Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, My articles, Reform

All for None

I’ve written an opinion piece on the senselessness of consensual politics for The National. It will be out in print this Friday, but the editors at The Review have agreed to put it up a couple of days early on the website, given the timeliness of the subject matter.

The first few paragraphs are below. Finish reading it on The National’s website, and then come on back to comment.

All for None

All For NoneWhat’s wrong with Lebanon? Nearly four months after a landmark election handed the western-backed March 14 coalition a victory over the opposition alliance of Hizbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement, all efforts to form a government have failed. Rather than taking advantage of his coalition’s victory by putting together a cabinet composed exclusively of his own allies, prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has spent weeks coaxing and cajoling the opposition to join him in a national unity government, in which they would wield significant power.

His reasons for doing so are manifold. On the one hand, his coalition no longer commands a clear majority in parliament, due to the recent defection of the mercurial Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. At the same time, there are the wishes of an important regional ally to consider: Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be courting Syrian co-operation in Iraq in exchange for prodding its Lebanese dependants, the March 14 coalition, into a power-sharing arrangement with Hizbollah. Most importantly, Hariri seems determined to avoid a return to the polarisation of the previous parliamentary term, during which the opposition, demanding more power, quit the government and went on to paralyse the country with massive demonstrations, strikes and an 18-month downtown sit-in.

The opposition’s objective then, as it is now, was to replace the majority cabinet with a national unity government in which it would have veto power over important legislation. Appealing to the timeworn argument that Lebanon cannot be ruled by simple majorities because of its diverse sectarian make-up, leaders like Hassan Nasrallah and Michel Aoun have insisted on transforming the principle of consensual decision-making from an abstract desideratum into a practical necessity.

While March 14 figures have publicly insisted on upholding their prerogative to form a majority cabinet, they too have quietly accepted the idea of sharing power by virtue of a face-saving compromise, the so-called “15-10-5 formula”. Under this arrangement, March 14 would control half the seats of a 30-member cabinet; the opposition would control 10 seats (one short of the votes required to veto major legislation); and the President, Michel Suleiman, would appoint the last five ministers, with the understanding that one of them would be free to vote with the opposition on major, “life-and-death” issues (such as the matter of Hezbollah’s weapons).

The fact that even the majority parties have been more interested in trying to get the best deal they can under this framework, rather than questioning its legitimacy in the first place, betrays their belief – to paraphrase Churchill – that while consensual democracy may be the worst form of government, it is better than all the others.

(Keep reading)

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Discussion

30 thoughts on “All for None

  1. QN,

    very well written. What solutions do you suggest/foresee in the mid to long term? do you believe the country will be able to move towards western style multi-party system where parties can play by the rules whether they win or lose? or is a fundamental change to Taif the only solution? Or…?

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | September 30, 2009, 12:11 pm
  2. IC,

    I think the most important thing is to change the electoral law. I was talking to a friend yesterday afternoon — a very smart professor of comparative politics — and her research has shown that there is a robust connection between electoral systems featuring closed-list proportional representation and civil peace.

    As long as the electoral system itself is inherently unjust (due to sectarian imbalances, districting problems, etc.) then there will always be this pressure to compensate by using consensus politics.

    Which doesn’t work.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 30, 2009, 12:20 pm
  3. Very nice article QN. And thanks for providing breakfast to some one who seems to be hungry as in your last comments in the previous post.

    Someone is slyly attempting to trick you into showing your color while refusing to reveal his – unless you already know his color. Looks like a trap. Beware.

    Anyway, looks like a deal is in the works. Unfortunately, it is not the grandiose solution you alluded to in your article, but one of those once every four years’ deal. It has been revealed that the purpose of al-Mikdad’s visit to Washington is to meet with none other than Feltman in order to discuss US sanctions against Syria.

    It could be that the guys across from the eastern mountains of Lebanon have fasted long and are ready to break fast as they say over a plate of onions. Obviously, this seems to be the extent of the stamina they can put up into the game. Can you blame them with the way things are lining up in the region? Let’s watch if Berri breaks his fast.

    It could be time for a new QNION – breakfast on QN for the hungry and those who fasted.

    Posted by mike | September 30, 2009, 12:37 pm
  4. QN,

    Very nice article and I agree with many of the points you raised. But I didn’t see how a closed list election would change the situation. I’m not disagreeing, I just didn’t fully understand your point. In my opinion, I think that the closed list would still maintain power in the hands of the current “block leaders” as they strike deals with one another and tailor the closed lists to their advantage. A closed list would work if a party structure already exists, unlike in Lebanon. Although I agree that a proportional representation is a must have.

