Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14

Who Won?

trophyI wasn’t really planning to write a post on this subject, but since people like winners and losers, maybe it’s worth saying something. One commenter writes:

I’d be interested to read your analysis on who you think “won” from this cabinet haggling/negotiation. Do you think by holding out so long and getting more or less what he wanted, Aoun succeeded in gaining stronger footing for himself in this government? In the end, can we say that Hariri couldn’t stand his ground and caved? If so, what does that mean for this government’s future policies and in particular for the ministerial statement? In terms of bargaining skills, it seems to me that Aoun proved his mettle, and also that Hariri’s bluff resignation didn’t really have much of an effect on reinforcing his position. Thoughts?

There’s no doubt that Michel Aoun got the better of Hariri in this protracted standoff. But this had little to do with Hariri’s negotiating skills and mostly to do with the fact that Hariri had no option but to form a unity government. The threats to pursue a majority government were never credible — given the Syrian-Saudi reconciliation — and Aoun knew it.

So given that Aoun had Hariri over a barrel from the very beginning, it’s no wonder that his chosen strategy — spanking him until he got what he wanted — proved effective. And were it not for the rest of opposition growing tired of the charade, Aoun probably would have kept spanking until Gebran Bassil was appointed Telecommunications Minister.

As for what this means for the future, I’m not particularly optimistic. 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. This spoiler could be anyone: the LF, the FPM, the Future Movement, Jumblatt, Hezbollah, anyone.

In other words, everybody has everyone else over a barrel. In such a situation, the “winner” is simply the one with the least to lose.

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20 thoughts on “Who Won?

  1. I differ with many of your conclusions QN.

    The failure of M14 to form a majority government was not due to Saudi/Syrian reconciliation. It was a lack of coherent strategy on the part of M14 from the outset after winning the elections.

    Nabih Berri should have simply not been elected for Speaker. M14 had the ability to vote in anyone for this post even if Jumblat decided to defect. Jumblat can only count on 4 ministers within his bloc. Notice that Jumblat defected after and not before Berri’s election. M14 should have forced the issue immediately after the elections and gave the Jumblat the choice: defect immediately or line up with the rest. I would say that signifies the lack of leadership on the part of M14 – A testimony to Syria’s success in eliminating most or all of them and intimidating others that are still alive
    Forcing a Speaker based on election results would have been the first ammunition used by M14 to form a majority government. I say that should have been done even at the cost of a threat of the use of obstruction tactics or even force by a disgruntled Hezb/Amal axis. HN said he will respect the election results. So why not take his word on its face value and burn him out if he backtracks? The people have spoken and their will should be respected.

    Hariri should not have adopted the strategy of becoming a PM at any cost. Even though he may have given the impression that this is what he intends to do, he later was sucked in into the sectarian challenge of tit for tat once Berri was voted in as speaker with M14 swing votes (mostly Mustaqbal).

    Aoun was just the frontline gun of the M8 strategy once Berri became Speaker. I would not ascribe much genius to his so-called achievements. Anyone in his position could have performed similarly or even better. He may still pay the price for playing the role he played, i.e. succumbing to ‘outside’ dictates of Hezb and Syria.

    Had M14 adopted this strategy from the beginning, then Hariri or any other candidate could have formed a majority government. Since the fight was over Christian representation, it should have been formed with 3 for Kataeb, 4 for LF’s, 3 for President and 5 for M14 independents.

    Having said all that, Hariri did not lose on all counts. For example he did not succumb to Syrian pressure by handing her an acquittal for its ‘crimes’ of political assassinations. The IT is still an unsheathed sword hanging over it and its so-called Lebanese allies and may well bring the government down sometime down the road. This Hariri win goes against one of your QNION predictions in which you portrayed Hariri being instructed by Abdullah to go along with a Syrian crafted list of ministers to include in the government. So even though QN did provide thorough analysis at various stages of this period of Lebanese political scene, he was off mark on quite few occasions.
    I believe another prediction of QN will be proven wrong. It is his oft repeated prediction of the end of M14 and M8 rivalry. I believe this rivalry will mutate into a different form. M14 draws its strength from the sacrifices of all the martyrs who fell on the road of achieving independence from Syrian occupation. Even though many analysts think that this strategy is meant to serve politicians interests, I believe the independence sentiment has a much more profound base among the people of Lebanon at large. The government formation has highlighted the fact that this independence is not yet complete and more struggle is required to reach the desired objective. This can only be done with an eventual reconciliation among the Christians. This reconciliation can only occur with the interests of Lebanon being the highest on an agenda that will have for its purpose the achievement of true and lasting independence from Syrian meddling in Lebanese affairs. The Christians must understand that their room for maneuvering has become limited. They can only maintain their status in Lebanon and the region by adopting a true independent Lebanon’s approach. In other words, Aoun and group and their petty bickering approach to achieving political gains at any cost must come to an end. A majority government may yet emerge if this government falls for any reason. Even Hariri himself seems to be unhappy with the outcome.

