To join or not to join? That is the question that Michael Young and many other Lebanese analysts have been asking, as PM-designate Najib Miqati sets about trying to form a government. Young comes down on the side of Hariri’s participation in the Hizbullah-led March 8th coalition cabinet, but on the condition that March 14th can secure a minority veto.
Meanwhile, today’s editorial at staunchly pro-M14 website Now Lebanon argues in favor of boycotting the Miqati government as a way of staying true to the ideals of majoritarian government:
A majority government is what March 14 wanted after winning the May 2009 parliamentary elections, but it was denied the right after the opposition’s blocking third was imposed upon it. It therefore came as no surprise that what was sold to the people as a national-unity government built on supposed consensus turned out to be a mechanism for governmental inertia.
March 14 must now demonstrate the values it advocated in government as an organized and focused opposition. For to accept to be part of Mikati’s new administration would undermine the coalition’s previous calls for majority rule, to stand or fall according to its performance. It would also highlight the lust for power rather than the desire to create a genuine parliamentary process. And in this way, it will have set itself apart from its political opponents.
Alas, NOW Lebanon’s argument would make more sense if the legislative branch of the Lebanese government was actually empowered to provide oversight over the executive, but that is sadly not the case. As Michel Aoun found out the hard way in 2005, sitting out a government in Lebanon gives you little more than the right to vociferous but anemic protest. There are very few mechanisms in place that permit a principled opposition to also be one that is effective at prosecuting the case against the ruling party in the public sphere.
QN‘s community of highly opinionated political strategists went to town a couple days ago in the comment section of the last post, debating the merits of Hariri’s various options. I recommend you check out the whole thread, but here are some interesting contributions:
(For those of you unfamiliar with the increasing stock of Lebanese political acronyms, here’s a quick guide to navigating the below comments: M14 = March 14; M8 = March 8; FM = Future Movement; HA = Hizbullah; STL = Special Tribunal for Lebanon; FPM = Free Patriotic Movement; QN = Qifa Nabki)
“1-Future Movement need not participate in this government if M14 is to get a blocking third.
2-Giving the PM (Mikati in this case) the free hand to choose Sunni Ministers works in favor of Hariri in the future.
3- Mikati is being put on the defense and with regards to any political salvation within his community he will have to be an extra stubborn defender of “sunni rights” (if there is such a thing)within the government. I don’t doubt that he will.
4- With regards to the STL, if there is a blocking third to M14 then this third will try to thwart any cancellation attempts of the STL and resign at will when most appropriate.
5- Everybody needs to look ahead to the 2013 elections. We all know that the real electoral battles will be in Christian areas and the biggest prize is the vote of Aounis or quasi Aounis who are with the STL, and they are many. (yes there will be some extra seats up for grabs in the Mountains as well)
6-FM should prop their christian allies in the next government and they should give up any seats allocated to the FM to their Christian allies.
7- FM should stay out of the government and should work on putting its house in order. (A tall and arduous assignment)”
“M14 should sit out as opposition. Mikati should be given free reign. Let’s see what he’s made of. Will he follow the path of truth and justice, or will he buckle like a deck of cards.”
“Your scenarios assume that HA (and M8) actually want a government in place… My thought is that after pulling the plug they ‘leaned’ on enough folks (Jumblatt) to deny M14 a majority and the ability to get their PM and govt. This means that M8 has a majority, and they put forward a PM candidate to prove it, but will NOT form a govt. They will spend the next several weeks and months talking a lot about a unity government, but making it as difficult for Hariri as possible, and counting on him to not go along with it. However, they will refrain from setting up a M8-only version.
Essentially, the name of the game *right now* is to temporize and buy time, pending the STL indictments being made public (and then seeing how it pans out). Rather than a M14 govt backing the STL, or a M8 govt against the STL (but not credible), best for them right now would be NO government. Clearly this is not tenable for the long haul, but HA is in a tough spot and buying time is the best they can do *right now*…”
“QN, There is a third option that you missed. If Future does not join the government (or even if it does), Hizballah can remain outside of it by choosing not to have any ministers in the government, and thus technically remaining in the opposition. They have already announced that they will not take part, and I wonder if this means zero cabinets for them. In many ways though, I think many people will then call this a puppet government with the Hizb effectively controlling it from the outside. But this would be one way to keep Future in check and also to answer your question of how to minimize Future’s effectiveness as an opposition. Mikati has suggested a government of technocrats. That’s another option.”