    Posted by haytham | September 30, 2009, 2:57 pm
  5. Doesn’t a closed list system favor straight ticket voting?

    Otherwise, how exactly does it work in practice? Does each person get to cast a single vote for a single list?

    Posted by sean | September 30, 2009, 4:10 pm
  6. QN,
    Lebanon is in dire need of radical changes if it is to reverse the process of fragmentation and ultimately dissolution that it is embarked on.
    These changes must start with the citizen who is to show loyalty to a Lebanese project and hold his elected officials accountable. No system can survive , or thrive without accountability.
    Lebanon is also badly in need of responsible viable journalism that is not only mouth pieces for the various factions. The press in Lebanon does not inform, lead or educate. It simply contributes to the polarization.
    Obviously the state also needs national political parties that can appeal to a wide cross section of Lebanese. and last but not least we need a national constitutional conference so that once and for all we can adopt a constitution that represents our aspirations as a free, sovereign independent people, a constitution that I hope will abolish sectarianism, and erect either a strong Presidential system or a parliamentarian one but definitely to abolish the current hybrid that we have.
    I can go on and on but these steps should suffice for starters.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 30, 2009, 4:38 pm
  7. There is still at least one Lebanese political icon that has the courage and common sense to speak up and say what needs to be said. Unfortunately, even he excluded himself as a possible candidate for Premiership. Surprisingly, he also agrees with much of what QN has said already. He did not mention close or proportional voting by the way. But I still do not understand how this close voting system differs from the current system. I thought the voters of Lebanon already have the ability to select the candidates they want to vote for and the highest scoring candidates win no matter what party they belong to.
    Common sense speaks here:
    http://www.14march.org/news-details.php?nid=MTY2Mjg2

    Posted by mike | September 30, 2009, 5:06 pm
  8. Another great piece QN!

    mike and sean,

    In a closed-list proportional representation system people vote for opposing lists and not individuals. When proportionality is ensured in such a system, it means that all segments of a community are fully represented in parliament.

    For example, if list A, list B and list C are running against eachother in Beirut 3 which has 10 seats, and List A gets 60% of the votes, while list B gets 20% and list B gets another 20%: List A would be reperesented by 6 MPs, list B by 2, and list C by another 2. This systems encourages people to vote in areas with weak election show-up, and it discourage parties from making baseless alignments with other parties that they have nothing in common with. Most importantly, it makes sure everyone’s voice is heard.

    Posted by Purple Monkey | October 1, 2009, 2:25 am
  9. QN,

    While I agree with almost everything you say as to the inherent problems in the Lebanese political system; I do not understand why you do not mention the two massive issues hanging over Lebanon i.e. the weapons of Hezbollah and Pax America. You argue that:

    “Over the past four years, with no Syrian hegemon to impose some stability on a deeply dysfunctional system, Lebanon has careened from one crisis to another. Almost all of these crises have been rooted in a fundamental political problem: how to distribute power fairly in a consociational system.”

    But so little of Lebanon’s crises have been the result of internal problems. Even now how much of this cabinet crisis has to do with who has what as opposed to who has access to what. The telecom ministry appears to be at the centre of this crisis rather than communal coexistence. Why the telecoms because of the importance to Hezb weapons and on the other side the tribunal.

    How useful a closed list PR system would be in the face of two almost existential issues I feel overstates the power of elections and the democratic system.

    Posted by Deen Sharp | October 1, 2009, 4:50 am
  10. As with all your articles, very enjoyable, intelligent and fair.

    My view is that PM Designate is desperate to keep trouble “inside the tent” because they are more threatening outside the tent and am pleased that all the pre-election rhetoric has been put away in the rubbish bin where it belongs.

    For the future – I think all major communities’ democratically chosen representatives must be in Cabinet to secure best change of stability.

    I think it is a bit unfair to compare Lebanon with “most other parliamentary democracies” as per “…should the prime minister-designate be constrained only by the demands of the parties that make up the winning coalition, as is the case in most parliamentary democracies…”

    Europe was the centre of massive unimaginable to us ethnic cleansing, or “sectarian cleansing” over a 200 year period so that by 1900 the Nordic countries were 99 per cent Luterhan, Spain, Italy, Portugal were 99 per cent Roman Catholic and the UK outlawed being Jewish, burnt Catholics and was officially Anglican etc. etc. etc.