    Posted by mike | November 11, 2009, 2:14 pm
  2. I think the short and long term ‘losers” are the Maronites. While everyone has lost one or two battles, the only major group that was split between the two political poles were the Christians and that can only dilute their influence. The Sunnis/Future and Shi’a/HA+Amal on the other hand were and continue to be the sole representatives of their constitutes and therefore have the least to lose. It could get even much worse for Christians in the unlikely scenario that Future & HA become strategic partners.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | November 11, 2009, 2:18 pm
  3. and may I add that is a real shame because by splitting between M8 & M14 the Maronites were the only major religous group that showed some democratic diversity in the party aliance while their muslim counterparts were almost exclusively following one party.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | November 11, 2009, 2:23 pm
  4. Mike,

    Thanks for your commentary. I’ll try to respond tonight. In the meantime, if anyone else wants to engage, feel free.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 11, 2009, 2:52 pm
  5. actually having the christians and more specifically the maronites not belonging to a single party is in my opinion the major “savior” of the lebanese-sham-of-a-democracy. had they belonged to one party and did what the sunnis and shia do in terms of one party/one sect controlling politics then lebanon would cease to exist as it should and would become more sectarian that it already is.
    this intra-christian bickering is a damn good thing.

    Posted by babagannouj | November 11, 2009, 6:13 pm
  6. Cannot agree more with Baba.

    Posted by Haha | November 11, 2009, 6:47 pm
  7. Mike

    Two points, with regard to your comment:

    1. Your first point about Nabih Berri being re-elected as Speaker… I just don’t see how this could have been avoided. Jumblatt had made it a major condition, before he even broke ranks. And I don’t believe that he can “only count on the votes of 4 MPs”. Had M14 perceived that Berri was weak enough to dispose of, they would have done it.

    2. As for the issue of the M14-M8 rivalry, I don’t see how this has anything to do with the pro-independence sentiment. Are you suggesting that Aoun is going to join M14 in some kind of a new anti-Syrian alignment?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 11, 2009, 8:01 pm
  8. Qifa,
    What I said was Berri needed the votes from M14 particularly Mustaqbal in order to become a Speaker. M14 and Hariri in particular must have made it clear to everyone within M14 that it expects its members not to vote for Berri based on his past performance. M14 should have nominated its own M14 candidate to the post and vote for him as block. Voting to Berri in this case by a presumed M14 member would be considered a de facto defection. Jumblat in this case would be facing the choice I mentioned in my previous comment. He has 11 or 12 members in his Democratic Gathering block. He only has 4 PSP members within this block including himself and these are the only members he can count on to follow his M14 defection decision. The other members made it clear to him at the time of defection that they will never abandon Hariri as they are politically dependent on constituents loyal to Hariri. Jumblat at the time recognized this and gave them the freedom to do so, i.e. follow their own interests. That’s why his defection is half hearted and still is. He cannot protect his wings without losing complete relevance as a political zaim. Opposition MPs plus 4 PSPs are not enough to vote Berri in. It is simple math.

    The issue of Berri’s strength is not relevant in this case. It is as simple as this. Without enough PM votes he cannot be Speaker. On the other hand any M14 nominee for Premiership can marshal enough votes for the post without the need for votes from the opposition. M14 was handed a victory and it simply lost it when some of its members voted for Berri – the first violation in the democratic process which gave M8 the edge in using Aoun the way they used him.

    No I am not expecting some sort of alliance between Hariri and Aoun to emerge. There is too much lack of trust between the two groups and I do not believe Aoun has out grown what he considers a bad experience with Hariri senior which he rightly or wrongly blames for his years in exile. Actually I’m not sure how Bassil and Hariri would relate to each other within this cabinet. Would Hariri contemplate firing him if he behaved within the cabinet the way he behaved during the formation process? Or would Hariri try to make him irrelevant by depriving him of necessary funds for his ministry in order to subdue him? Most likely, let’s see.

    I expect the Christian political landscape to be very fluid in the coming few years leading to the 2013 elections. That’s all I was saying with regards to Aoun paying the price for his Machiavellian political maneuvers at the expense of very fundamental national issues that should not be compromised by any leader, particularly from the Christian camp, and still be looked at as an authentic Lebanese leader sometime in the future.

    Posted by mike | November 11, 2009, 10:45 pm
  9. babagannouj,

    i hope you didnt miss my follow up comment which mirrors exactly what you said. But I feel its a shame the very democratic diversity we both seem to appreciate is also marginalizing them. I only hope it will not encourage them to switch to a 1 party system, and instead wish the Sunnis & Shi’as follow suit.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | November 12, 2009, 4:14 am
  10. I agree with mike about the mistakes of M14. Specially when they agreed to separate speaker’s election deal from the government formation one. So what if we didn’t have a parliament speaker for 5 more months. We are surviving without electricity, aren’t we?

    But then we have to ask: did M14 have the luxury of setting the agenda? (I am not justifying them; and I don’t have high opinion of their ‘leadership’). After May 7th events, I don’t think they really had many options.

