamentarians considered themselves as being part of this opposition, such as Nayla Mouawad, Mansour el-Bone, Pierre Gemayel, Boutros Harb, Farès Souaid, Nassib Lahoud, Antoine Ghanem and Salah Honein. But Salah Honein for instance was part of the Druze strongman Walid Joumblat’s “Democratic Gathering” bloc that was represented in government by several ministers. Following the 2000 parliamentary elections, the Maronite church set up a common platform for the Christian opposition. This platform regrouped parties, political forces and individuals whether they were represented in parliament or not. This “Christian opposition” came to be known as the Kornet Chehwan Gathering (by the name of the town where the platform used to meet).There was a debate at that time over this qualification. What were they the opposition of, Hariri’s government or Syria? Some had good ties with Syria, many were very critical of the Syrian handling of Lebanese affairs while others called for an immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Furthermore, some where hostile to Hariri’s government while others were close or part of parliamentary blocks represented in government.

The “Shiite opposition” (2006)
For over a year now, many journalists and some politicians refer to Amal and Hezbullah as the opposition, which is quite surprising considering they were part of the electoral coalition that won the parliamentary elections in 2005 (Amal-Hezbollah-Future Movement-Progressive Socialist Party-Kornet Chehwan) and they hold five portfolios in the current government. But one has to recognise that these political parties have had a very disconcerting behaviour, they boycotted cabinet meetings for over a month and one of them has organised an anti-government protest.But does make them an opposition force? I don’t think so. It just shows the lack of solidarity among the ruling coalition. I believe we should stick to an institutional definition because these parties are still part of the cabinet, they still have their portfolios and they are still collectively responsible towards Parliament for the actions of their government. Any other qualification makes them unaccountable for their acts.     

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