Parliamentary Elections

Lebanese Politics – 2016 In Review

hariri-berri-and-aoun-sharing-candy-while-watching-the-independence-day-parade-2016

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri(L), Speaker Nabih Berri, President Michel Aoun and caretaker Prime Minister Tammam Salam watch the Army parade in Downtown Beirut during Independence Day celebrations, Tuesday. Nov. 22, 2016. (Image source: The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

 

Lebanon ends 2016 with a Lebanese Forces minister as the official spokesman of a March 8-dominated cabinet led by President Michel Aoun and his Prime Minister, Saad Hariri. So if you want to sum up everything that happened during 2016 in Lebanese politics with only one word, crazy would be the accurate one to use.

But if you want more than one word to summarize this year’s political madness, I suggest taking a look at the Independence Day picture: Michel Aoun  was elected Lebanese President, Saad Hariri was designated as his Prime Minister, Speaker Nabih Berri is helping them share the candy, a new government was formed, they’re all participating in a show/parade, and outgoing PM Tammam Salam has a face expression that represents all of us.

Making a compilation of Lebanese political developments by the end of the year has become a tradition on this blog, and just like 2013, 2014 and 2015, this post is a summary/compilation of all of Lebanon’s political events for this year. The time has finally come to link 2016’s developments with one another. Enjoy the craziness of Lebanese politics, and Happy New Year 🙂!

The Christian Wedding: Ending the political Civil War in East Beirut (January 2016)

After surprising developments in November, Saad Hariri of the March 14 alliance’s Future Movement endorsed Sleiman Frangieh of March 8’s Marada Movement for president, bypassing March 8’s favored candidate, Michel Aoun. Hariri’s support for Frangieh—who had previously indicated he would not stand in the way of Aoun’s candidacy before he announced his bid on December 17—was meant to drive a wedge between members of the March 8 alliance, but little did he know that it was going to  backfire on Hariri’s own March 14 alliance.

At the time, March 14 was endorsing its own candidate, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces (LF). However, Hariri endorsed Frangieh, seeking to showcase him as a consensual candidate from the very heart of March 8—and attract parties from all sides to a possible deal without granting a victory to Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Initially, the strategy appeared to work: at first, March 8’s Amal Movement and the independent Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) rallied around the new bid. Meanwhile the FPM was left blindsided as Aoun suddenly appeared a less serious candidate than Frangieh, formerly a junior ally from the weakest of the four main Maronite parties. Moreover, by supporting Frangieh, the Future Movement was trying to lure Hezbollah away from Aoun. They hoped that open support for Frangieh, who has close ties with the Syrian regime, would encourage Hezbollah to switch its votes toward Frangieh and in so doing destroy the Hezbollah–FPM alliance that forms the cornerstone of the March 8 coalition.

But realizing that support for Frangieh would have shattered their ties with the FPM and discredited the party in Christian popular opinion, Hezbollah stood with Aoun. Instead, Hariri’s endorsement of a March 8 candidate drove wedges within his own March 14 alliance. The Lebanese Forces, the leading Christian party of March 14, saw Hariri’s act as a betrayal. Not only was the party humiliated when its ally endorsed a different candidate than Geagea, Frangieh’s strong backing in northern Lebanon would threaten the LF’s influence in its most important region. The LF, and Geagea himself, retaliated by endorsing Aoun—a wartime rival—keeping Geagea’s 2007 promise that if it came to it, he would “preserve his Christian credibility by breaking with Hariri” rather than support a “weak figure” for president.

So on the 18th of January 2016, Lebanon’s biggest Christian rivals since the civil war ended more than 25 years of confrontation, and made (political) peace: Samir Geagea, of March 14’s Lebanese Forces, endorsed Michel Aoun, of March 8’s FPM, as his presidential candidate. For the first time in decades, the biggest two representative parties among Christians had agreed on a major issue. It was an attempt to end what is soon to become a 2 years presidential crisis that has left the country’s main post vacant because of the deadlock caused by the March 8 alliance and March 14 alliance’s disagreement.

