Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Government formation… find the hoax?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/11/2009

In a previous post, we caught a glimpse of the most obvious hypotheses surrounding the delay in the cabinet formation. You’ll find in the table below a short calendar of the process. I should have taken the time to include a brief summary of the regular “forecasts”, remind me to do it next time.

Instead of looking into each of the hypothesis (or accusations) enumerated before, let’s divide them into four categories of problems: those that derive from foreign meddling, those that are imbedded in our institutions, those relating to our political class, and those that stem from our society. Instead of boring you with details, I’ll just pin point the problem and propose some solutions:

I. Foreign Meddling

I personally think this dimension of the crisis is overestimated. Sure, foreign powers interfere in our political life. And they’re neither ashamed nor discreet about it. Ambassadors visit high ranking politicians in their homes, others invite coalition members to meetings… They hold press conferences in which they assess governmental policies, some foreign ministers do it too. They equally sponsor many politicians and support their policies in many effective  ways. But claiming that the birth or the delay in the formation government is due to foreign meddling says more about our politicians, our elites and our institutions than anything else.

Following the formation of the government, Jumblatt borrowed Berri’s expression and said that it was the “Sin-Sin” (for Saudi Arabia and Syria).  The cartoon above expresses pretty much the same thing. This attribution of paternity is very courteous of them, but no one says how this actually happened. Did one power or the other block the formation of the government during summer? Did one power or the other pressure the party it supports to higher the stakes or to make concessions, to hurry or to dally? No one seems to have an answer to those questions. So it’s not a very serious hypothesis to work on. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing something about this foreign meddling in our affairs.

II. Institutional shortcomings

Many claimed that the constitution doesn’t provide the deadlock breaking mechanisms needed to facilitate the formation of the government. This is certainly true. The constitution doesn’t offer any any explicit rules for the game, any timeframe, any arbitration mechanism in case of dispute. But constitutions usually do not offer those things. The formation of the government is left to politics, not to law. And the reason is pretty simple. The formation process is contingent on the political situation: how many parties are envolved, how closer or far from each other they are, what are they priorities… As these elements are never the same it is quite difficult to imagine a rule that is custom-made  to solve a particular problem in the governmental formation process could turn out to be ineffective in the formation of a following government or worse, complicating.

So I have two mutually exclusive proposals:

– Find (or establish) an institution to arbitrate between the negotiating parties: my guess is that the President of the Republic should do it. And he doesn’t need any new attribution to do that. Michel Suleiman obviously lacks the competence to do that. He did nothing to facilitate the formation of the government. But I hope we’re not destined to have weak and unskilled presidents (. But another possibility would be giving the possibility to MPs to seize the Constitutional Court and have them arbitrate on the rules under dispute (by far my least favoured option though).

– Insert a provision in the constitution that if the Prime Minister designate fails to form a government in the month following his appointment, another round of consultation should be made to select another Prime Minister who will have two weeks to form a government. If the designated person fails to do that the President can either call for new elections or better, appoint a cabinet for a period of one year that will follow the rules of a presidential system that will organise parliamentary elections before its dismissal.

III. Complexity of the  political game

As we have noticed before (and a glimpse at the table below will confirm that), the political class agreed on many points from the onset. This in itself is quite striking and unexpected. Only a couple of “principles” were still disputed. But instead on working on tackling them, each side stuck to its ideas. Sure it was a difficult case of “squaring the circle” (integrating Michel Aoun and Michel Suleiman into the quadripartite oligarchy’s arrangements). But instead of working on those problems, the political class engaged in sterile polemics.

At first, I wanted to call this paragraph the “defects and failures of our political class”, but I realised that the political class fared quite well in adverse conditions. Its only mistake was to keep the negotiations secret and have their lieutenants engage in sterile polemics that only got expectations higher within each camp’s popular base.

