I’ve written an article for The Review, calling for the creation of a bicameral legislature in Lebanon. Some of you may remember a post from a while ago announcing the launch of an optimistic initiative called the Lebanese Campaign for a Senate. Well, this piece attempts to make the case in a more cogent fashion.
Here’s are the first few paragraphs of the article. Read the rest over at The National, and then come on back here to leave comments.
Two Houses, Many Mansions
Two months ago, with the world peering over its shoulder, Lebanon held parliamentary elections. Perhaps more significant than the surprising result – which saw the Western-backed March 14 coalition hold onto power – was the outpouring of enthusiasm for the election itself. Voter turnout reached record highs, and thousands of Lebanese expatriates returned home to cast their ballots, many of them taking advantage of airline tickets paid for by deep-pocketed political parties. The first truly competitive election held in decades, it was portrayed by all sides as the gateway to a new era (indeed, some claimed, a “Third Republic”) where the chronic dysfunctions of the post-war period – from corruption and mismanagement to sectarian violence and institutional immobilism – would be swept away under a bold new mandate.
Today, nearly 10 weeks after the last vote was counted, hopes of a fresh start have fizzled as Lebanon finds itself mired again in circumstances conspicuously reminiscent of the pre-election status quo. Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has faced one obstacle after another on his way to forming a national unity government, all the while fighting a rear-guard action against the splintering of his own parliamentary bloc.
While sluggish deliberations and brittle coalition governments plague many parliamentary democracies, Lebanon’s repeated bouts of state paralysis are symptomatic of deeper problems. The experience of the past four years, since the end of the Pax Syriana and the false stability it imposed, has made it all too clear that the basic principle of Lebanese democracy – consensual decision-making by confessional elites – is inadequate to the task of managing the country. The state functions primarily as a tool in the hands of a corrupt cartel of sectarian leaders, a space to compete over parochial interests at the expense of the national welfare.
The inevitable injustices engendered by this system have helped to maintain feelings of disillusionment and revanchism among Lebanese citizens, who have little recourse but to turn, ironically, to the patronage machines of their confessional leaders for the basic services that the government is unable to provide. In this way, a vicious cycle is set in motion, entrenching the original source of the system’s frailty and empowering the elites to continue to govern in their own interests. (keep reading)