The goal of Hariri’s endorsement was to bring down the March 8 alliance, but instead, the three biggest parties of the March 14 alliance were now divided. The Lebanese Forces party was supporting Aoun, the Future Movement was supporting Frangieh, and the Kataeb Party was refusing to support either of them. Aoun, Geagea, and Hezbollah were now on one side of parliament, with Frangieh and Hariri on the other side. In the middle were parties like the PSP, who went back to endorsing their original candidate, Henri Helou, and the Amal Movement, which had yet to make a formal endorsement.

Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun however had a direct impact on Lebanese politics: On the 27th of January 2016, the Lebanese Supreme Council of the Tribal Federation (the National Dialogue guys) met with happiness and joy, and gave the orders to the Lebanese cabinet to end the deadlock. Just like that, what started as a feud over the appointment of Chamel Roukoz in the army command, and evolved into a crisis that almost brought down the government while paralyzing the cabinet throughout all autumn, was suddenly solved within hours. The Lebanese leaders shook their hands in the national dialogue session, and there was suddenly no problem at all. The cabinet was free to convene and do whatever it wanted to do, and as the media acted as if the deadlock was never here to begin with, everyone moved on with pleasure and delight and focused on solving the trash crisis by exporting garbage (:-$) – hint: even that turned out to be an epic fiasco.

The orange and the blueberry (February 2016)

Remember when we said the Amal movement still had to make a formal endorsement?

On the 8th of February 2016, the Lebanese parliament was supposed to elect its president. Unlike the previous 28294294 attempts to elect the head of state, this time it was supposed to be special: For the first time since 2014, the main two candidates were now from March 8 and were both endorsed by parties from March 14. Yet just like all the previous times, March 8’s parties boycotted the session. If the February presidential session that never happened taught us anything, it’s that there might had been a rift among the March 8 parties that was  as big as the rift in March 14.

The lack of quorum meant that Amal had officially told the world on the first week of February they are not fans of a Aoun presidency. True, that information wasn’t near as shocking as the idea of Geagea endorsing Aoun, but deep down every FPM official had hoped that Berri might in the end say yes to the General and help him reach Baabda. So when it became clear that the speaker was more blue than he was orange in his presidential choices (by sending signals that he does not to support the LF-FPM Christian consensual president), Berri had bypassed a Christian consensus on a Christian post (the presidency) and the FPM-LF alliance went on the offense: Minister of public works Ghazi Zaiter was accused of allocating less fund for the Christian areas, while on the other hand, Ali Hassan Khalil, the finance minister, was criticized for replacing a Christian employee with a non-Christian one.

While the Lebanese government was proving once again what an epic failure it is, via the trash exportation fiasco and the no-kissing statement, something else was already cooking. It seemed that Michel Samaha was going out of jail, and while that information briefly united all the previous cadres of March 14 under one banner, another politician thought that it was more of an opportunity to gain momentum within his party: Ashraf Rifi did his first rookie mistake by resigning from the cabinet. He had humiliated Tammam Salam in the cabinet, and had already bypassed Hariri’s stances when he refused to back Frangieh like most of the Future Movement officials. Rifi tried to rise through the ranks as quickly as possible by criticizing the negotiating/compromise qualities of his two bosses (and trying to look as pro-Saudi as possible by resigning in the middle of the crisis between the Gulf and Hezbollah). Bringing back Rifi to the cabinet would show weakness in the Future Movement leadership, give an impression that Hariri and Salam need Rifi more than anything and eventually strengthen Rifi in the northern city of Tripoli, giving him the serious opportunity to overthrow – in an unlikely yet possible alliance with Karami, Mikati, and Safadi – the Future Movement in the next Tripoli parliamentary elections. So yeah, Salam – with an obvious green light for Hariri – signed the formal papers, and what started as a mini-political maneuver turned into a political farewell for Rifi – at least for now.