My recommendation: keep it all public (especially the negotiations), and agree on an arbitrator. In principle, the President could have done that job (he is weak enough so as not to threaten anyone), I’m not sure that in practice he has the skills for that.

IV. Encampment of our civil society

Now here’s the least covered dimension of the political crisis, and certainly the most important one. Every single person is admonished to make a choice. People close to  the self-titled “Opposition” will demand you to choose between “Loyalist” or “Opposition”. Those who are closer to the self-proclaimed “March XIV” will command you to declare yourself “March 8th” or “March 14th”. What is absurd in this situation is that both groups are extremely heterogenous and the only real meaning of adherence to one is the opposition to the other.

Solution? the mechanism behind this bipolarisation is extreme mobilisation. And the agents of this mobilisations is the Media. In order of guilt: Television, Press, Radio, Internet. So what can be done about it? Well, start by asking  Tarek Mitri to do his job (something he hasn’t been doing since 2007 when he neglected his ministry to play the role of Siniora’s personal ambassador) and tackle the issue of the Media in Lebanon. What can be done to free it from the clutch of our political and patronage networks (or at least leave a space for those who are not part of that).

Date Évènement Commentaire
7 juin Les Libanais élisent leurs députés
8 juin Le ministre de l’Intérieur proclame les résultats officiels Aucun retard
25 juin Nabih Berri est élu Président de la Chambre des députés par 90 députés Retard injustifié puisque soutient assuré d’une majorité de députés
27 juin Le Président de la République désigne Saad Hariri Premier Ministre sur proposition de 86 députés Points d’accord, de dispute et d’achoppement déterminés. Polémiques médiatiques. Négociations entre Zu’ama en « secret » Vacances d’été des politiques (juillet-août) + Ramadan & Eid (22 août-22 sept.)
9 sept. Saad Hariri propose une liste gouvernementale au Président Suleiman, sans consulter ni les membres de sa  coalition ni les membres de la deuxième coalition.
10 sept. Saad Hariri jette l’éponge
16 sept. Le Président de la République désigne à nouveau Saad Hariri sur proposition de 73 députés Retard injustifié puisque soutien assuré
6 nov. Réunion Nasrallah, Berri, Aoun, Frangié exprime son accord avec la nouvelle proposition de Hariri  (distribution des portefeuilles et liberté de choisir les ministres). 133 jours pour se mettre d’accord sur les règles du jeu.
9 nov. Le Président de la République promulgue en accord avec le Président du Conseil des ministres le décret de formation du gouvernement 3 jours pour la nomination par chaque force politique de ses ministres avec négociations tendues entre Mustaqbal et Kataeb.

5 Responses to “Government formation… find the hoax?”

  1. Qifa Nabki said

    WL

    Great work. Really enjoyed this post.

    BTW, you may want to be a little careful about commenting on the President’s competences. He recently invoked his executive privilege to sue someone who had criticized him in an editorial.

    This is, after all, the Arab world.

    • Thanks QN. I’m glad u liked it.
      As for the lawsuit, I don’t have much time for such monkey business, but what the heck! one should be ready for a few sacrifices. But I’m not sure these laws have already been applied to the net.
      Do you have more details about the editorial Suleiman disliked?

  2. lsr said

    Thank you for the great and interesting analysis (as always)

    By the Way – not just the Arab world – anywhere the government can get away with it (ie: everywhere) there is an attempt at population control – after all that is what politics is all about…

    (I did not forget about the other post – still working on it – it deserves a proper response)

    • you’re probably right Isr, but in Lebanon, it’s not the government that is doing it, it’s a bunch of networks that usually coordinate with each other so as to control key sectors of the economy. From abroad, people only see the rivalry between them. But at a closer look, the cooperative dimension is quite prevalent. In the media sector it is quite obvious (especially the television and radio sector). Interestingly enough, the controlling networks co-opted the maverick leader by granting him a Television and a Radio at a time when he had no ties with any of them.

  3. PN said

    This is an excellent post WL.

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