Elections, Hezbollah, Lebanon

Hizbullah’s Position on the Meaning of Majority Governments

You can have any color...

You can have any color...

Hizbullah MP Nawwaf Moussawi offered a rare explanation of his party’s position on majoritarianism and what the Constitution has to say about how cabinets should be formed. Here’s the relevant bit:

“Yesterday, [Samir Geagea] asked whether or not a majority government was a constitutional government. We say that the Lebanese Constitution considers that if the government enjoys a majority in the parliamentary council, it can earn the vote of confidence.

However, the Lebanese Constitution also says that no power enjoys legitimacy if it goes against the Pact of Coexistence [Preamble, clause J]…  A majority government in Lebanon is one which includes the [parties representing] sectarian majorities and not the majority of a sect or two, since that is against the Pact of Coexistence. Whoever wishes to form a majority government should see that the majority is that featured in the Pact and is not a majority of numbers.” (Translation by NOW Lebanon, with some modifications…)

This is very interesting. Moussawi is basically saying that there is a contradiction in the Constitution. On the one hand, a government can be formed on the basis of a simple majority vote in Parliament. However, unless that government is composed of the parties that command the most support among their own sects, the result is unconstitutional.

In other words, a “majority cabinet” is not one that can earn the confidence of the parliamentary majority, but rather one that can earn the confidence of the most popular sectarian parties. This is the meaning, apparently, of coexistence.

I have an article coming out in The National this Friday that deals with some of these issues, so stay tuned.

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Discussion

25 thoughts on “Hizbullah’s Position on the Meaning of Majority Governments

  1. Nice spot!

    Small note though, I’m not sure whether he is implying there is a “contradiction” because both conditions *can* exist at the same time. What he seems to be saying is that the government must win a vote of confidence *and* represent all sects.

    The point is that March 14 could always put some pliant Shia MPs into the government to fulfil that second condition – as some people speculated they may do when Hizbollah walked out in 2006.

    I’m sure Jaja would love that – I can’t see Hariri doing it though, could you?

    Posted by Sasa | September 28, 2009, 2:35 pm
  2. QN,
    I am so glad that you have decided to deal with this issue. Coincidentally I posted on this very same topic around18 hours ago. I even used the same quote by Moussawi. My point, if you have not read my entry on the subject, is that given that our major political gatherings are sectarian in nature then it would be impossible, statistically, to have a winning party be representative of the population. Sectarianism must go but so must these silly, illogical maneuvers by the opposition to have their cake and eat it too.

    Posted by ghassan karam | September 28, 2009, 2:39 pm
  3. Hi Sasa

    If they didn’t do it in 2006 with the US and Europe supporting them to the hilt, I can’t see them doing it now.

    Your point is well taken and I thought to myself that “contradiction” wasn’t quite the right word when I wrote it. But the overarching point is that the Constitution seems to be saying (according to Hizbullah) that you can have any color as long as it’s black.

    How can this be true, given that Hizbullah joined the 2005 cabinet even though it didn’t include Aoun? Did they suddenly wake up, read the Constitution and come to the realization that the cabinet in which they were serving violated the pact of coexistence?

    Seems silly to me.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 28, 2009, 2:40 pm
  4. Ghassan

    I actually DID read your post, but only after I published this one. A link to your article should be in the sidebar on the main page now.

    Clearly, frustrated minds think alike.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 28, 2009, 2:41 pm
  5. And given that until recently Hizbollah didn’t even want to be in government at all…!

    I’m not sure about the Aoun point though – because the FPM’s 2005 absence didn’t harm his sects representation, unless I’m wrong.

    Agree with you on Sa’ad not going Jaja’s way on the M14 solo-government though.

    Posted by Sasa | September 28, 2009, 2:43 pm
  6. “I’m not sure about the Aoun point though – because the FPM’s 2005 absence didn’t harm his sects representation, unless I’m wrong.”

    According to him, it did! 🙂 Aoun insisted that he represented 70% of the Christian vote in 2005. His absence from the cabinet rendered it (according to Moussawi’s position this week) unconstitutional.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 28, 2009, 2:49 pm
  7. It’s splitting hairs, and probably not worth our discussion other than for a theoretical analysis of the Lebanese constitution…but let’s do it anyway!

    Does the constitution (according to Mousawi’s reading) imply that all sects should be represented – or that parties representing a majority of voters in each sect should be represented.