But the event of the month is as regional as Lebanese politics gets, with Saudi Arabia withdrawing 4 billion $ in military aid for Lebanon and most of the Gulf countries issuing travel bans because Lebanon abstained during a meeting to back a Saudi-initiated resolution criticizing Hezbollah. The Lebanese government took it upon itself to meet for 7 hours while March 14 were united in their common support to Saudi Arabia and asked Lebanon to sign a “we’re sorry we Love Saudi Arabia” petition. It was always  blow to March 14, since the cabinet, in which they more or less have the biggest share (even if it’s a theoretically 8-8-8 one, its president is still pro-March 14) had failed to achieve the only true thing it promised in its policy statement: Use the Saudi donation to arm the army and preserve stability. But it was also a blow for The FPM: They were directly blamed for their new leader’s diplomatic “faux-pas” by Saudi Arabia and March 14, and responded in a very awkward way, saying that “no one could challenge them in their support for Saudi Arabia” (?!?!?).

The blueberry and the pistachio (March 2016)

While January and February were overloaded with political maneuvers, March seemed to be a month of clarity. For the first time since it became clear the presidential battle was featuring Aoun against Frangieh, speaker Berri (finally) officially took a side, and called for the election of Sleiman Frangieh as president. In February, we had received formal proof that Berri wasn’t going to vote for Aoun, but not that Amal was officially standing with Frangieh. In fact, Berri didn’t just endorse Frangieh on the 19th of March: He called upon Hezbollah to vote with Frangieh too. Even Hariri chose to kindly remind the world that he will not vote for Aoun and “threw the presidential file in Hezbollah’s court”.

And as the diplomatic crisis with the Gulf continued this month and Rifi (who saw opportunity in the disorderwas still trying to make the best out of it, the political war against the new FPM leader Gebran Bassil continued: It was the environment minister, Mohamad Machnouk, who was tasked by his ally, PM Salam, to represent Lebanon at the Indonesia summit, which was (more or less) an insult against Lebanon’s foreign affairs minister, Bassil.

To make things worse for the FPM, Nasrallah said the following sentence in his speech on the 21st of March: “General Aoun holds all aspects that entitle him to become president, but supporting him does not mean that we do not approve of another candidate”. In other words, Nasrallah was giving a very, very, very subtle OK to Berri’s earlier call (on the 19th of March) to Hezbollah to endorse Frangieh, while also blaming Aoun for the deadlock (since Hezbollah is “open to another candidate”). Nasrallah also criticized the LF for criticizing them that they’re not supporting Aoun enough. Aoun had officially lost the presidential momentum Geagea had won him in January.

So the FPM decided to take the matter in their own hands, and just like any other smart Lebanese party with more than ten years of experience in Lebanese politics, they simply changed the subject: Out of nowhere, a debate on the naturalization of Syrian refugees started, and fear of “tawteen” calls began once again. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Lebanon got overwhelmed with anti-naturalization calls (see here, here, here, here and here). Whether they had planned this together or not, the three anti-Frangieh Christian parties (Kataeb, FPM, LF) made a joint effort to say the T words as many times as possible this month. Bassil even refused to meet Ban Ki Moon because of the whole naturalization debate. That created a context for the Muslim parties where they had to wait at least two months before rallying behind someone (like Frangieh) who is vetoed by the biggest three Christian parties, or else it would create panic and kill the candidacy of Sleiman Frangieh by giving the impression that they were going against the Christian sentiment at a time when the naturalization of Syrian refugees seemed imminent.

The month that doesn’t count (April 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. So other than Jumblatt and Gemayel, few were the politicians who cared to maneuver on a nation-wide scale.The most important event of the month was Jumblatt’s decision to resign from parliament (spoiler alert: Jumblatt did not eventually resign in the end). The PSP leader’s maneuver was brilliant: He promised to resign only when the parliament meets in a legislative session. And If there’s something Lebanon’s Christian parties agreed on, it’s the fact that legislating in the middle of a presidential vacancy is unconstitutional. It made them unite in November 2015, 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 in April, 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.

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 (you can blame Lebanese politics for that complicated sentence), Gemayel was micro-maneuvering in the last ten days in April by finally naming five presidential candidates. 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. 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, the Kataeb were trying to turn the Aounists on one another.

