Region | Lebanon

How to negotiate power in Lebanon?

Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam has been unsuccessful in appeasing March 8 forces

  • Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer
  • Published: 17:46 April 20, 2013
  • Gulf News

Beirut: Prime Minister designate Tammam Salam worked behind the scenes throughout the week to form a cabinet, and spoke with various parties to prepare for the next phase.

He refused to surrender to the pressure of time even if he hoped that a working cabinet would not be delayed. Towards the end of the week, Hezbollah deputy secretary-general Shaikh Naim Qasim insisted that efforts to form a non-political government were “unrealistic,” since apparently there was “no one in the country who was apolitical.”

Such a classic pronouncement that was frequently repeated by other Hezbollah tenors, clarified the requirement for a national, all-inclusive government that could presumably manage the country’s affairs and supervise elections in a timely way under an electoral law approved by all political parties.

For his part, Salam insisted that he wished to preside over a government that did not include ministers running for elections, even if the determined leader accepted the advice given by President Michel Sulaiman to be both patient as well as cautious.

In the event, Salam earned Hezbollah’s wrath, as well as that of General Michel Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), because he placed them in front of a fait accompli.

Inasmuch as the designee wished to distance Beirut from the suq mentality, staunch opposition placed him between a rock and a hard place, as Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt did not back him either. A meeting with a March 8 delegation failed to persuade Salam and nearly rejected his call for a government of “national interest”.

Not only was Salam told that he ought to form a political government — as opposed to a cabinet of technocrats whose duty would be to ensure parliamentary elections without excessive delays — but March 8 minions wanted additional representation.

The latest stipulation focused on proportionality — each group’s weight in parliament — that translated into a 45 per cent quota for the Hezbollah/Amal/FPM alliance.

This, it was worth recalling, would allow the alliance to have the third needed to block legislation, effectively making governance impossible, precisely as was the case with the last Sa’ad Hariri Government that was toppled by the PSP in early 2011. Even worse, March 8 tenors wanted to appoint their own ministers and keep the key ministries of Foreign Affairs, Telecommunications and Water and Energy.

Sadly, this confirmed the late President Fouad Chehab’s inimitable description of Lebanese politicians as parasites that feigned to serve Lebanon and were, in reality, nothing more than “fromagistes” (cheese eaters). On Tuesday, Aoun demanded that he might surrender one of his two juicy ministries for the finance portfolio, and nothing less.

Salam was perplexed and refused to engage in such bargaining. He asked the parliamentary blocs to hand over lists of names of potential ministers and coveted portfolios, provided, however, that he would be the one to undertake the final appointments. He certainly did not want General Michel Aoun to announce the names of ministers and portfolios, once again, reminiscent of what happened in 2009.

Ironically, it fell on the former FPM Vice Chairman Essam Abu Jamra to reprimand his former political mentor, General Michel Aoun — who hammered that a “neutral government was unconstitutional, as would any cabinet formed by Prime Minister-designate with the approval of the President of the Republic.”

Beyond its comical aspects, Aoun’s poor interpretation of the constitution did not surprise Abu Jamra who revealed that Aoun was uniquely qualified to “change direction, allies and political axis surprisingly and without warning his staff.”

“Did he not once tell his subordinates,” he affirmed, that all FPM decisions were his that all were only asked to “follow him like sheep?”

Farm menageries aside, the prime minister-designate sought to break with the methods and hackneyed scenarios that turned Lebanese democracy upside down, even if a significant portion of deputies were deadlocked on a new electoral law. They, at least, were consistent: power negotiations in Lebanon were not for those who adhered to democratic principles.

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