    Lebanon is a democracy – and as savage and evil as the civil wars have been – they are nothing compared to the level of carnage in Europe over the past 300 years.

    We just don’t want to go there if we can avoid it – 4 or 5 ethnic states with winner-take-all electoral contests between the ‘centre left’ versus the centre-right. They paid far too high a price for their democracies and any way what is so great about Germany where 48 per cent of voters that choose Social Democrats, Left and Greens get ZERO representation at Cabinet. Why is that superior to Lebanon’s alternative where the minority side gets minor portfolios – but at least a seat at the table.

    Posted by Sofia al Riachy | October 1, 2009, 6:13 am
  11. Purple Monkey,

    In the current open list system, political leaders do make baseless alignments with their rivals and run on mega lists (al 7elf al ruba3i, HA & Amal, etc.)

    I don’t see what is about the closed list that would discourage them from doing so. The way I see it, a closed list would pressure them even more to strike deals and run on mega lists.

    Haytham

    Posted by Haytham | October 1, 2009, 7:00 am
  12. All good points… I’ll try to respond in a few hours.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 1, 2009, 9:13 am
  13. More complaints about President Suleiman’s latest under performance here:
    http://www.nowlebanon.com/Arabic/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=116899

    Posted by mike | October 1, 2009, 7:52 pm
  14. Finally have some time to respond to everybody’s excellent comments and questions… and yet, I’m too tired! 🙂

    Will try to find time tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 1, 2009, 9:10 pm
  15. QN,

    1. First of all, “consociational democracy” as defined by Arend Lijphart and others is not a prerogative of Lebanon only. Other countries with ethnic, confessional or regional cleavages use or used a consociational system (e.g. Switzerland, Belgium), while some sort of “consensual” mechanisms also apply (or applied at some point) to several Western European countries.
    Therefore, it is not correct to juxtapose Lebanese “consensual democracy” to the “majority government” system allegedly used by “the most developed democracies”, to use your own words. If anything, there are “developed” democracies that are consensual or semi-consociational.
    It is quite clear that you have multiple issues with the idea of “consociational democracy” and the way it is advanced by its local current supporters, but what is the alternative option that you have in mind, if any?

    2. In an ideal world, there are institutional mechanisms of checks and balances among the different state organs, in order to ensure that none abuses of its prerogatives and functions. You seem to say that a majority system also grants that the party or coalition that wins the election will effectively rule (within the limits provided by the Constitution and relevant laws and procedures, I would add) and the opposition is happy to monitor and question the cabinet.
    Alright. But Beirut is not Westminster. There’s no Labour on one bench, and the Conservatives (or the Lib-Dem) on the other. You have strongly polarized parties with armed supporters (to put it mildly) and strong patterns of sect-based mobilization.
    What happens to a majority government when the 88% of group X voted for the opposition? The most likely outcome is that group (sect) X will be under-represented (to put it mildly) in the new cabinet, and not keen to be happy for that. Imagine how well represented would the Druze be if Walid Jumblatt walked out of a cabinet, just to provide an example.
    Don’t you see this as a classic Prisoner’s dilemma? I would be happy to cooperate, but I am afraid that I’ll be kicked out of the game whereas all the others are participating, so I am raising my stakes as well.

    3. Your suggestion is that a modification of the electoral law is what Lebanon needs to reverse this state of things. I am no huge fan of those theories suggesting that a change of the electoral system will entail a change of the political culture of a country. There is no such thing as a “sectarian gene” hovering on Lebanon, but sectarianism is deeply engrained in its politics, culture, and society. Would just a change of the electoral law drastically modify the basics of Lebanese politics? I doubt it.

    4. In my opinion, a viable transition from consensual to majority (provided that the latter is the best solution to the Prisoner’s dilemma, see above) should need to address the issue of institutional checks and balances within the Lebanese state: the independence of the judiciary, the prerogatives of decentralized bodies (mohafazat, qada, municipalities) vis-à-vis the central government, and — above all — the role of control agencies.
    If Central Inspection or Civil Service Board are de facto stripped of their prerogatives (selection of personnel within the public administration, training, control, dismissal) by the ministries, it is not surprising that everybody wants to be in the Cabinet.
    And if the selection and promotion of PA personnel is based on confessional identity and political allegiance rather than merit, the incentives for being satisfied of your tiny corner role as opposition party are very, very low.