    If it’s the latter, then Aoun was right in 2005. But that ALSO means that the Lebanese government from 2006-2009 was indeed unconstitutional and should have resigned.

    Posted by Sasa | September 28, 2009, 2:54 pm
  8. Moussawi is saying that the parties representing a majority of voters in each sect should be represented.

    To me, this is a dubious interpretation of the clause:

    ي – لا شرعية لأي سلطة تناقض ميثاق العيش المشترك

    WorriedLebanese, one of the readers of this blog, has an excellent blog post on this topic his/her own blog, from last summer. See here.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 28, 2009, 3:24 pm
  9. Maybe.

    I’ll have a read of that post later, thanks.

    At least Hizbollah are consistent then. Remember their promise to include M14 in their government, when it was predicted that M8 would win, before the June 2009 elections.

    Posted by Sasa | September 28, 2009, 3:50 pm
  10. Sasa,

    Nassrallah also said that HA is willing to go along if the “opposition” did not want to be a part of the government!

    Now, let’s analyze this….If HA was ready to go ahead without the overwhelming representatives of the Druse and Sunni’s and possibly Christians; now how is HA consitent except in constant double talk!! Remember when Nassrallah challenged the then majority in 2006 to go to the polls and let the winner rule?
    Come on now; trying to analyze what Mousawi or HA say is tougher than winning a lottery on first crack (or at millionth for that matter)…Let’s agree that HA will do its utmost to obstruct until its masters and sponsors give them the green light to “agree”!

    Posted by danny | September 28, 2009, 6:15 pm
  11. Ah, here we go with the default response of blaming outsiders!

    I’m not getting into that argument. But I will say this: when Nasrallah called for elections in 2006, at no point did he say the winner should rule alone. So that argument fall flat.

    As for M8 ruling alone if they won the 2009 elections – he said that they would only do that if M14 turned down the offer of a place in a M8 government. So again, that argument is flaccid.

    Posted by Sasa | September 28, 2009, 6:21 pm
  12. **Nassrallah also said that HA is willing to go along if the “opposition” did not want to be a part of the government!”

    i.e…If the HA and its coalition partners had won the elections he had no qualms about going alone in forming a goverment without insisiting to the VERY END about a National blah blah government…

    Posted by danny | September 28, 2009, 6:23 pm
  13. Excuse me danny, but why should someone with a Syrian flag displayed by his comment be engaged in a discussion about the constitution of Lebanon?

    I find it bizarre to discuss such internal Lebanese matters with outsiders, particularly if they have any Syrian connection. I mean the Lebanese have paid dearly to get rid of Syrian occupation. I do not think there is any meaningful support among the people of Lebanon, no matter what group they belong to, to a return to any form of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs, whether it comes from government sources or even ordinary Syrians.

    Why don’t these Syrians just go and fix their own problems instead of intruding on others? There are no deficiencies of such problems, Example: despotism, rampant nepotism, economic backwardness, poverty, lack of education, un-employment, subservience to Iranian mullahs, terrorism in Iraq, minorities ruling over majorities in Syria, Golan Heights occupation, you name it. There is no shortage of tasks that may keep them occupied within their own borders!! How would the Lebanese benefit from such discussion? As a matter of fact, the Lebanese can easily solve their problems among themselves once these Syrians begin thinking about their own country instead of creating chaos in the neighborhood.

    Posted by mike | September 28, 2009, 7:23 pm
  14. Mike,
    Are you suggesting that the only people who are entitled to express an opinion about a particular issue must first make sure that the problem they are addressing lies within the confines of the borders of the state that they happen to be carrying its citizenship? If that is the case then the citizens of Lebanon cannot discuss Syrian authoritarianism, Pakistani fundamentalism, American imperialism, Russian dictatorship, Saudi gender discrimination … I hope that you will not be surprised to learn that cosmopolitanism is an idea that is more than 1500 years old popularized by the Greek Cynics and also picked up by the Roman Stoics not to mention the Paulists. Please have an open mind and listen to what others have to say even though they might have a Syrian flag next to their name. If you listen with an open mind then you might surprise yourself by finding out that you do not know everything.

