Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Berri returns! How many sequels can we take? (part 2)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/06/2009

5 good reasons why Nabih Berri shouldn’t return.

  1. Nabih BerriAccountability: Nabih Berri’s record as Speaker is to say the least unsatisfactory. It is quite dismal by any democratic standard. Moreover, he has completely subverted the lebanese political system by confusing three positions, two of which are contrary to basic legal & constitutional principles: that of Speaker, that of chief employer of Shiites within the public administration, and that of senior partner in government (inventing two institutional heresies: the Troïka and the Dialogue Table).
  2. Political alternation:  4 terms and 17 years in the same position is more than enough. I think we’re breaking world records here.
  3. Majority rule principle. In a parliamentary democracy, the Speaker is chosen by the majority group in parliament amongst one of its MPs. There is no reason for this to be different in a consociational systems such as Lebanon. Up to now, the Speaker has always been chosen amongst the ruling parliamentary coalition. From 1992 to 2006, Nabih Berri was certainly the highest ranking Shiite figure within the ruling coalition. But this came to an end when the ministers representing him in government resigned on november 11th 2006. Since then, it’s only normal for the parliamentary majority to choose a Speaker within its own ranks
  4. National representation principle. Even though the Speaker’s position is reserved for members of one community (namely the Shiite community), this doesn’t mean that the Speaker must be representative of the Shiite community and chosen among that community’s largest political groups. The rule within parliament is that even though all seats are reserved for members of communities, MPs represent the nation and not their communities.
  5. Consociational power sharing principle: The Speaker is the highest office (according to protocol) a Shiite figure can reach, in the very same way the Premiership is the highest office a Sunni can attain or the Presidency the highest office a Maronite can reach… But this doesn’t mean that these positions should be granted to the most popular political figures within each respective community. The Presidency, for instance, has hardly ever been filled by the most popular (or representative) political figure within the Maronite community. Quite the contrary: The Maronites preferred Emile Eddé to Bechara el-Khoury, Camille Chamoun to Fuad Chehab, Pierre Gemayel to Suleiman Frangieh… and the list goes on. But that never stopped Parliament from electing the less favoured Maronite candidate to the Presidency. According to the Lebanese consociational principles, Nabih Berri cannot be discarded as a senior partner in government, because he enjoys the backing of his community and all the Shiite MPs except two (Mustabal’s Ghazi Youssef & Okab Sakr). But his candidacy as Speaker can certainly be vetoed by the parliamentary majority. So why isn’t it?

The 5 bad reasons why Nabih Berri will return!

  1. 128891335824593314.jpgClientelistic  pragmatism. Nabih Berri is part of the ruling quadripartite oligarchy. He has controlled the largest number of nominations within the public administration and State managed services, most of them belonging to the Shiite community. This makes him one of the largest patrons within the State. He can single handedly cripple public services (in the same way Saad Hariri can single handedly cripple the economy if he is left aside).
  2. Political pragmatism. Preserving the status quo is the least costly position for the ruling oligarchy. If March XIV deprives Nabih Berri of the office he has taken possession of (and come to be identified with), he will surely extract a very high political price for his continued cooperation.
  3. Political gamble. March XIV has been betting publicly on a break-up of the Amal-Hezbollah political duopole over the Shiite community. Some of March XIV’s political figures claim that this will happen under the right geopolitical circumstances (break up of the Syrian-Iranian alliance, Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, Israeli-Syrian peace talks…). Others believe in the carrot and stick strategy in which Amal and its leader are rewarded each time they distance themselves from Hezbollah. Others hope that the clashes between Aoun and Berri will strain relations within March VIII.
  4. Misreading and manipulation of Lebanese consociational democracy. The Lebanese political system is based on two conflicting principles: that of communalism and jacobine republicanism. These two principles are very cleverly balanced in our system through well defined rules and principles, but unfortunately the public ignores this and politicians tend to manipulate these rules to serve their purpose.
  5. Clever positioning. Nabih Berri masters the art of positioning, in the same way Walid Jumblat does. He doesn’t need any international or regional backing. He positions himself in a way to profit from everyone, give only what is not his, and take all that he can.


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