The rising threat of the outsiders: The example of Beirut Madinati (May 2016)

For a country that had postponed elections three times in the past 12 years and that had been polarized between two political coalitions competing and eventually sharing power in almost every state institution, the month of May 2016 will be an exception in Lebanon’s modern political history: The Lebanese would be voting for the first time since 2010, and this time – at least in Beirut – there was a third choice available. To put it in the campaign’s own words, Beirut Madinati is a volunteer-led campaign to elect a municipal council of qualified, politically unaffiliated individuals in the upcoming contest of May 2016, and, once in office, to support them in implementing a people-centered program that prioritizes livability in our storied city.

But despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda were all in favor of the establishment parties. So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side. An alliance made of all the ruling parties barely got 60% of the votes, and with Beirut Madinati close to the 30% mark, that was the equivalent to a political nuclear bomb. The Lebanese were in favor of change, and all that was missing was an electoral law that could turn percentage numbers into reality. Now, more than ever, proportional representation was expected to be the Lebanese establishment’s boogeyman.

The resignation game (June 2016)

Remember when I said that Rifi had signed his political death warrant with his resignation from government?

It turns out the Tripoli strongman had outsmarted us all. The timing of  his resignation, the causes of his resignation, as well as his political intuitions were so good that he actually managed to defeat in the Tripoli municipal elections – as an underdog, and all by himself – a  huge alliance made of three billionaires (Hariri, Mikati, Safadi), two former prime ministers (Hariri, Mikati), and the heir to the most prestigious political family in the North (Karami). Three years earlier, Rifi was not even a politician, and yet against all odds the list he supported won the municipal council of a city that has more than 8 MPs in parliament, and that victory was partly due to the context in which he resigned.

With the threat of the FPM-LF alliance on the Horizon, the phalangists knew they need to secure 51% of at least one constituency’s voters or they’ll lose everything in 2017. And the only place where that might be possible is the Metn, and it’s a big might. the Kataeb know that they could be alone on election day, with no allies, in a very hostile electoral environment because of an electoral law that currently favors bigger parties / alliances and that tends to eliminate political minorities from being represented in their constituencies. Gemayel couldn’t have risked losing it all, not while he’s still rising. The only way he survives the FPM-LF wedding is by securing the Metn, and the easiest way to secure the Metn is by giving the Metnis the impression that the FPM wants to turn the caza’s coast into a dump while the Kataeb were ready to resign their biggest government share ever in modern history just to protest that.

So on the 14th of June 2016, and inspired by the resignations of Ashraf Rifi in February and Robert Fadel in May, two Kataeb ministers resigned from government following a decision by the party’s leadership to leave the executive power. For 12 months, the Kataeb had criticized the government’s handling of the trash crisis, refusing to put more pressure on the government by resigning, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in disgust against the trash crisis and the trashy solutions the government kept proposing. By their resignation moves, Fadel, as well as the Kataeb, were trying to appeal to their electorates in the same way Rifi did – via resignations in critical moments important to their electorates. If a charismatic (in his region at least) newcomer/underdog/micro-Zaim can defeat three billionaires, two prime ministers, and the heir to Abdulhamid Karami, then Gemayel can do the same to the FPM, LF and SSNP in his home district.

Two things seemed to work in this country: Resignations and sectarianism. If you use both correctly, nothing stood in your way.

Presidency and oil (July 2016)

“We discussed the oil and gas file and ways to extract it from the Lebanese waters. We have agreed with the AMAL Movement on the points of disagreement which gives the country an opportunity for stability.” (Gebran Bassil, July 1 2016)

“opportunity for stability” is the politician’s nickname of “Lebanese president”, and something was cooking in Lebanese politics. Berri’s 13 votes in parliament were a nice advantage for Aoun’s quest to the presidential palace (here’s a nice table clarifying that), and the calm statements going back and forth from Ain El Tineh to Rabieh (Aoun and Berri were known for their political cold war) meant that a compromise including the oil and gas reserves file might make it easier to end the presidential deadlock.

The rest of the July was cliché: Lebanese politicians arguing about the internet, Hezbollah and the FM playing their usual love-and-hate game, and the supreme council of the tribal federation (again, the national dialogue guys) meeting for three days and deciding that since electing a president, agreeing on an electoral law, organizing parliamentary elections, voting a state budget, and drafting a defensive strategy were too mainstream, they were now going to work on creating a senate and debate its authorities and its electoral law.

