Calling all framers! We’ve got a constitution down at Sahet al-Nijmeh… Victim is on the ground, unresponsive… Urgent attention is needed. Over.
Two days from now, I hope to be sitting in traffic, on my way to cast a vote of protest against a powerful za’im who will win in a landslide. We’ve been doing the numbers on this blog for months now, so there’s not much point in releasing any last minute predictions. All of the pollsters seem to think that the opposition will win, but the margin has gotten narrower over the past few weeks. Michael Young points out in The Daily Star today that Michel Aoun’s performance in 2005 turned the forecasts into “mush”, so let’s just try to enjoy the suspense, shall we?
Here’s what I’d like to say, though, regarding the post-election process. While I hope that the various players follow the ICG report’s recommendations to “support the broad principles of power-sharing”, it is utterly inexcusable that this government finds itself stumbling heedlessly towards the Forest of Constitutional Ambiguities, where it will surely lose its way as it has repeatedly over the past four years.
I asked Karim Pakradouni recently if he thought that we would see demonstrations and sit-ins again if March 14 won and didn’t give the opposition a cabinet veto, or whether there would be a crisis of legitimacy for a cabinet in which the Future Movement did not participate. He responded in the same way that countless analysts have responded when asked this very question on TV and radio talk shows: “I don’t think so. I really don’t think that conditions are what they were in 2006-07, so I don’t think that it will go that far.”
To which my response was: “Why the hell not?”
Ok, I didn’t really say that, but I should have. My friends, it should be obvious to all of us that this game they call governance is being played with an unsatisfactory rulebook. In the absence of clear and established procedures, we have to resort to deal-making through public offers and quid pro quos. This is just not sustainable. Nowhere in the Lebanese Constitution does it say anything about cabinet veto powers. Nor, for that matter, does it explain what rules should govern the formation of any cabinet. As far as I can tell, the coalition that wins a majority in parliament could technically put together a cabinet consisting of seven fried won-tons, a shrimp springroll, and nine fortune cookies, without violating the Constitution.
When Syria ruled Lebanon with American and Saudi consent, procedural ambiguities didn’t matter; in fact, they were an asset. Today, they are a very serious liability. President Suleiman, in my opinion, should have put his foot down at some point during the past twelve months and said: “Ya shabab, we’re not going to have an election until we can all agree on what the rules are, after the election.” As is, we’re flying blind.
Happy voting, everyone. Be safe out there, don’t do anything idiotic, and check back in here on Sunday night.
** See also Paul Salem’s article in The Daily Star today, “Lebanon will need a coalition government“. Note that he doesn’t say whether this coalition government should give veto powers to the minority.