Four Months Of Vacuum

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969 (Image source)

Four months is nothing. It took the Lebanese parliament 13 months to elect Rene Mouawad in 1989, and 7 months to elect Michel Sleiman in 2008. Before the Salam cabinet crisis (Lebanon’s longest governmental vacancy ever, 11 months), the longest period of vacancy regarding the executive power was 7 months (Rachid Karami, 1969). So, proportionally speaking, the next president should be elected in the matter of 13*11 /7 = 20 months (16 months from now). That’s January 2016. Cool, no?

The presidential elections are old news

No one cares about the Lebanese presidential elections anymore. It’s not a priority. ِAs it turns out, the Lebanese parliament is perfectly comfortable at legislating and the government is even more comfortable at ruling now that there is no president in power. A change or a vacancy in the presidency isn’t scary for Lebanese politicians. What’s truly scary is a change in the Lebanese parliament. Change the parliament, you change the status quo. So if you think that a president is going to be elected before  they strike a deal regarding the parliamentary elections (and the electoral law), don’t. The vacancy in the presidency is yet another alibi to use in case the parliament wants to extend its mandate (other than the 1960 law alibi that was used in 2013). It’s also a valuable negotiation card to use when things go bad for one of the two coalitions.

The Lebanese Forces en force (It’s payback time)

Rewind to February 2014. The only party that was left out of the Salam cabinet was Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. True, it was their decision to stay out of the executive power, but the FM acted like they couldn’t care less at the time, which gave Michel Aoun a nice advantage two months before Sleiman left office.

The Lebanese forces have 8 MPs in the parliament (That’s more than what Jumblatt used to have in 2012). That number is relatively low and means nothing, unless you use it – à la Jumblatt – to manipulate both coalitions in order to serve the party’s interests. The Future Movement needs an extension of the parliament’s term now more than ever. The Lebanese Forces, on the other hand, have nothing to lose if they participate in the elections. Out of the 8 seats, 3 are from Zahle (friendly Sunni electorate), 2 are from Bsharri (Geagea’s hometown and the LF’s e stronghold), 1 is from the Shouf (friendly druze and Sunni electorates), 1 is from Koura (friendly Sunni electorate, although relatively less influential than in the other cases) and the last MP is from Batroun. So in the worst case scenario, under the 1960 electoral law, Geagea loses 2 seats out of the 8 (And he’s not even using the 8). Best case scenario: Geagea goes to elections, asks for more “sovereignty” from the Future Movement regarding the Christian seats in the constituencies where the Sunni electorate is present – almost 1/3 of the FM bloc are Christian MPs – and tries to control the Metn and Keserwan seats by defeating Aoun there. Although his chances are slim, it does seems tempting to defeat the main presidential contender (Aoun) in the middle of a presidential vacancy, no?

A possible deal

Here’s the situation, as of this week. Hezbollah is still relatively silent about the parliamentary elections (Nasrallah spoke last tuesday, but only about ISIS – willingly ignoring the subject of parliamentary elections). However Berri and his party want elections, and the same goes for Michel Aoun and his party. Which means that we should assume that their common ally, Hezbollah, is likely to go to elections should both of them head to polls. To sum things up here, M8 has around 58 MPs who are in favor of the elections and are likely to vote against extension. The centrists (Jumblatt & co)  are likely to vote against elections.  In M14, the FM and its proxies are against the parliamentary elections, and the Kataeb seem to have a similar opinion. The FM have even threatened to boycott the elections. The only party that is going against the current here is the LF. According to the LF’s George Adwan, they are going to vote against the extension. 58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

So let’s sum things up: We’re a country that has no president, no elections, no functioning cabinet, a self-extending parliament that doesn’t meet anyway, and whose students pass without official exams.

Also, Samir Geagea might be the new Walid Jumblatt.

127 days since the 25th of May. 50 days till the 16th of November.

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