The Week Of Confusion (Or How All The Stances Suddenly Changed)

Tripoli in June 2009 (Agence France-Presse)

Tripoli in June 2009 (Agence France-Presse)

Remember Why The Government Collapsed? The Prime Minister resigned when the parties of the coalition couldn’t agree on the formation of the body that will supervise the elections (and to what this body represents: An official green light to the 1960 law). Mikati back then resigned (Link) because Michel Aoun rejected the formation of the body. Jumblatt however, was siding with the President and the Prime Minister, asking to hold elections on time according to the 1960 law.

The Irony

Walid Jumblatt, who always called on holding elections on time, now wants an extension of the parliament’s mandate. Michel Aoun, who once said that he will not run with his party in the elections should they be under the 1960 law, is now officially a candidate. That can only explained by the fact that the political maneuvering Michel Aoun has done with the Orthodox Gathering Law for the past few months clearly made him more popular among Christians than the Christian M14 parties three weeks before elections (Link). If 2000 to 3000 votes change side in each Christian district, the FPM will have the ability to win several more districts than 2009 like Batroun, Ashrafieh and Koura. 10 extra MPs on M8’s side mean that the majority changes side in the parliament. And that makes one understand why the Future Movement are currently Ok. with an extension of the Mandate. Hezbollah doesn’t have time for elections with what is happening at Qussair, and an extension to the Mandate also means that Berri gets to stay speaker for 6 extra months and even 2 extra years (Who knows). And why the big No from Jumblatt to elections? 68 MPs on the side of M8 without the Jumblatt votes make Lebanon’s kingmaker as powerful as the Kataeb. The man who was responsible of the last two governmental changes in 2011 and 2013, will not stay as influential as he is now if the Status Quo changes and an alliance gets able to hold more than 64 MPs without him.

And one can see why the government convenes today to vote for holding the elections on time (Update: That’s what just happened) : The government, of M8 has a chance of getting a majority with the 1960 law, after all. The worst thing that might happen is everyone keeping the same shares for the next four years

Meanwhile, a Blow To All Norms

  • Selon l’usage, the parliament never convenes to vote or discuss a law with a resigned government in power. In the Lebanese history, this has rarely happened as there are  three documented events: a vote to pass a budget in 1969 in the middle of the Cairo agreement crisis, several sessions after the assassination of Rachid Karami in 1987 in the middle of the civil war, and the session that set free Samir Geagea in 2005. In 2013 however, the parliament convened with no “extraordinary reasons”, breaking the rule, only to vote an amendment on the electoral law.
  • Now here’s the awkward part. A caretaker outgoing Prime Minister,  cannot theoretically sign a law the Parliament voted. Yet Mikati signed the law,  breaking another norm.
  • The government that resigned also decides to meet again and take decisions. Not only is it weird and very unconventional that a caretaker government convenes and takes decisions, but to meet in order to vote on the specific reason that brought the government down?
  • And now the parliament wants to extend its mandate. The parliament, elected by the people for 4 years and 4 only, wants an extension because “they couldn’t agree on an electoral law” (link to an earlier post). What kind of alibi is that? How can’t you feel democracy running in our veins?

Mother of All Deadlocks.

Extending the parliament’s mandate can be considered to be unconstitutional, and just in case the law finds itself on its way to the constitutional council, there’s a big chance that the parliament’s extension would be nullified. However, it takes some time, and there’s a high chance that the result would come too late (July). By then, there would have been no elections held, the outgoing parliament would have no authority and there wouldn’t be another 128 members to replace them. We’re left with a Prime Minister Designate who can’t have a vote of confidence from a parliament that doesn’t exist, with a caretaker government, and with a President leaving in 10 months. Meet the collapse of the Lebanese system.

The Curious Case of Tammam Salam

Tammam Salam doesn’t know what to do. He was supposed to form a government that supervises the elections. But now we seem to be heading to 2 options:

  • Apparently the resigned government would supervise the elections should they happen, now that it desires to name the body members. Meaning that Salam would not be Prime Minister on election day. What’s the use of Salam’s government if it won’t be there on the 16th of June?
  • If we’re going towards an extension of the parliament’s mandate, then there is no use anymore for Salam’s “elections government”.

Not only Salam doesn’t know what is required from him, but he also probably doesn’t know which side he is representing and should be thus negotiating with: March 14 parties? Or all the parliament? (taking into consideration that he got named by 124 MPs. (link))

There’s a Lebanese expression:  كثرة الطباخين بتحرق الطبخة. Between finding an electoral law, extending the mandate, organizing the elections in three weeks, adjourning elections, forming a government, the Lebanese parties are unable to know on what and with whom to negotiate.

Remember when the 1960 law was “never to be spoken of again”?