Deal or no deal? (August – September 2016)

When Berri gave hints, right after his agreement with Bassil on the oil dossier in June and July 2016, that he was willing to accept a Aoun presidency as part of a bigger deal (He called it “السلة المتكاملة”, which literally means “the complete basket”), he indirectly suggested  a possible deal that also included a  Hariri premiership and a consensual electoral law (package deal confirmed by Nasrallah’s speech in August, that also included Berri as speaker).

Berri’s “blessing” meant that Hariri would be seen in the mainstream media as the one preventing the election of a Lebanese president and a Aoun presidency in particular – going against the candidate of the de-facto Christian majority – which would discredit him and sabotage his alliance with the LF even more. But Hariri was supposed to say no to a Aoun presidency, at least with no clear road-map with what was going to happen with the governmental formation and the electoral law. It was unwise to exchange a 9 month-term premiership with a 6 year term presidency, without a clear plan about an electoral law or a parliamentary election. There were too much unknown variables to have a presidency deal, and Berri’s maneuver was his way of reducing the FPM/LF pressure on Amal (the FPM were boycotting the cabinet and the dialogue sessions) to elect Aoun president by throwing all the blame on Hariri.

However, by the 17th of September 2016, the media was buzzing with rumors that Hariri was surprisingly going to endorse Aoun as his presidential candidate. While it wasn’t clear where the rumors originated from (an FM MP said that very same week that Aoun wasn’t an independent president and that he doesn’t represent the Christian’s public opinion), Berri panicked, and said that he preferred Frangieh over Aoun. Now that it was obvious that Berri wasn’t willing to vote for Aoun even if Hariri endorsed him, the FM leader started one of his smartest maneuvers since November 2015: He began hinting  that Michel Aoun was indeed an option, causing further panic in the Amal camp. According to reports, Berri was willing to accept “half a package deal” involving “an agreement on the electoral law, the finance minister post, creating an oil ministry and retaking the energy ministry portfolio.”

There was no Aoun presidency in Berri’s half-package deal – at least in the press reports,  which might have made Hariri realize that he could harass Berri and sabotage the March 8 alliance by circulating the name of Aoun as next president: By the 30th of September, Aoun was meeting with Hariri (yes, that escalated quickly). Berri tried to mask his strategic political faux-pas and tried to hide his Aoun veto by saying in that week that “he has no personal dispute with any candidate”, but it was already too late, and soon enough, Frangieh was vowing to stay in the race despite everything, as Berri’s sources still said that he would never nominate Aoun.

President Aoun (October 2016)

When rumors of Hariri endorsing Aoun become even more relevant, Berri did something he never does: He used the sectarian card, and accused the FPM and the FM of making a deal behind his back and going back to the “Sunni-Christian duality era”. The FPM however had the momentum both in the political arena (via Hariri’s meetings) and on the ground, via the 13 October anniversary protest. The FPM leaders, real experts in using the sectarian card, smoothly stopped Berri’s “you are turning back on Shias” rants by…not escalating.

It was already too late for anything anyway. Hariri had already figured out his master plan: In fact, Berri was trying to throw all the vacancy blame on Hariri, so when Hariri was sure (probably by the end of September) that Berri wasn’t on board with the Aoun presidency even with Hariri’s approval, and that he was going to take the blame of blocking the Christian consensus on Aoun, the former prime minister conceded the defeat (endorsing Aoun, Hezbollah’s official candidate, is after all a  loss for Hariri) but came up with his brilliant maneuver of endorsing Aoun on the 20th of October 2016 in order to minimize the consequences of his loss: Hariri tried to shatter the March 8 alliance by handing the presidency to Aoun and leaving Hezbollah in the middle trying to mediate between Amal and the FPM. The FM suddenly became closer to all of the Christian parties (of whom he endorsed three figures: Frangieh, Geagea, and Aoun), while also making Amal and the Marada clash with the FPM and Hezbollah.