    Posted by ghassan karam | September 28, 2009, 7:55 pm
  15. Ghassan,
    Believe me I did read the comments with the flag next to them carefully and I found they add no real value in relation to the problem being addressed. You could easily conclude the aim is to advance a one-sided point of view serving a very well known agenda and providing no insight whatsoever. I am not saying the person is not entitled for an opinion, but so am I.

    As to you more important point regarding open-mindedness, I can only raise both my hands in agreement. I know how old cosmopolitanism is. I lived a cosmopolitan all my life in a huge cosmopolitan city which ranks among the highest four UN-ranked cities in the world for its quality of life. But I know the difference between open-mindedness and stupidity. The experience of the Lebanese with Syrian occupation over more than 30 years has created such sense of revulsion among most of the people of Lebanese that any thought of Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs has become a great sin – notwithstanding the fact that the Lebanese cannot be described as angels. We tried them over more than two generations and we know what they stand for. You know what they say: مَن جرّب للمجرّب كان عقله عقل مخرّب٠

    Now you answer me: How many Gemayyels we have to lose before we learn? How many Hariris? How many Tuenis? How many Qassirs? How many Eidos? How many Ghanims? How many Mo’wwads? How many Jumblatts? How many ordinary Lebanese? Etc, etc., etc.

    Posted by mike | September 28, 2009, 8:44 pm
  16. So Sasa in your logic, not be flacid, as far as HA or Syria or Iran do not decide to leave the majority govern according to constitution then all bets are off!! Your logic is more absurd here! Yes Nassrallah challenged M14 to elections and may the victors govern…That’s where you are terribly wrong. Now I suggest you go back and do your research before firing off rebuttals!!

    Respectfully

    Posted by danny | September 28, 2009, 8:45 pm
  17. When the Lebanese people and their so called leaders are not divided among sectarian lines and when their true allegiance is to Lebanon and not their religion, sects or pockets and when the rule of law is enforced they may begin to achieve true independence until then nothing can be solved in Lebanon without the Syrians approval
    Whether you like it or not!

    Posted by V | September 28, 2009, 10:27 pm
  18. @Mike #13,15 and Danny #16
    It’s quite obvious that you’re trapped in March XIV rhetoric. And honestly, considering the extreme polarisation in the country, one cannot really blame you.
    But as Ghassan Karam suggested “listen with an open mind”, and don’t cover your prejudice with patriotism. It’s embarrassing for those who happen to share with you this nationality.

    @QN #8
    thanks for the compliment
    The point you make in your post is an interesting one. The only flaw I saw in it was the word “contradiction” that you have since rectified (through your fruitful interaction with Sasa).

    On the other hand, I find QN #3 unsatisfactory, because it seems to be slipping back into the rhetorical games our countrymen have grown so accustomed to.
    In your original post, you analyse a statement in its context. In your comment, you remove it from its context and considered it flawed because it doesn’t measure to a past context. I don’t agree with such an approach.
    It is quite obvious that Hezbollah is interpreting the constitution so as to suit its interests, in the same way March XIV is. This is quite normal. The fact that it didn’t support such an interpretation 4 years ago doesn’t invalidate its point. It only indicated that Hezbollah’s leadership now defends another interpretation of the Constitution.

    You obviously have a problem with the implications of the expression “pact of communal coexistence” found in the last paragraph of the Preambule. In “normal” circumstances, I could have agreed with you. But not in these extraordinary times when the Sunni and the Shiite communities are mobilised behind “their” Za’im, and each communal Za’im controls an extremely destructive weapon (the economy for one, an armed force for the other).
    So the answer I believe is pragmatic. A government in Lebanon cannot be formed today without the consent and the backing of Mustaqbal and Hezbollah.
    My argument here is strictly pragmatic.

    As for the “normative” approach that you seem to defend when you compare the situation in 2005 (the Quadripartite Alliance) with the situation in 2007 (resignation of the Shiite ministers), 2008 (admission of the Orange ministers) and 2009 (the debate over the composition of the government), I believe it’s a tricky one because of the extremely intricate power-sharing rules we have.
    I think my comment is long enough as it is, so I won’t delve into it.

    Posted by worriedlebanese | September 28, 2009, 11:02 pm
  19. “It’s embarrassing for those who happen to share with you this nationality.”

    WorriedLebanese, since you advocate open mindedness, I’m obliged to remind you that to be as such dictates that you should understand the person with shortcomings is himself responsible for his own shortcomings regardless of his nationality. So I fail to see how you would be embarassed by whoever shares your nationality.

