Coalition government building 101 (the problem)
Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/09/2009
Most analysis I have read on the cabinet formation process is marked by a particular model, that of majoritarian western systems. The approach is quite simple. After labelling the March XIV® coalition (and gluing to it Walid Joumblatt’s Democratic Gathering withstanding his extremely public departure) as the majority, the analyst expects the Prime minister designate to act as the French President, the British Prime Minister or the American President: swiftly put together a cabinet, with the generous option of integrating ministers belonging to the Opposition® as he deems fit.
One would have expected Lebanon’s consociationalists to react to such an approach, but they have been rather discreet lately. They’re probably bothered by the fact that consociational theory and analysis doesn’t exactly fit with their current political preferences. This is particularly true of Antoine Messarra, the co-founder (with Theodor Hanf) of the Lebanese consociational school.
Now let’s set aside our assumptions and normative stands, and look at reality’s ugly face. So today, we’ll first look at who we are, and who we resemble. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking into the challenges that any Prime Minister designate will face in forming a government given our political system and the political conjoncture.
- Our society is divided along many lines (regional, social, confessional). Of late, four political groups have succeeded in transcending all lines except one; mobilising “their” communities behind them (Amal-Hezbollah mobilises the majority of Shiites, Mustaqbal mobilises the majority of Sunnis, Ishtiraki mobilises the majority of Druze). Moreover, this extreme mobilisation was facilitated by a regional polarisation between Sunnis and Shiites that was locally fed instead of being neutralised. Each side has its weapons: Hezbollah is fully armed and operational; Mustaqbal holds the financial weapon (without its support, the Lebanese economy will be crippled and would certainly collapse).
- Our political system is extremely complicated. Its rules are an odd mix of jacobine republicanism and ottoman communalism. And these rules are circumvented by the dominant political groups, most importantly the Quadripartite Oligarchy (Amal, Hezbollah, Mustaqbal, Ishtiraki) and its junior partners (Marada, Murr, Kataeb, Lebanese Forces, Democratic Party… and probably the FPM if given the time and the opportunity, only time will tell). Historically, the Lebanese army has on three occasions circumvented the constitutional rules (during the presidency of Fuad Chehab, Charles Helou and Emile Lahoud) but seems rather put for the time being.
- The political conjecture is extremely complex. Behind the two labels March XIV® and Opposition®, we find two composite coalitions grouping rival parties with distinct ideologies, interests, constituencies and regional allies. Since the departure of Walid Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering from March XIV®, the two coalitions have roughly the same size. What complicates matters even further are these four constraining factors:
- the great mistrust between the two main pillars of each coalition (Mustaqbal, Hezbollah)
- the decision of these two pillars to participate in the next government (so as to secure their interests and outlook).
- the fact that their decision to participate in the government cannot be ignored, because of the mobilisation of their respective communal group behind them, their international alliances and their respective weapons (financial for one, military for the other).
- the solidarity each pillar has shown toward the members of his coalition, especially its Christian junior partners (that give them a trans-communal dimension): FPM (and its christian allies), Lebanese Forces, Kataeb.
So forget about the US, France or the UK. You can’t expect our democracy to function like theirs. If you want to compare our situation to that of another country, learn from their experience, see what mechanisms they have devised to facilitate or accelerate the process of government formation, look elsewhere: to Belgium, to Israel, to Northern Ireland. That’s what we’ll do tomorrow.