    This brings me to the main point: who won? The real winner is the party that was least involved in this charade: the Shiites, and specially HA.
    Look at what happenned during the last 2 years: the three top jobs were vacated: president’s, prime minister’s and speaker’s. Without a serious haggling or challenge the speaker was elected, while the president’s election dragged for a year and a half . The government was formed in 5 months and with so many conditions.

    Knowing the sectarian distribution of these seats do the arithmetic: the Shiites will always have their way;
    the Sunni’s have to pay some dues, while the Christians (mainly Maronites) have to get all the parties to agree to get one of their own elected as president (ironically, while all other sects should agree on the president Maronites mainly won’t and don’t.)

    So in my opinion, the real winner is HA. Aoun and FPM may feel as winners for now, but HA is setting the agenda and the pace of events . And they will bide their time to achieve their strategic targets.

    And within this context, just remember the speed with which HA countered the June 7 elections results with the statement that they have popular majority.
    Did they add the numbers in one day ? (I know, it was elections day and counting was the daily bread of everybody). Or they had the numbers in their pocket all the way long?

    The ‘popular vote’ statement shouldn’t be taken lightly. It’s a warning to friend and foe that in the next round things might be completely different. And that is not only about demographics, as Sunni’s can match them.

    Posted by XP | November 12, 2009, 5:46 am
  11. QN,

    Would it not be appropriate to create a poll asking people how long they think the government will actually last?

    How long will the “winners” win? As long as it took to “win”?

    Surely that has got to be the central question now? And goes back to what you were talking a while ago on need to revitalize the taef agreement… not create another temporary agreement such as a Doha II, which is kind of what has happened, no?


    Posted by deensharp | November 12, 2009, 10:08 am
  12. Deen

    A poll would be a good idea. But I have so quite a few other blog posts already lined up! 🙂

    I need an assistant. Anyone want to be my assistant? I’ll pay you half of what I make.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 12, 2009, 10:15 am
  13. Since we’re talking quite a bit about Jumblat, it is worthwhile following up on his latest gems. He thinks the Druze and the Maronite have now mutated into Red Indians.


    And not long ago the Maronites were ‘jins 3atil’.

    He also expressed recently some uncertainties about the purpose of his much expected visit to Damascus which he said not long ago that he misses so much. It looks like he feels now it is going to be anti-climactic with no real benefit to his ever dwindling perceived role as a maverick.

    Does this vicissitude smack of a feeling of impotence or irrelevance?

    By the way was he not the first one to call for a quad partite government? Him, Hariri, Hezb, Amal. That thing didn’t work well for him as it didn’t get him any ear from Hariri. So which rope is left for him now to play his acrobats on? Red Indian Maronites – of course.

    If it comes to proportional representation, would the Druze actually be getting the number of MP’s and Portfolios they get right now?

    Posted by mike | November 12, 2009, 11:08 am
  14. Mike,

    Jumblat has been yesterday’s man and news for a long time now. He is irrelevant!!
    Circus has left town…no acrobatics

    Posted by danny | November 12, 2009, 1:17 pm
  15. The issue of Berri was not even debatable. No matter what the majority said, he was nominated by his sect and thus became speaker. HA and Amal monopolize the representation. It was either elect Berri as speaker or face another crippling sit-in in downtown or another take-over of West Beirut. Saad or no Saad, nothing could have been done about it.

    Posted by babagannouj | November 12, 2009, 4:57 pm
  16. baba,
    I hate to disappoint you. It is not as simple as you portray it.

    I still stand by my previous post. Had M14 adopted a coherent strategy, they could have brought any Joe Blo for speaker – Amal/Hezb like it or not.

    That is besides the point now. But it is a good thing to analyze at least in perspective.

    We have to admit that this is Lebanon and mediocrity has become more or less a norm due to reasons I may have touched upon in my earlier comment.

    Posted by mike | November 12, 2009, 6:22 pm
  17. This one is for you danny.

    It looks like there is no lack of skilled acrobats regardless of whether the circus has left or not. But, could anyone discern which ropes this latest number is playing on? I can see at least 4 or 5 ropes of different colors. But I’m sure there are lot more ropes to figure out.


    Posted by mike | November 13, 2009, 12:23 am
  18. QN,

    Looking forward to seeing all the new posts!!

    But on the Taef part of what I said…what is your opinion on that?

    Posted by deensharp | November 13, 2009, 3:26 am
  19. Yes, I agree on the need to implement Taef. But the problem is: everybody agrees on that point, in theory.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 13, 2009, 1:23 pm
  20. Ya QN,

    Why you always ignore the big elephant in the room.
    “The threats to pursue a majority government were never credible — given the Syrian-Saudi reconciliation — and Aoun knew it.”
    It is not the Syrian-Saudi accord, it is May 7, 2008- May 7, 2008 – May 7, 2008.
    Repetition is for emphasis.

    Did you forget Nassrallah’s (and other Hizb bigwigs)post election reminders that May 7 was just a “walk in the park” and without a unity government there is “no Lebanon”.

    Let’s not kid ourselves (and some of your uninitiated readers), without the Hizb’s weapons we would have had a government in one week after Harriri’s appointment.

    Posted by MM | November 13, 2009, 2:12 pm

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