The Lebanese government of June 2011 is now history. Najib Mikati resigned due to a lack of agreement on an electoral comitte to oversee the elections and Mikati’s failure to extend the the term of ISF chief Ashraf Rifi . You can see his resignation speech [here]. Such a move can be full of meanings, so why did Mikati resign? And more importantly, why now?
It’s all in the Speech
Mikati said that he thought about resigning twice before. The first time was about M8’s refusal to fund the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and the second time was when Wissam Al-Hassan was assassinated. If Mikati had resigned when the STL wasn’t being funded, it would’ve been too early. Back then, M14 was still strong and he could’ve been easily replaced. If Mikati had resigned after Al Hassan’s funeral, it would’ve also been a fatal bullet for his political career (Resigning meant that his government was responsible for what happened). At both times, Mikati knew that if he would resign it will have negative consequences on him before everyone else. So why now? Mikati wanted an alibi to leave the government so that he can run in the elections. But he couldn’t simply leave. He wanted to leave in a context that makes him stronger, not weaker. And instead of giving him one reason to quit, they gave him two. It was the perfect moment for him. The first motive is a national one, while the second motive is about Sunni politics.
A National Alibi
Mikati resigned because they wouldn’t let him organise elections. Read that sentence, and read it again. The Prime Minister looks like a hero for being that man that refused the fait accompli. Mikati will go to the elections – That’s if we’re going to have elections – as the man who stood against the Fitna in 2011, and stood against the extension of the parliament’s term (dictatorship?) in 2013. A man whose dissociation policy saved Lebanon from a much bigger Syrian Spillover, and who gave the workers their rights. Had Mikati left earlier (or even afterwards), he would be the man that left the country drowning in the Syrian Mud, a man that refused to give the wages to the teachers, and a man that left the country worse. But Mikati made sure it was all in his favor before he leaves. The wage hike was refered to the parliament one day before he resigned, and the Syrian spillover seemed that it was starting to get a new dimension (That is harder for Mikati to keep under control) with the Arsal Air Strike. Soon after the rumors that Mikati would resign started spreading in the afternoon, the morning’s ceasefire in Tripoli was broken. Mikati left in his best possible shape even though the two years were full of economic, political, diplomatic and security failures.
A ‘Religious’ Alibi
Like I mentioned earlier, every Lebanese leader needs to be strong both inside and outside his sect to make it in Lebanese politics. Mikati was given the “Sunni reason” to quit on a silver plate. Mikati probably knows that it is beyond his powers to keep Rifi in office. For Rifi to stay as the head of the ISF, a certain law must be amended, and that happens only via the parliament. The government cannot go against a law with a governmental decree. However, by insisting that one of the most influential Sunni officers shouldn’t leave, Mikati has just made himself a hero inside the Sunni sect. It was usually Hariri who defended Rifi, but now it’s Mikati, and he has his reasons. Once Rifi is a retired officer, he might run against Mikati in Tripoli. Also, Rifi quitting the ISF might show that Mikati “wants to weaken Sunni officers”. Such a move can have an impact as equal as Al-Hassan’s assassination for Mikati. In his stance, Mikati is also slowly putting the ISF chief on his side. Would Hariri resign if Rifi was removed from office?
If Mikati was still PM and wasn’t able to organize elections, He would’ve probably been blamed. But now, the ball isn’t in his court anymore. it’s in the parliament. Without a functioning government, the parliament cannot do anything but form another government. That means that the parliament cannot extend its terms, and cannot hold a vote for an electoral law. For an electoral law to be born, a government must be formed. And it would probably be a neutral/unity government, because for the parties to agree on a government they will likely have to agree on a law. Both require an absolute majority, and with Jumblatt in the Middle, only something consensual can make it through. With the lack of something consensual, the blame will be on everyone, not only Mikati. And Mikati’s move is very clever. They have to agree on a consensual government and law, because if they don’t, the parliament cannot constitutionally do anything except form a new government. Obviously, “Anything” includes extending the parliament’s terms. Which means that without an agreement, there is no electoral law. No electoral law means no elections and no government. No government means no functioning parliament. No functioning parliament means that it cannot extend its terms which means that it won’t be able to form a government because the parliament’s expiry-date is near. In a nutshell, if there’s no near agreement the only think we’re going to have is a caretaker government that can’t hold elections and a President whose terms end in May 2014. They’ll still find a way to figure things out without an agreement, but theoretically, that’s what’s going to happen. The keys of an agreement are with the Zuamas and the parliament making them responsible for anything that might happen on the short run. It’s no longer Mikati’s fault if no elections are held, or if chaos spreads.
Mikati led the government before the 2005 elections, and he might lead the government (To implement the agreement) before the elections again. His resignation puts him in the middle and makes him stronger while he still has Jumblatt’s support. If he’s coming back, he’s coming back as a powerful PM.
But exactly how strong Mikati is today because of his resignation? Look at Future Movement. For a party that has long awaited a resignation from Mikati, they don’t seem that happy….