Let’s rewind six months. Tammam Salam was supposed to quickly form a government, end the electoral law dispute via a proposed consensual law from the cabinet and finally supervise the elections. But then came the parliament’s mandate extension. Then came Al-Qussair and the subsequent Lebanese dilemma. Then came Al-Ghouta and the subsequent Lebanese dilemma. Then came the probable American strike and the subsequent Lebanese dilemma. And with them came the refugees, and the subsequent Lebanese dilemma. But now that Lebanese politics are making a slow comeback to Lebanon, the lack of solutions to the current deadlock leaves the Prime Minister Designate with several options to end the crisis.
If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them
When Tammam Salam was first designated in April, I made sure to underline how the nomination of Salam by M8 to the premiership was a political maneuver. It was meant to pressure him by making him consensual (while he wasn’t) thus forcing him (more or less) to take their opinion on the governmental formation. It was by far the most brilliant move by M8 in 2013 that brought us to the current stalemate. If M8 hadn’t nominated him we wouldn’t be standing where we are today and an M14 government would have probably started preparations for the elections.
What really makes things hard for the PM-Designate is that the atmosphere of political confusion during the first 9 months of 2013 and the close presidential elections left the coalitions in shatters making it impossible for him to speak with them as united blocs. After the Orthodox Gathering law almost destroyed the M14 alliance, M8 had serious internal problems in summer. And while Aoun was very recently trying to start talks with M14, Berri was busy adding more confusion to the scene by proposing his initiative to solve the crisis (another boycotted dialogue). The apparent bipolarisation of Lebanese politics between M8 and M14 is misleading. Salam will have to please a lot more than 2 blocs.
Veto, Veto Everywhere
“There is a boring public opinion battle in Lebanon regarding the formation of a new government. Some are attacking Hezbollah and accusing it of obstructing the formation of a new cabinet. Our opponents said that they objected to the participation of Hezbollah in the government. Two weeks ago, they said that they would agree to Hezbollah’s participation, after they had disrupted the country for months. We cannot be blamed for being the ones who are disrupting the country. Our only condition regarding the new government is that it reflects the parliamentary representation of the political parties in Lebanon. The concept of the 8-8-8 government is not realistic. In reality this will be a government formed with ten March 14 ministers, that include PM-designate Tammam Salam, who is a pro-March 14 politician.”
That quote from Nasrallah’s speech (September 23) really says it all. There are vetoes coming from all the sides that named Salam. The first third of M14 wants a neutral government, the second third of M14 doesn’t want Hezbollah participation while the last third wants the 8-8-8 ministers formula. The M8 alliance wants full participation (and thus the blocking third+1, so probably 9, 10 or 11 ministers out of 24) in the government, while Walid Jumblatt – The Kingmaker – doesn’t know what he wants (and probably doesn’t want to know so he can stay in the middle and avoid another 7 May-like incident).
The Blurry Aftermath
What exactly is the Salam government’s function? The presidential elections are in May, meaning that the cabinet – if things go well (don’t get too optimistic) and it gets the confidence vote by November – would last for seven months as a non-caretaker government. So what are the objectives of Salam? Electoral law? Parliamentary elections? Presidential Elections? Postponing them (and that means a constitutional amendment)? Or just another normal cabinet in times of elections and regional war? The very fact that no one knows what the new government will be for makes things even more complicated for the PM who can’t form a government that he doesn’t know its goals.
Remember when I told you about Tammam Salam’s options at the beginning? Unless the PM-Designate desires to commit political suicide by going against the M8 will or resigning, he has no options but to wait for a miracle – like these miracles (a, b, c)- to happen. For a newcomer – relatively weak – rising politician to resign after failing to form a consensual cabinet, it is a fatal bullet to his political career. To go against M8 would put him in confrontation with Hezbollah. If the confrontation is solely political, it would eliminate him as a consensual PM while featuring him as an intolerable alternative to Hariri, which is in the advantage of the two former prime ministers Hariri (who will look like a moderate M14 member) and Mikati (who will look like the strong neutral candidate). If things get nasty on the ground, that’s even worse for him.
That’s why – after 6 months – we’re still at the beginning, where the type (Independent/Political) of the government must be decided. The number of seats, the portfolio allocations, the name of the ministers, and the ministerial statement are yet to be discussed. And the sad part? These are the steps that actually take 99% of the time.
When a matter that should take six hours takes six months, you start to understand how much Lebanon is a failed state.