If Hariri was playing chess, his maneuver would have been called forking: A fork is a tactic whereby a single piece (Hariri in this case) makes two or more direct attacks simultaneously. Most commonly two pieces (the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance and the Berri-Hezbollah alliance in this case) are threatened, which is also sometimes called a double attack. The attacker usually aims to gain material by capturing one of the opponent’s pieces.

For Hezbollah, the choice was obvious: Temporarily “sacrificing” the Berri veto was much less scary than the idea of losing the only non-Shiite ally in March 8. So on the 23rd of October 2016, Nasrallah quickly embraced the momentum and confirmed that his MPs were going to end the boycott, attend the 31st of October session, and vote for Aoun. At the same time, Hezbollah tried to absorb the impact of the FM’s maneuver, with key leaders in the party (including Nasrallah) reiterating that Amal will not be isolated by the settlement, softening the blow for Berri.  Hezbollah understood what the FM were doing, but had they stalled and waited for Amal to come around, Hariri would have actually turned  his defeat into a win (by questioning the seriousness of Hezbollah’s support to Aoun).

Now that Hezbollah and the FM were on board with his nomination, Aoun was for sure going to be elected (securing at least more than the absolute majority of the parliament), which meant that Jumblatt had to be part of the settlement even though he opposed a Aoun presidency for years. In Lebanese politics, if you can’t fight it, you join it. And that’s exactly what the PSP leader did by announcing, a few days before the 31st of October session, that he would eventually vote for Aoun after more than 30 years of animosity. Joining a settlement late is better than not joining in at all.

Berri and Frangieh had probably thought that Jumblatt would stick to Frangieh or Helou till the very end, but with the majority of the Lebanese parties siding with Aoun, it was useless to fight a lost battle, or even to try to block the quorum in the 31st of October election (since Aoun already had the support of a little less that the 2/3 of the MPs and that the Kataeb never boycott the sessions which wouldn’t help Berri, Frangieh and the anti-Aoun FM/PSP MPs deny quorum). It would have been humiliating for Frangieh to side with Aoun after Aoun refused to side with him last year, so the Marada leader’s late call for Berri’s bloc to vote white instead of Frangieh can be seen as a compromise between an awkward reconciliation and a useless opposition (from the very beginning) to the new Aoun presidency. The same might be said about Berri saying that he could  block Aoun’s election but wouldn’t: Although it was  technically very hard  to block Aoun’s election by now, Berri’s half-positive stance of not making a major issue out of it might be seen as a late-attempt to join a future consensus on the cabinet and stay in the decision-making process.

Three years of political maneuvering later and 26 years after he was ousted from the Baabda palace, Michel Aoun would gloriously return as President of the Lebanese Republic.

Prime Minister Hariri (November 2016)

The date is October 31st, 2016. Michel Aoun is elected – against all odds – President of the Lebanese Republic after more than two years of a presidential vacancy. A new era begins in Lebanese politics: Michel Aoun, who had spent the majority of the post-Syrian era criticizing the policies of the Future Movement, named Saad Hariri, the leader of the FM, as his Prime Minister after the designated PM’s endorsement of Aoun finally led to the end of the presidential deadlock and the election of the FPM leader as President. Meanwhile, in what was now formerly (?) known as the March 8 alliance, not everyone was excited to see Aoun in Baabda. Hariri’s maneuver of endorsing Aoun without a green light coming from speaker Berri had succeeded: Amal, Berri’s party, led the opposition to Michel Aoun’s election in parliament, and even Frangieh, who was considered for a full decade to be Michel Aoun’s second in command among the Christian leaders of the March 8’s Change and Reform Bloc, refused to vote for Aoun after the FPM leader had refused to end the presidential vacancy by endorsing Frangieh earlier this year.

The result was the election of Aoun as President in the most humiliating conditions ever: Second to him in the ballots’ results was Myriam Klink, and not only was he elected by absolute majority, the second round was also repeated two times because there was an extra ballot casted twice (128 votes counted instead of 127).

