It’s the end of an era. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I can’t quite recall who made this point a few months ago, but it seems certain that the era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics is over, having been replaced by the mundane triangulations of consociational compromise. Or something like that.
In other words, Lebanon has finally shaken loose its star-crossed two-party experiment and settled back into a more familiar arrangement of transient and politically expedient alliances unencumbered by rhetoric or ideology.
March 14 has kicked the bucket, and March 8 will inevitably follow, given that its centripetal force essentially amounted to little else beyond opposition to March 14. For all of Jumblatt’s promises that he will not abandon Saad Hariri, can anyone really deny that the political landscape that has existed for the past four years has finally been dynamited?
After all, with the departure of Jumblatt and his 11-MP “Democratic Gathering Bloc”, March 14 is left with 60 seats in the 128-seat parliament, 5 seats short of a majority. If anyone else drops out (Michel el-Murr comes to mind) the number will fall even lower. In order to hold on to his bid for the premiership, Saad Hariri and his coalition are going to have to make some very deep concessions to the opposition, via the intercession of Walid Bek.
But wait! Those who are calling Jumblatt’s little surprise a “defection” do not appreciate the genius of his move. A defection would require him joining the opposition, at which point the tables would be turned, and March 8 would be handed a parliamentary majority. This is not Jumblatt’s style. By setting off on his own (and perhaps courting other like-minded opportunists… I mean, independents) he will build a bloc that both sides — March 14 and March 8, or whatever is left of them — will need to court in order to govern effectively.
Hizbullah Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem has said that the opposition is not going to try any eleventh-hour monkey business vis-a-vis the cabinet formation. Once Hariri gets back from his trip to EuroDisney or wherever he is, a 15-10-5 cabinet will probably be formed in line with the consultations that have taken place over the past two months (yes, it’s been two months), and Hariri will probably get to follow his father’s footsteps to the Grand Serail.