[We managed to get yesterday’s poll up just in the nick of time, but the results are now moot. So, here’s another poll for you. (Those of you reading on RSS, you’ll probably need to click over to the blog itself to vote).]
Seventy-three days, countless meetings, and one cabinet proposal later, Saad al-Hariri has decided to resign as Prime Minister-designate. Everybody expects him to be reappointed.
I’m quite pleased with this move and I think Hariri should have resigned over a month ago rather than haggling over Gebran Bassil’s eyes and Sami Gemayel’s sun tan. The past three months have been farcical, even by Lebanese standards.
As we’ve discussed many times before, one really wonders what the point of a national unity government is, under these circumstances. If it has taken them this long to fail to form a goverment, how is it even imaginable that a national unity cabinet is going to get anything done? Does Hariri think that Aoun is going to become easier to deal with once he joins the cabinet and that the FPM is going to stop behaving like an aggrieved opposition party? I venture to say that the opposite will be true.
As long as “national unity” remains the non-negotiable principle undergirding any governing effort, then it is going to be far too easy for any single bloc to play spoiler.
Here’s how the system is supposed to work. If the PM does not have the votes within their own bloc to create the cabinet of their choice, then they need to go fishing for the coalition ally who is going to give them the best “deal”. Eventually some smaller blocs agree to join the PM’s bloc via a governing agreement, e.g. “We agree to pursue these policies, and any deviation from these policies will result in the breaking of the cabinet agreement and the dissolution of this government.”
Under this system, the smaller blocs get to punch above their weight because they know that the big bloc needs them to govern, while the big bloc benefits by allowing the smaller blocs to compete amongst each other.
The problem with the current process in Lebanon is that the smaller blocs have no need to “sell themselves” to the big bloc because they know that the big bloc is already committed to including them in some way in the government. With no fear of being left out in the cold, they can continue to make one demand after another.
Saad al-Hariri should take a page from Hasan Nasrallah’s play book. Back in the spring, when everybody was forecasting a win for March 8th, Nasrallah went on television and repeated the offer that he had been making for months (paraphrased):
“If we win, we will form a national unity government and give the other side a blocking third share. However,” Nasrallah added, “if you refuse to accept our generous offer, we will not hesitate to rule this country alone.”
You see how he did that? So simple, so straightforward, so rational. Nasrallah was completely unperturbed about violating some vague principle of “common living” should the Future Movement not join his cabinet. And this is the same strategy that Hariri should follow. He should go on TV and say: “I am extending a hand of partnership to you. If you refuse it, we will not hesitate to rule this country alone.”