Apologies for the brief posting hiatus. The last time I sat down to write something on this blog, Hosni Mubarak was still president of Egypt. Maybe I should take these breaks more often.
So, what’s happening in Lebanon? It appears that Najib Miqati will not be able to throw together a technocrat cabinet as effortlessly as some had supposed. I don’t imagine that the current stalemate will last as long as the 2009 edition, but at least for the time being, there is no solution in sight. What is interesting to me is that the same politician whose intransigence led to much of the delay the last time around is the one causing problems today: good old General Aoun. (For a brief recap of his role in the 2009 cabinet formation process, see here and [for some comic relief] here).
It should be obvious to all of us that this game they call governance is being played with an unsatisfactory rulebook. In the absence of clear and established procedures, we have to resort to deal-making through public offers and quid pro quos. This is just not sustainable. Nowhere in the Lebanese Constitution does it say anything about cabinet veto powers. Nor, for that matter, does it explain what rules should govern the formation of any cabinet. As far as I can tell, the coalition that wins a majority in parliament could technically put together a cabinet consisting of seven fried won-tons, a shrimp springroll, and nine fortune cookies, without violating the Constitution.
In 2009, Aoun argued that each bloc’s share in the cabinet should be proportionally equivalent to its share in Parliament. Today, he argues that March 14th should not be granted a blocking third in the Miqati cabinet because he does not want the government to be mired in the legislative gridlock that (he helped ensure) plagued Saad Hariri’s cabinet. Hypocritical? Of course. But can you blame him? He’s simply exploiting the ambiguities of the current system to maximize the power of his own bloc.
I argued in 2009 that President Sleiman should have refused to sign any cabinet formation decree without insisting that the principle used to form that cabinet be enshrined in the Constitution (whether it was proportional representation or the unilateralist whims of a majoritarian prime minister). That way, I suggested naively, “we won’t have to watch this movie again four years from now.”
Well, it has barely been a year since Hariri formed his government and we find ourselves in the same position again. This time, we can’t blame the failure-to-launch on the Doha Accord, the Syrian-Saudi reconciliation, or the imperatives of a national unity formula. None of those conditions apply anymore, and the Lebanese politicos still can’t figure out how to divvy up the spoils. Something needs to be done.
So here’s my crowd-sourcing challenge of the day: How is the cabinet formation process managed in other multi-party parliamentary democracies? I presume a constitutionally mandated time limit would go a long way to helping the process along, but there are probably more efficient ways to do this. What are they?
Go forth, find out, report back, and make me smarter.