    What I’m saying is, you raise some good points in your criticism of the “consensual” system. But it’s not clear what your alternative is, and you have to consider many more issues than the electoral law or the simple formation of the cabinet after the election. What happens between one election and the following one is what matters the most.

    5. Of all options, closed lists are the best recipe to turn from very bad to worse. Closed lists mean that no more than six people decide (literally) the complete composition of the whole assembly, paving the way for even more bickering and non-accountability than now. And the voters wouldn’t even be able to cast a preference for their preferred candidate.
    Off topic: take a trip to Italy and see how closed lists are what Silvio Berlusconi can use to promote his female friends as MPs and MEPs.

    Posted by Wa Law | October 1, 2009, 9:45 pm
  16. I was just looking at Portugal elections today – looks like they have weeks of negotiations ahead of them (?) with a minority government or a rainbow coalition at the end of it, makes liban not seem a total parliamentary outlier.

    I’d like to suggest there are plenty of useful examples of ‘consensual’ mechanisms in other democracies to deal with ethnic or confessional communities – i.e. Canada and New Zealand, Belgium or Switzerland. In N.Z., electors that consier themselves indigenous can choose every five years whether to be on the Maori Electoral Role – and five years’ later change their minds to the general roll – with the number of seats in the parliament reserved for Maori MPs determined by the size of the number of people that choose to be on the Maori roll – so in current parliament, for example, while there are 7 Maori electorate MPs there are also 15 MPs that consider themselves Maori elected via the general electorate roll.

    I think it is a very democratic way of letting things proceed – in the future there may be no ‘reserved’ Maori seats – that day might arrive if a day comes when all Maori freely choose to define themselves on the general roll etc. Alternatively, maybe one day they’ll be 25 or so of the 120 seats reserved for Maori – it depends how things go and how people want to define themselves.

    Posted by C Z | October 2, 2009, 2:16 am
  17. Wa Law

    1. Lebanon’s system has almost none of the features that produce (theoretically) stable and effective consociationalism: asymetric bicameralism, proportional representation, administrative decentralization, etc. So yes, I do think it is fair to critique Lebanese consociationalism. The key feature of our form of consociationalism is its extremely cynical notion of “consensus” which is manipulated by the elites to control the system. Other consociational systems do not have this particular problem because they rely on institutions, not the whims of Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea.

    The alternative I have in mind was articulated in the prior piece for the National, on bicameralism.

    2. Re prisoner’s dilemma: once again, this assumes that it is actually the Lebanese citizens THEMSELVES who are causing the problems when they feel like they’re not being represented, when it’s actually the political operatives.

    You say: “What happens to a majority government when the 88% of group X voted for the opposition? The most likely outcome is that group (sect) X will be under-represented (to put it mildly) in the new cabinet, and not keen to be happy for that.”

    How is the current situation any better? The Shia have been underrepresented in Lebanese politics for decades — both because the system mandates a certain number of seats in relation to their own growing population, AND because Hizbullah (more recently) has opted to stay out of the government most of the time. Do you see the Shi`a (people, not parties!) clamoring for more representation in government? It only becomes an issue when parties make it an issue.

    3. Re your point “There is no such thing as a “sectarian gene” hovering on Lebanon, but sectarianism is deeply engrained in its politics, culture, and society. Would just a change of the electoral law drastically modify the basics of Lebanese politics? I doubt it.”

    I’m not suggesting that “just a change of the electoral law” would change things dramatically. I have argued in favor of a change in the cameral structure of the legislature, the introduction of a new electoral law, the enfranchisement of the judiciary, and other measures.

    But my point is that EVEN a change in the electoral law would have a significant effect. Even the most cosmetic effects in the last election had a noticeable effect on people’s perception of the legality and legitimacy of the vote.

    What I’m saying is, you raise some good points in your criticism of the “consensual” system. But it’s not clear what your alternative is, and you have to consider many more issues than the electoral law or the simple formation of the cabinet after the election. What happens between one election and the following one is what matters the most.