“For lots of reasons, everyone wants to make this about HA’s encounter with “national politics,” but just as interesting (and just as vexing for the concerned party) is that of Hariri, Jr.’s. Can HA as we know it survive leading a governing coalition: possibly not. Can Sheikh Saad survive being outside the government: possibly not.
What we have now is a weakening of both positions: Hariri is now even more dependent on his “foreign support” and HA is now even more dependent on their Lebanese and Syrian allies. Does this relative and respective weakening make them more amenable to a coming deal? Probably. Will some Lebanese get killed in the process? Hopefully not.
Was there a deal? Is there a deal? Who knows, who cares. The real crisis point remains where “they” always prefer it: in the near distance. And really that’s the thing about inevitability: it’s always around the next corner.”
J. Estiphan writes:
“I think what is most likely to happen is that the Future Bloc/Lebanese Forces “March 14″ will be a Loyal Opposition, and a constructive Opposition with a coherent programme. They can have influence on individual laws and in the committees of Parliament and just by helping to frame the debate ahead of the 2013 elections. It could be the start of something closer to a two party alternate governing arrangement.”
“In terms of Hizbullah’s political strategy, there is another option that hasn’t been considered in the post above: allow M14 a blocking third in the cabinet but focus on corruption & false witnesses, rather than pulling out of the STL. It’s possible that they no longer have an interest in the government pulling out of the STL; perhaps that is part of the “before/after the indictment” difference. In a recent speech, SHN mentioned the false witnesses issue, corruption and “conspiracy against the Resistance” as issues the opposition won’t be silent about; he’s also made a separation between the two tracks of gov’t & STL. “Conspiracy against the Resistance” is certainly vague, but it does leave open the possibility that they’ve moved on to a new phase in which getting the gov’t to pull out of the STL doesn’t matter. Maybe an investigation into the false witnesses will do enough to discredit the STL… So maybe that’s the end-game (for now)? If the M8 government focuses on corruption and false witnesses, does M14 really have a good reason to bring down the government?”
Mickanthrope’s comment on this thread was too good not to post up here:
“1. Mikati will assemble a consensus cabinet, in which neither Hizbullah nor FM are represented. Today, Mikati emphasized his “technocratic” approach. This cabinet will consolidate the Opposition’s victory in the battle since 2005 on whether government should be governed by consensus or majoritarian decision-making. They won this as a concession to return to the government after the first walk-out (with the promise that decisions will be made by consensus not majority vote). Then, at Doha, won this again with the formation of the new cabinet (ensuring a blocking third). Then, after with the formation of the government 6 months after the elections, they consolidated this formation. To their credit, both M14 and the opposition have stood by their principled positions: M14 for majoritarian government; opposition for consensus. My prediction: Opposition will prove its position on consensus government by allowing a technocratic cabinet in which (and I agree here with S) there are no Hizbullah ministers (thus taking the wind out of the sails of those who would raise concerns about a Hizbullah-dominated cabinet); FM of M14 will prove its stance on majoritarian, but the rest will opt-in (since a majoritarian stance only favors Sunnis in confessional calculations). The formation of a consensus cabinet of technocrats of the various confessions (rather than zaims) will settle the dispute about the cabinet left unresolved by the ambiguous language of Taif. I also agree with “New to Posting” that this cabinet would address “false witness” etc rather than pulling out of STL.
2. Even with a technocratic consensus cabinet, we might still see clashes in the coming weeks:
A. February 10 GLC strike. Previous clashes (in Jan 2007 and May 2008) coincided with GLC strikes. The relationship between the opposition and the GLC (which offers power of the street) has been recognized by M14 to the extent that Harb and other M14 politicians have sought to shift the leadership of the GLC and generate competing commissions.
B. Feb 14. After the day of rage, this will likely involve street actions. Moreover, if FM sees the cabinet moving forward without them, this will increase the “rage” factor.
C. Nasrallah specifically de-linked cabinet negotiations with response to the indictments and the STL. If the indictments are leaked around that time, then this could be an epic conflagration. If I were very cynical and conspiratorial (which I am sometimes), I would suggest that if the cabinet appears to be going in a direction that consolidates Hizbullah power (formally or informally), the indictments could be leaked opportunistically to instigate street action that would discredit Hizbullah and take the wind out of the sails of a new cabinet that M14 does not dominate. Right now, the US seems to be taking a “wait and see” attitude toward Mikati (til the cabinet is formed, presumably). Hariri seems to be playing hardball–indeed far harder than his hand seems to warrant. Why would be be doing so if he were not receiving reassurance that he would be backed?”