That meant that a humiliated President Aoun was going to start his mandate without the support of the two-thirds of a parliament (elected 8 years ago) behind him, while Hariri, as Prime Minister, was expected to gather as Prime Minister designate the votes of the March 14 coalition parties, the PSP, the Marada (since he almost got Frangieh to Baabda in 2015), Amal, and the FPM. Hariri’s maneuver of making Hezbollah choose between upsetting Aoun and angering Berri (by endorsing Aoun) in October also meant – in a way or another – that he had unified all the mainstream parties behind him in the process.

Hezbollah had brought Michel Aoun into Baabda, but it wouldn’t have been a “pure victory” if Hariri would have been named by the entire parliament as Prime Minister while Aoun couldn’t gather the two-thirds of the parliament’s votes even after more than two years of boycotting. So Hezbollah decided to partially ruin the Future Movement’s party and refused to vote for Hariri as Prime Minister although almost all of Hezbollah’s allies within March 8 named Hariri with enthusiasm, happiness and joy (the joy of participating in a cabinet before expected parliamentary elections :$ ). The result was Hariri being nominated for the premiership by  112 out of Lebanon’s 127 representatives on the 3rd of November 2016, 4 days after the election of Aoun as President.

The fourth Cohabitation (December 2016)

Lebanon ends a crazy 2016 with a formation of its 4th all-embracing cabinet since 2005. Although the first three cabinets were a total failure, the deal was done, and you couldn’t put Aoun and Hariri at the head of Lebanon’s executive power without expecting them to share it with everyone else who made the agreement happen. The new cabinet shares were thus mainly given to those in favor of the new FM-FPM alliance: More than a third of the new cabinet was now answering in a way or another to the Godfather of the C&R bloc, who also happens to be the President of the Lebanese Republic Michel Aoun. In other words, while Michel Aoun cannot by the rules of the Lebanese constitution change his Prime Minister by a simple presidential decree like the pre-Taef days, he could now deny quorum by ordering his ministers to boycott the sessions and even dethrone Hariri by another method: Asking his 11 ministers to resign. For the first time since 2005, the FPM were in command of the veto power in the cabinet without the help of the Marada, Hezbollah and Amal to reach the blocking third. Bassil, leader of the FPM, will be his father-in-law’s foreign minister, while the FPM and President got to have the defense and justice ministries, two important ministries, especially when you realize that Lebanon’s two biggest sources of political conflict, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and Hezbollah’s arms, are directly related to those two ministries. In a way, Hezbollah gets to keep those two issues under control via the supervision of the FPM (still Hezbollah’s ally).

The LF have 4 ministers (and 5 portfolios), probably in order to limit their voting influence in parliament while also making them feel they’re on the winning side although they did not get any key ministry and only managed to hold one important ministry (as opposed to Aoun’s C&R bloc who got 2 important portfolios and 1 sovereign one).  The LF get the important ministry of health, the official spokesman post of the cabinet (who is the minister of information), the prestigious post of Deputy Prime Minister, and the ministry of Social affairs (not that important but nevertheless a very smart choice before parliamentary elections)

The Future Movement now have 7 ministers/votes (including the sovereign interior ministry portfolio that deals with parliamentary elections) behind the Prime Minister (the biggest bloc in the cabinet), and when you add the 3 ministers of Amal, the 2 ministers of the PSP, the Marada minister, and the 3 votes of the Lebanese Forces, you’ll find that the Prime Minister has 16 votes of close allies by him. That’s the 1/2 +1 of the cabinet, enough for Hariri to take decisions without the green light of the President.

As for Hezbollah, they will start 2017 with literally the smallest share in the cabinet in terms of quantity (2) and quality (sports and industry), but oversee the justice and defense departments via the FPM, and, in March 8 terms, are at the core of the majority in the cabinet: While Hariri is indeed the Prime Minister, the C&R bloc have at least 10 ministers, Amal have 3, Frangieh has 1, the SSNP party has 1, and they have 2. The March 8 alliance has the majority of the cabinet with 17 ministers. That makes you think how the decision from Hariri to elect Aoun without agreeing on a package deal first could have been a strategic mistake.

When it comes to M14/M8 comparisons, Hariri is only Prime Minister in name: He will lead a cabinet where the parties who were known as the March 8 alliance in 2009, his rival coalition, form the majority, although his initial alliance had won the 2009 elections. In two words: Lebanese politics.

