Last Saturday, Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper published an excellent analysis of the different possible scenarios that could lead to the nomination of a new Prime Minister. It sheds important light on the political math behind the question of who will lead Lebanon, now that Saad al-Hariri’s government has fallen. Download the As-Safir report here. (The above graph, produced by a friend of mine, puts the basic balance of power in visual context for all of you non-Arabic speakers.)
According to Article 53.2 of the Lebanese Constitution, the Prime Minister is appointed by the President of the Republic following binding consultations with Parliament. In other words, Parliament basically votes for the new Prime Minister, but does so via the back-room politicking of the “presidential consultations” ritual.
The solid parliamentary majority that March 14th won during the 2009 elections evaporated once Walid Jumblatt decided to forge his own path independent of his former allies. Today, Jumblatt is playing the role of kingmaker, which is one of the principal reasons he dropped out of March 14th in the first place. The question of who will be Lebanon’s next Prime Minister turns on Jumblatt’s decision to stick with Saad al-Hariri, betray him to the opposition, or abstain and let the MPs in his bloc make up their own minds about where to hang their hats.
Which brings us to the numbers game. As-Safir outlines four possible scenarios for how the various parliamentary blocs and independents might vote, once President Sleiman gets around to launching the consultation session:
- Status quo: March 14th’s 55 MPs are joined by Jumblatt’s bloc of 11 MPs plus 6 independents (Miqati, Safadi, Fattoush, etc.) leading to a majority of 71 to the opposition’s 57 votes. Result: Saad al-Hariri is re-appointed (71-57)
- Stalemate #1: Jumblatt’s bloc is split such that 4 MPs vote with March 14th, and 7 vote with March 8th, while the independents also vote for March 14th. Result: Deadlock in the Parliament (64-64).
- Stalemate #2: Two members of Jumblatt’s bloc vote with March 14th but the rest abstain along with all of the independents. Result: No majority for either side (57-57).
- March 8th prevails: Most of Jumblatt’s bloc and some of the independents vote with the opposition, while March 14th only attracts six additional votes. Result: March 8th names a new Prime Minister (67-61)
Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement have already declared that Hariri will not be their candidate, while Berri and Jumblatt have been more circumspect, preferring to find a way to re-nominate Hariri as part of a larger deal on Lebanon’s response to the Special Tribunal indictments. When push comes to shove, Berri will line up with his allies in the opposition, but Jumblatt is still wavering. This explains the Druze leader’s recent meetings with Bashar al-Assad as well as U.S. Ambassador Maura Connelly’s meetings with MPs like Nicola Fattoush: both sides are trying to pressure the independents to break for their allies.
This may sound over-optimistic, but as bleak as things look these days, the fact that politics in Lebanon still comes down to a matter of counting votes and persuading (read: intimidating?) MPs to vote one way or another strikes me as something to feel good about. Sort of.
UPDATE: 7:45 PM (Beirut time)
Saad al-Hariri just gave a televised address to the nation from his residence in Beirut. Here are the basic points:
- I will not sacrifice the dignity of my family and my father’s memory just for the sake of politics (read: I’m not going to cut a deal on the STL)
- I was willing to look for some kind of compromise in order to safeguard Lebanon’s stability, but the various foreign initiatives to reach this compromise were met by the opposition’s refusal to re-nominate me as Prime Minister (read: I’m not going to cut a deal on the STL)
- We (i.e. March 14th) will go to the parliamentary consultations when President Sleiman launches them, and we will accept their outcome because we support the Constitution and not the politics of the street.
I have to say that I thought this was a surprisingly decent performance by Hariri. He put a positive spin on the possibility that he will not be nominated PM, and he also sent the message to his followers to shy away from any acts of civil disobedience that may result from the transfer of power.
If the opposition does succeed in mustering the votes necessary to bring Omar Karami into office (as is being reported now), then I would hope that Hariri would sit that government out and leave March 8th to face the music. A cult of consensus has poisoned the well of Lebanese governance for far too long, and I’m tired of hearing excuses from this side or that about why nothing seems to get done.