    On the other hand, if you allow yourself to pass judgements with regards to someone’s patriotism as you did “and don’t cover your prejudice with patriotism.”, then with all due respect, I become obliged to feel free to disregard your opinion(s) as irrelevant.

    I believe I made myself clear in 15.

    Posted by mike | September 29, 2009, 12:15 am
  20. Dear qifa do you think you can find the original arabic version of these statements?
    I can’t manage to get it from the Lebanese national Agency. You can let me know by email if you want.

    Posted by bech | September 29, 2009, 4:44 am
  21. I would have thought that constitutions are living documents that get interpreted and re-interpreted as societies move through time and things develop.

    ي – لا شرعية لأي سلطة تناقض ميثاق العيش المشترك

    To me it means that in 2009 it is no longer realistic to think there can be a functioning government without representation in the Cabinet by the parties freely elected by clear majorities in the main communities.

    Thankfully we have in the Prime Minister-designate someone with patience and some intelligence. I hope he succeeds.

    Posted by C Z | September 29, 2009, 5:30 am
  22. As long as it’s black! Ha am I right or what!

    Posted by lukewarm | September 29, 2009, 8:59 am
  23. WL,

    Kindly guide me as where do I seem trapped! You have to release yourself from the intellectual “suppositions” and live and immerse yourself in realities on the ground.

    There used to be premier in Ontario, Canada in 1980’s; Bill Davis…You remind of him…Endless intellectual arguments and counter arguments to cover or justify the “opposition’s” positions without offering anything…
    Except the golden line that has been used to close the parliament, delay the President’s election, destroy Beirut and hinder the formation of the government..

    3aysh el mushtarak!

    Posted by danny | September 29, 2009, 9:27 am
  24. Bech,

    Here is the quote:

    وقال:سمعنا بالامس من يسأل هل ان حكومة الاكثرية ليست حكومة دستورية ونحن نجيب,نحن نجيب ان الدستور اللبناني يعتبر ان الحكومة اذا كانت لها اكثرية في المجلس النيابي فان بامكانها ان تحصل على الثقة لكن الدستور اللبناني يقول ايضا لا شرعية لاي سلطة تناقض ميثاق العيش المشترك فما هو ميثاق العيش المشترك اذ تقول المادة من الدستور اللبناني ايضا 95 انه يجب ان تمثل الطوائف بصورة عادلة في الحكومة وهذا يعني ان الاكثرية التي نص عليها الدستور لكي تتمكن من تشكيل الحكومة هذه الاكثرية ينبغي ان تكون اكثرية ميثاقية تراعي ميثاق العيش المشترك وليس اكثرية عددية برلمانية وهذه الاكثرية يجب ان تكون مكونة من اكثريات الطوائف اللبنانية بالنظر الى المادة 95 من الدستور اللبناني ,حكومة الاكثرية في لبنان هي الحكومة التي تتشكل من الاكثريات الطوائفية وليس من اكثرية طائفة او طائفتين لان ليس في ذلك احتراما لميثاق العيش المشترك ومن يشأ تشكيل حكومة اكثرية فعليه ان يرى ان الاكثرية هي اكثرية ميثاقية وليس اكثرية عددية

    You can read the article here.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 29, 2009, 10:24 am
  25. Worried Lebanese,

    You are too pragmatic, habibi. 🙂

    I have to disagree again with you about this notion that it is acceptable to re-negotiate the meaning of the Constitution every four years. That is a recipe for disaster.

    It would be perfectly acceptable, in my mind, for Nawwaf al-Moussawi to say: “While the Constitution technically allows for the composition of a majority government, we strongly urge against this, as Lebanon’s many problems demand that it face them with a unity government.”

    This would be a perfectly legitimate point. It is, after all, Abu Tanjara’s point. Abu Tanjara did not say that the Constitution demanded the formation of a national unity government. He said that he strongly advised that such a government be formed because otherwise his pet dragon would go on a rampage. Hizbullah could do this too.

    Countries choose to form unity governments at certain times, depending on their circumstances. But it is one thing to argue pragmatically that the CONTEXT demands a unity government (as you are currently arguing), and quite another to argue that the CONSTITUTION demands it.

    Re-interpreting the Constitution over and over will do nothing but render it irrelevant.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 29, 2009, 10:29 am

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