The Month that Doesn’t Count

Lebanon municipal elections 2016

A Lebanese woman walks past posters of candidates for the upcoming Beirut municipal elections on a shop window in the Lebanese capital’s Christian dominated neighbourhood of Ashrafiyeh on May 4, 2016. Municipal elections in Lebanon take place every six years, with political parties often forming joint candidate lists. The vote on May 8, 2016, is the first of any kind in Lebanon since the last municipal elections in 2010. Image source: Patrick Baz – Getty images

This is the 20th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of April (and the first few days of May) 2016.

In Lebanese politics, there are months that “count”, and months that “don’t count” when it comes to political maneuvering. There’s a pattern when it comes to policy making: short periods of “active” deadlocks – full of efficient political maneuvering that eventually give you results – are often followed by even shorter periods of political stability. After the shorter periods comes a longvery long period – of deadlock that is extremely similar to what they call in football a “dead rubber match” (a match that has no effect on the winner and loser of the series, other than the number of matches won and lost). The dead rubber period can be full of maneuvers, or it can simply have no political developments at all. It all depends on the laziness of Lebanese politicians.

This month – just like the ones before – was mostly a dead rubber period, but not because Lebanese politicians were lazy. In fact, they were even more focused than before, concentrating all their efforts on the municipal elections. Municipal elections in Lebanon are an extremely complicated process known to bring rivals together (the example of Beirut) but also create tensions between allies (the example of Zahle), so the whole maneuvering mechanism becomes useless and old-fashioned. People are no longer influenced by a politician’s national speech, and start instead thinking about more than 10000 local seats to fill in municipal councils. On the bright side, that means that this post will be a lot shorter than the previous monthly posts, since there were very few politicians who cared to maneuver on a nation-wide scale.

Except Jumblatt. Jumblatt was hyperactive.

The bey of Mukhtara was extremely hyperactive this month: He politically clashed with Abdelmenhem Youssef, a ministry of telecommunications official close to the FM – theoretically an ally – accusing him of corruption, then politically clashed with the mayor of Beirut – theoretically an ally, before finally politically clashing  with the minister of interior – also theoretically an ally. And finally, after accusing all of those FM loyalists with corruption, he eventually allied himself with the FM in Beirut municipal elections. You know, because Walid Jumblatt.

But the most important event of the month was Jumblatt’s decision to resign from parliament – after extending his term twice, because again, Walid Jumblatt. The PSP leader’s maneuver is brilliant: He promised to resign only when the parliament meets in a legislative session. If there’s something Lebanon’s Christian parties agree on, it’s the fact that legislating in the middle of a presidential vacancy is unconstitutional. It made them unite in November, and only two of the three major parties eventually attended the last legislative session, after making an issue out of it and getting something in return. There has been a lot of talk of a legislative session happening soon, and as Berri was trying to push his agenda of convening the parliament to legislate, Jumblatt’s move – in a way – was meant to put pressure on the other parties to make the legislative session possible: No one likes Jumblatt in parliament, and although his presence inside or outside parliament would be the same, it would nevertheless be nice for the Christian parties to imagine themselves electing a president in a Walid-Jumblat-less parliament. Christian parties aren’t exactly fans of Berri, especially since the speaker endorsed Frangieh in March, and have since then tried to thwart all of his moves. But Jumblatt wasn’t only trying to  tempt the Christian parties into participating in legislative sessions: By resigning (he eventually probably won’t), he creates a vacancy for his son Taymour to get elected unopposed (who is going to run against the heir of Mukhtara in by-elections one year before elections?) which means that Taymour would gain more power and experience a year before the decisive general elections in 2017, with Abu Taymour acting as his mentor and the godfather of the party. That was already Walid Jumblatt’s plan since last year (here’s a nice post about that, in case you forgot), when he told us all he was going to resign, then eventually did not – again, because Walid Jumblatt.

And Gemayel. Gemayel was hyperactive too.

As Aoun and Geagea were using their new alliance to blame the Muslim ally of their new Christian ally for not supporting their new Christian candidate (sorry for that complicated sentence), Sami Gemayel was micro-maneuvering in the last ten days in April by finally naming five presidential candidates – The Kataeb have long been crticized for standing in the way of all of the mainstream candidacies without providing an alternative. Curiously, and among the five candidates, you’ll find the name of Michel Aoun’s son-in-law. Yeah, not Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law currently in charge of the FPM, but the other one, Chamel Roukoz, whose popularity is a big threat on the FPM’s new number 1. By embracing the candidacy of the son-in-law of one of the two most popular candidates, that happens not to be the son-in-law leading the party, and also happens to be the son-in-law who is a retired general – apparently 18 years of generals in Baabda aren’t enough, the Kataeb are trying to turn the Aounists on one another.

Nice maneuver, but it’s a bit cliché: The FM tried something similar in July and August, and it wasn’t too effective.

The experience of Sleiman Frangieh

Meanwhile, while all the other Christian parties were spending all their efforts on discussing rumors of tawteen, Frangieh, who is by now supported by almost every mainstream Muslim party in the republic, ignored the maneuvering of the LF, the Kataeb, and the FPM, did not fall into the trap – like a boss – of even mentioning the subject, and from Tripoli, “rejected attempts to eliminate Lebanon’s Arab identity”. Those of you who read the blog probably already know by now that changing the subject is the most efficient way of ending a political maneuver – no matter how professional that maneuver is. It’s in times like these that you realize Frangieh has 15 extra years of experience in the domain than the other three of the Maronite four.

Oh, and in case you wondered, the parliament becomes even more unconstitutional this Monday.

Happy voting this May. Choose change.

713 days since the 25th of May (presidential elections). 549 days since the 5th of November (second parliamentary extension) .

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