    We are not allowed to present grand unified theories in these opinion pieces. 🙂 The best we can hope for is to present coherent criticisms, and over time, to articulate positive alternatives through a whole set of writings and blog posts.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 2, 2009, 8:10 am
  18. Deen

    My answer to this point about how Lebanon’s problems are global not local (which one encounters all the time!) is that we can’t solve global problems, but we can argue in favor of transforming the local structure such that it is more impervious to outside manipulation.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 2, 2009, 8:14 am
  19. Haytham et al

    Let me clarify: the closed list PR idea is not something I argue for in the article. It came up in a discussion with a friend who has analyzed the effects of power-sharing in something like 50 different countries, and her conclusions (statistically based) are that closed list PR systems tend to be most stable over time. When her article is published, maybe I’ll see about trying to get permission to publish it on the blog too.

    Just out of curiosity, though (seeing as how I’m in the presence of a whole crowd of electoral law experts 😉 ) what are your preferences for electoral reform? If it’s PR, what kind of PR?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 2, 2009, 8:18 am
  20. QN,

    I am by no means an expert 🙂 and I wasn’t trying to argue but rather to understand your point.

    I know this point wasn’t in your article which was very well written and makes very strong points for bicameralism, proportional representation, and the elimination of “consensus”, which is a sugar coating for political deadlock.

    It’s just that in the current system, with megalists (ma7adel) and under-the-table alliances (7elf el ruba3i and others), political leaders have been calling on their supporters to vote for the entire list (zay ma hiya). So they are actually calling for a closed list, that is it has to be in their best interest.

    My idea of reform is this: whatever is in the interest of the current political class, do the exact opposite 😛

    Posted by haytham | October 2, 2009, 9:07 am
  21. Haytham,

    I was just teasing.

    The salient difference between closed PR and the current system is in its distribution of power vis-a-vis electoral returns. Sure, the current system incentivizes list-formation and deal-making, but the goal is always to simply make it over that 50% mark, so as to reap ALL the rewards.

    With PR, there is no magic 50% mark; there is no mark at all (apart from the threshold, which can be set as low as you like… preferably not too low). Therefore, there is no need to use consensus politics to adjust for the lopsided results engendered by majoritarianism.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 2, 2009, 9:39 am
  22. QN ,
    With all due respect to your suggestions and analysis and all the analysis of many of your readers I think that you are not addressing the root cause of the problem. Not that the laws and the structure do not matter but it seems to me that most are interested in putting old wines in new bottles or lipstick on a pig.
    The fundamental issue in Lebanon is the citizen who has refused to stand up and assume responsibility for what goes on and who is never enraged no matter how serious are the infractions committed on their behalf. Simply stated we are very tribal, easily led, and talk the talk but are not willing to walk the walk. Unless that the personal identity and political culture of the citizen changes then no matter what kind of an electoral system is adopted we will keep electing the Gemayls, Humblatts, Frangiehs…
    From where I am standing, there is a fundamental but common flaw in the analysis, treat the symptoms but forget the root cause.
    If the Lebanese want real democracy and freedom they can demand it and get it irrespective of the laws under which they are selecting their representatives. Real citizenship will refuse to accept any of the shenanigans that have been going on in Lebanon ever since its creation as a nation state. But alas instead of rejecting these corrupt political leaders and clueless religious ones we keep on reinforcing the allegiance to tribe and we insist on glorifying the cult of personality.
    It is common for Lebanese to boast that they are the most democratic in the Arab world when sadly what they speak about is nothing except empty hollow institutions that have been corrupted and stood on their head in order to justify tribalism, feudalism and sectarianism. Any deep analysis of the Lebanese political system will reveal that our political leaders have been in power for much longer than the Syrian dictatorship or even the Libyan clown.
    An analogy that I use a lot about the failure of environmentalism all over the world is also very apt in this case. If a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness that requires a major operation then prescribing sedatives will provide some momentary relief at best.

    Posted by ghassan karam | October 2, 2009, 11:40 am
  23. GK- these discussions are about theory and intellectual prowess only. Who wants to hear about how guilty the Lebanese are for their current affairs. Don’t you know we the Lebanese are perfect!!

    By the way do you hear from AK?

    Posted by V | October 2, 2009, 12:15 pm
  24. I’d like to say that there is only one way to exercise democratic governance and make it work, and that is through the rule of the majority, i.e. 50% plus one vote, and the opposition of a minority. Or through a coalition, which can achieve 50%+1 vote, and based on an agreed upon program in forming a government. In this case the remaining minority becomes the opposition. It is just plain undemocratic to have an opposition within a government.

