Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Lebanese IPBs: Informal political bodies

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/06/2011

On Monday, the Lebanese Presidential palace announced the formation of a new government. The following day, the two political groups that were the most affected by the governmental change convened: The Future Movement called its MPs, the Free Patriotic Movement called its Ministers… These two parties were undoubtedly entering a new phase in their history. One formation convened a fragment of the parliament while the other convened a fragment of the government, each to comfort its new role, respectively that of an “opposition party” and that of a “governmental party”. That’s what they announced to the Media on Tuesday, and that’s what the press reported on Wednesday… We’ll try to look beyond these slogans and headlines to see how things could eventually evolve for those two parties. This analysis can only take into consideration internal political dynamics that can be expected. It won’t take into consideration the multiple and unpredictable possibilities that can come out from the investigation into the Hariri Assassination conducted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, nor the ongoing revolt/repression in Syria.

A para-parliamentary structure

The Future Movement
It had the largest share in the former government (6 for itself and 6 for its allies) and none in the present one. The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, “Lebanon First”, counts no less than 30 MPs, making the largest bloc. Moreover, it can count on the support of 22 additional MPs among its allies and dependent “independents”.
Interestingly enough, having been THE governmental party for over two decades, the Future Movement can count on quite a strong support from within the state apparatus. Its years in government has allowed it to make a lot of nominations within the state: filling in some key posts and a lot of minor and medium positions within the public administration (that are actually extremely handy for daily administrative life). It undoubtedly has one of the biggest patronage network in Lebanon, only second to Nabih Berri. The Future Movement (FM) can equally count on support from outside the state. It retains the symbolic leadership of the Sunni community (through its influence on Dar al Fatwa and communal organizations, and because it has the largest number of sunni MPs in parliament: 15 for its bloc & 2 for its allies out of 27). It can also count on strong international relations and economical leverage within Lebanese society through charities, foundations, corporations and banks. These reasons make me doubt that the Future Movement will play the role of an opposition. It’s more likely to play the role of a para-governmental structure, as it has shown on tuesday when it gathered most of its MPs for a meeting.

An opposition party is one that not only voices dissent, but also accepts its position outside government. In Lebanon, these two aspects are disconnected. Ministers started voicing their dissent in the 1950s, contradicting every aspect of governmental solidarity. And in the 1990s, Walid Jumblatt pushed this aspect a step further and invented the very oxymoronic concept of “opposition within the government”, a concept that the Free Patriotic Movement and March 8th carried on in the past three years. So basically, dissent has become prevalent in Lebanon, so much so that the media called part of the governing coalition since 2006 “the opposition”.

Now that the Future Movement is out of the government, one can wonder if they are willing to play the role of opposition, that is stay out of the country’s governance. That doesn’t seem likely. One can look back at the party’s three experiences out of the government (2 years in opposition under the Hoss Government, 4 months under the Karame Government, 3 months under the Miqati Government) and see that it had actually kept on interfering in the country’s governance. It’s not only a question of will, it’s almost structurally impossible.

A Para-govermental structure

The Free Patriotic Movement
It has the biggest share in the present government (6 for itself and 4 for its allies. That makes 10 out of 30). Its “Reform and Change” bloc is the country’s second after the FM’s “Lebanon first” with 20 MPs (2 belonging to the Tashnag).
It came out as the biggest beneficiary of the governmental change, it has actually been a governmental party since 2008, even if it was mislabeled then as an “opposition party” Interestingly enough, it actually kept on perceiving and self-portarying itself as an “opposition party”. Now that this has become impossible, the biggest change for the FPM (and its supporters) is going to be a psychological one. It is now THE governing party. But even if that’s true for the formal politics (based on institutional rules), it is less true for the informal politics (based on informal interactions grounded on “raw” power and personal ties and interests), and that’s where things are going to play out. Since its return to politics in 2005, the FPM has very quickly integrated the Lebanese informal politics. It allied itself with the most prominent christian patrons in Lebanon during the 2005 parliamentary elections: Sleiman Frangieh in Northern Lebanon, Michel Murr in Central Mount Lebanon and Elias Skaff in Zahlé. Without this alliance (and the vote that these patrons can lever through their patronage networks), it would have probably lost several electoral districts, and would’t have been able to later consolidate and build on these electoral conquests. Then it secured a television channel (OTV, 2007), followed by a radio channel (Sawt el Mada in 2009)… this was also done through informal politics. The FPM didn’t change the rules of the game. They secured ways to achieve their goals by playing like all the other players.

Basically, Michel Aoun has achieved the goal he had set himself when he came to Lebanon, become a major player in Lebanese politics, but instead of becoming the country’s president, he became a super-Za’im. Before his return from exile, Michel Aoun realised that to reach the presidency, he had first to become a Za’im. With a massive vote in his favour, the Christian electorate entitled him to it, but it was denied him by the quadripartite alliance at first and then by the Future Movement who supported two rival politicians who had a claim to the same title (Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel). This is no longer the case. Now that he “commands” the largest share in the government, he has become a super-Za’im, joining the same rank as Saad Hariri, Nabih Berri, Hassan Nasrallah and Walid Jumblatt. But unlike the three others, he didn’t do that by converting his military or financial capital into political power. He did it through elections and through his alliance with Hezbollah. So basically, he is the most fragile of the super-Zu’ama, and he know it. His first task is to consolidate his power. He has to secure the same score during the 2013 parliamentary elections, and ideally increase it. This means he has to convince the Lebanese voters. Can he do it without playing into informal politics and creating his own patronage network?

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