Rewind to December 2013. The president threatened M8 with the independent neutral cabinet in case they wouldn’t agree in the next few days with M14 on a consensual – non independent – cabinet. For the past 9 months, M8 had refused two proposals: The first one is an independent cabinet excluding the Hezbollah-led alliance from power (along with everyone else) , and the second one is a consensual 8-8-8 cabinet (8 ministers for M8, 8 for M14, and 8 for the centrists) where M8 wouldn’t control the blocking third (They need 9 of 24 ministers).
Three Birds With One Stone
Back to January 2014: For some reason, M8 yields. It accepts in the first week of 2014 the first condition of M14: giving up the blocking third and only keeping 8 out of the 24 ministers. And for another reason, M14 suddenly accepts to enter a government including Hezbollah and welcomes M8’s move, only 2 weeks after it had accused Hezbollah of being behind the assassination of one of its senior members, and only 1 week before the start of the special tribunal for Lebanon. In other words, this is the hypocrisy of Lebanese politicians. So how exactly did a 9 months deadlock end so fast?
M8 has three problems. The first one is called Michel Sleiman. Should the president form an independent government excluding M14 and M8, Michel Aoun loses the third of the ministers (he has 10 out of 30 in Mikati’s cabinet) while on the other hand, Hezbollah loses twice: The first time by the probable implementation of the Baabda declaration in the ministerial statement removing the legitimacy of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, and the second time with the removal of the People-Army-Resistance clause undermining Hezbollah’s armed presence in Lebanon.
M8’s second problem is called – I believe you guessed it – M14. The ministerial declaration will radically change – clearly not in favor of Hezbollah. Aoun’s plans of using some ministries for electoral propaganda will fade away. It’s out of question for M8 to let M14 rule by themselves, and I believe the 2005-2008 incidents sum things up regarding that matter.
The third problem is the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Syrian negotiations. One should try to see it in this perspective: Hezbollah’s legitimacy is on the line in La Hague, while in Geneva, there is one only way to stop the regional powers from using the Hezbollah arsenal as a negotiable card. By entering an all-inclusive government with M14, Hezbollah guarantees that not only the Lebanese government is backing him, but also his rivals. Unlike what it seems, Hezbollah doesn’t want to rule by himself at this particular moment. Once Hezbollah makes sure that M14 is by his side in the government he’ll probably lose weight locally, but his diplomatic wars in Geneva and his judicial war in La Hague would be over. After all, how can Lebanon’s neighbors use him as a negotiation card if there’s nothing to negotiate on because his rivals have no problems with him anymore? And most importantly, how can M14 accuse Hezbollah of political assassinations and still share with him power? Isn’t it undermining the STL?
But if M8 is winning even by giving up the blocking third in the government, why is M14 accepting his win and sharing power with M8?
Spoiler alert: M8 is not giving up the blocking third.
Let’s break things up. The first set of 8 ministers is M8’s share. The second set of 8 ministers is M14’s share. And the third set is the centrists’ share: The president that has to sign the decree, the designated prime minister who won’t accept to form a cabinet in which there is no one on his side but himself, and the kingmaker Walid Jumblatt.
Jumblatt is expected to control the two Druze seats, while he president and the PM will have the rest of centrist ministers by their side.
For Hezbollah to agree on an 8-8-8 formula proposed by Walid Jumblatt and no one else, it definitely means that Hezbollah got reassured by Jumblatt that the PSP ministers shall side with him when the moment comes. Also, one shouldn’t forget that Tammam Salam is M14’s Beirut member of the parliament, and that the president has criticized Hezbollah since the early days of Summer. Meaning that Jumblatt is closer to M8, and that the president and his PM are actually backing M14. M8 hence gains the two Jumblati ministers and ends up with 10 ministers. Hello there, blocking third.
This is the part when you rely on the biased and inaccurate news and rumors. Apparently, in the dark mysterious alleys of this republic, they say (Shh – I didn’t tell you anything) that there’s a Shiite minister of the president’s share that’s actually being agreed upon between president Sleiman and the speaker Berri. A consensual Centrist/M8 minister means that this Shiite minister would also be close to Nabih Berri and M8 in general. It is also said that apparently Habib Frem, a yet-to-be minister of the prime minister’s share will also stand by M8 when the moment comes. Here you go, a 12-12 government where M14 and M8 are in a way or another equally represented.
12-12 but pro…?
The government, while seeming at the same time neutral (be it 8-8-8 or 12-12) and consensual, looks a bit more pro-M14 since the 12-12 scenario is for the moments of crisis and it will probably be 14-10 most of the time (Frem and the Shia minister of the president will have to vote with the president and the PM most of the time since they primarily represent them). However, and since the duo M8-Jumblatt controls more than 50% of the parliament seats and that the cabinet is responsible in front of the parliament, the government will have to keep the M8 majority satisfied in order to secure the vote of confidence.
So why did M14 agree to join M8? Because M14 will rule without even having a majority in the parliament.
Meet the latest miracle of Lebanese political deals: A cabinet that is pro-M14 in regular days, that is neutral in moments of crisis and that answers to a M8-led parliament.
Reminder: Agreeing on the government’s form doesn’t mean we have a government.