    You may want to seek electoral law modifications, or you may tag other descriptions to the term democracy such as consociational or consensus or whatever, but then you may end up with a completely different system than democracy.

    As it (democracy) started long ago on the city-state scale, the citizen’s assembly was the authority through which decisions were made. There was no need for deputies or elections. The citizen spoke for himself. But there was the deep sense of the unified destiny of the collective of citizens which made the rule of 50+1 the overriding principle in making decisions. Therefore, I’m in agreement with Ghassan over the need for defining what it means to be a citizen of Lebanon. Without this clear definition and its ultimate claim to the loyalty of those who profess to be citizens, democracy will not work. Proportional representation could easily break down just like the current consensus or consociational so-called democracy. For example how would you divide the seats of a certain district if 50 candidates ran for 3 seats and each candidate received less than 10% or even 5% of the votes? You just don’t have enough seats to divide proportionally. You don’t even need to assume such even low distribution of votes to break down the system. If you think it is unlikely, then think twice. The Lebanese have proven very innovative with the help of outsiders in finding ways to defeat any system in order to advance their narrow sectarian allegiances. And I disagree with you Wa Law, the Lebanese are born sectarians. Whether this happens to be due to culture, social pressure, history or genes is unimportant. When it comes to sectarian issues, it so happens time in and time out that the most liberal and enlightened Lebanese coalesce on sectarian lines. It seems by comparing this behavior to the behavior of the citizens of old Athens, the members of the sect have the unified sense of common destiny strictly within the boundaries of their sectarian communities. There is no such sense of unified destiny which may extend to other sects, hence the need for the term co-existence in the preamble to the constitution. If you decide to go against the flow, then you may become irrelevant or a martyr if you decide to enforce your views of non-sectarianism.

    Despite all its flaws, Taif is the only document that can be relied upon in order not to break social peace. The agreement foresees decentralization, i.e. giving more local powers to the ‘fiefdoms’ to run their own affairs. It also foresees the elimination of sectarianism from central government politics. None of these stipulations have been implemented for various reasons. You could blame zaims’ conflict of interests or you could blame the presence of illegal weapons in nongovernment hands (mostly sectarian), or the presence of the super rich who hold the sources of outside financing in their hands (mostly sectarian) keeping the other communities well-beings at their mercy, or you could also blame those who feel left out at the time of the deal (mostly sectarian) and seem not to like it but with no alternative to offer except the entrenchment of sectarianism and constant non-sensical bickering about so-called ‘lost powers’.

    I agree with QN on one point only with regards to electoral laws. It is only necessary to revisit electoral laws in order to redress the imbalance created by the so-called sacred 50-50 allocation of PM seats between the two major communities. At one point this has to be abolished and a more equitable formula for representation has to be found. But implementing Taif will indirectly take care of this issue

    On another subject, it seems that M14 still have some strategist/thinkers who can stand up to Jumblatt and call spade a spade:
    http://www.14march.org/news-details.php?nid=MTY2Njg2
    This is like calling Jumblatt’s bluff on his latest acrobatic maneuvers. It is likely that we may be witnessing the eclipse of Jumblatt’s role as the belle weather that he has occupied for so long. His latest maneuvers are nothing but attempts to survive politically within his constituents because he is vastly outflanked by Hariri’s supporters in several of his own districts. In fact he may not even have the allegiance of all or most of the 12 members of his block. Hence his talk about the need to defuse polarization between M8 and M14 and the yearning to Arabism is more like an appeal to these Hariri supporters ahead of the next elections four years from now. Will he succeed? Let’s see.

    So there you go. This is a good example of sectarian zaims who can easily package rhetoric with outdated nationalism and grand aims that hide ulterior motives. Wouldn’t keeping the polarization alive have led to a majority government and a minority opposition in parliament? It would be something similar but not exactly like Labor on one bench and Conservative on the other. It could have been an initial experiment that would force the elimination of sectarianism and the merging of all these tiny blocks into parties of common charters based on political platforms and common vision.

    Posted by mike | October 2, 2009, 2:47 pm
  25. QN,

    1. Fair reply on the first point. You are right on issues of both institutional engineering and political culture. You are also right as charismatic leaderships with cynical, short-term tactical alignments pose an additional problem.
    Anyway, I have many second thoughts about bicameralism, especially if the upper chamber (or senate, whatever you want to call it) is to be made upon confessional/sectarian lines. Except for Bosnia-Herzegovina after Dayton (not necessarily a desirable benchmark), all other countries (as much as I can remember at this time) have a second chamber based on territorial representation without allocation of seats according to ethnic or confessional lines (unless there are seats “reserved” for ethnic/linguistic minorities).
    In other words, Switzerland’s upper chamber is made of seats that represent the states of Ticino, Fribourg or Jura, not seats representing Italian-speaking people, German-speakers, French-speakers, Catholics, Protestants, etc.
    A bicameralism along confessional lines might end up being Lebanese bicameralism, along the same lines and with the same flaws of Lebanese consociationalism.

    2. I disagree with you on the second point. Maybe Joseph de Maistre was a bit excessive when he wrote that “every country has the government it deserves”. But you will probably agree that blaming the elites (“corrupted”, obviously) as responsible of all evils is disingenuous at best. What about the people? The leaders are there because their supporters want them, like them, raise funds for them, carry placards and weapons for them. Whether they do this out of ignorance, lack of alternatives, or sincere convinction is a matter of nearly endless debate and, walla, grand unified theories are not encouraged here. 🙂

    No offense intended, but a very common sport among the Lebanese is blaming the outsiders (“Isra2eel”, “Suriya”, “Amrika”, Iran, “So3diye”, even “el telyeni”?) and blaming the “leaders” for all evil. This is a very cheap way to avoid responsibility and accountability, and as a blogger committed to intelligent and coherent criticism, you should emphasize this. The myth of a peace-loving, naturally cooperating and open-minded civil society that is derailed by a few “corrupt” leaders has to be deconstructed.

    3. It only becomes an issue when parties make it an issue.
    Very interesting concept, but I guess it would apply to most issues and most of the political debate in most countries of the world? 🙂

    Posted by Wa Law | October 2, 2009, 9:29 pm
  26. Yes, QN
    The system prolongs and reinforces division. But how does one get deputies to vote to change it?
    Thanks for the interesting post. Joshua

    Posted by joshua Landis | October 3, 2009, 12:13 pm
  27. V,
    It sure is nice to find out that you are lurking out there. As for your comment #23 I will be very brief.
    Obviously various people have various opinions on any particular problem and that is good. But I still maintain that to spend an inordinate time discussing the superficial instead of addressing the key fundamental issues is a very misguided policy and in a sense is a reflection of a misdiagnosis of the problem. When the foundations of a building are built on mmoving sand then time spent on reconfiguring the interior is time misspent. No amount of rearranging of the deck chairs could have saved the Titanic. Stay well.

    Posted by ghassan karam | October 3, 2009, 3:54 pm
  28. A recent academic study on Lebanese confessionalism argues:

    The Lebanese system is probably unique in the way in which political representation necessarily operates through the “confessional” hierarchy in spite the existence of all the institutions of a democratic parliamentary regime.

    The authors also note:

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the search for the origins of the civil war triggered a debate on the part that confessionalism had played in it. Two opposing schools of interpretation clearly stand out. According to the first, certainly the minoritarian one, the Lebanese political system would have been able to sustain and handle the internal class and political conflicts if there had not been the intrusion of external conflicts and pressures into Lebanon. The other, and more widely accepted, interpretation is that the fragile and increasingly more paralyzing process of consensus-seeking, combined with stark socio-economic inequalities, not only made Lebanon vulnerable to external influences but also was so unstable that any potential disturbance (which already is in abundance in that region) would have driven Lebanon into a civil war.

    The authors give a very interesting analysis of former president Elias Hrawi’s 1998 proposal to institute civil marriage, arguing:

    The
    optional civil marriage was utterly rejected by the religious dignitaries
    because they perceived the proposal to be a first step in stripping them
    of their power over society.

    Civil marriage is, to the best of my knowledge, the only legally recognised type of marriage in all European countries (including Switzerland).

    The book that this study was published in includes analyses of citizenship laws and minority rights in different countries; I’ve posted a summary of the book in Arabic.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | October 9, 2009, 8:34 am
  29. you ignore the fact that the opposition won the popular vote!

    FPM has the right reform agenda! direct election of the president, etc. this would cripple the warlords & allow the voice of the people to be heard. Direct one person, one vote mandate all across the spectrum! True electoral reform!

    Then the so-called minority would be the MAJORITY!

    Posted by WILL | October 9, 2009, 7:58 pm

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