It is important to note how Berri is playing the long-term game here, giving up the Shiite portfolio in the “important category” and handing it to Frangieh in order to empower a third Christian voice in a cabinet where Christian portfolios are now dominated by the LF and the FPM. In the previous governments, Berri could always count on the ministers of the former President, on the LF ministers or on the Kataeb ones to keep the FPM’s monopoly on the Christian side of the cabinet in check. But this time, the President is Aoun, the LF are the FPM’s main backers, and the Kataeb are outside the government. Frangieh is Berri’s last weapon to annoy Aoun. And in this cabinet, he gave that weapon teeth: Fenianos, the Marada minister, will head the ministry of public works, literally the most important ministry before parliamentary elections.

YEP. The two last words of this post will be the most important two words in 2017: PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. Here’s to a happy new Year, free of parliamentary term extensions, and full of new members of parliament.

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Did Ashraf Rifi’s Resignation inspire the Kataeb?

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party's two ministers from the Cabinet

Kataeb Party leader Sami Gemayel announces the resignation of his party’s two ministers from the Cabinet (Image source: The Daily Star / Hassan Shaaban)

This is the 22nd post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the months of May and June 2016.

Six months ago, Lebanon watched in denial as the biggest two Civil War enemies became frenemies. As Geagea endorsed his archrival Aoun for presidency and as the Christian marriage sealed an alliance between the biggest two Christian parties, everyone else panicked and started acting weird: Instead of trying to win Geagea back, Hariri decided to widen the gap with the LF even further by officially endorsing Frangieh for presidency. Jumblatt awkwardly re-endorsed Helou, and even speaker Nabih Berri, Lebanon’s most experienced political tactician, struggled to distance himself from endorsing the FPM’s leader (spoiler alert: he eventually succeeded. He always does). The mainstream media started with its predictions, but back then it was way too early to know the impact of such an alliance on the Lebanese political scene. This month, however, saw the very first major consequence of that deal: Kataeb ministers resigned from a government in which they had one of the biggest shares in modern history.

Where do you campaign?

On the 14th of June, two Kataeb ministers resigned from government following a decision by the party’s leadership to leave the executive power. For 12 months, the Kataeb had criticized the government’s handling of the trash crisis without resigning. Last summer saw almost all of Mount-Lebanon and Beirut drown in garbage, but ironically, no Kataeb minister had resigned back then – they just kept voting against the awful solutions the government kept drafting – refusing to put more pressure on the government by resigning, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators protested in disgust against the trash crisis and the trashy solutions the government kept proposing. According to the Kataeb propaganda back then, it was crucial for them to stay in government in order to keep the public informed of the deals happening on the Grand Serail’s table, to be the opposition from within the cabinet, to preserve coexistence in the absence of a president, to prevent Hezbollah and their allies from controlling the cabinet, and last but not least, to be the shield that guards the realms of men, for this night and all the nights to come (Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones).

The thing is, Mount-Lebanon as whole, as well as the city of Beirut, are irrelevant for the Kataeb’s electoral policies. The Kataeb party is one of the smallest parties in parliament, and its members/supporters are scattered throughout all the constituencies (mainly the Christian ones), where they form small, irrelevant minorities to the constituency’s main voters. In Beirut III, it’s the FM that dictates the electoral terms. In Beirut II, it’s the Muslim and Armenian parties. In Beirut I, it’s the Tashnag and the LF-FPM alliance (There is no way the Kataeb can get a majority with the previous three parties allied with one another). In the Chouf, it’s everyone but them. In Aley, it’s Jumblatt.  In Baabda, it’s again almost everyone but them (Aoun and Hezbollah won the district comfortably all by themselves in 2009). The same goes for Kesserwan, that the Aounists held against all odds for the past 11 years, even without the help of the Lebanese Forces – so you can imagine the possible scenario now that the LF are by their side.

8 seats = 8 reasons to resign

There is only one constituency where the Kataeb can challenge everyone else in it, and it’s the Metn with its 8 seats. It has more seats than the Christian regions of Beirut, and has more than 50% of the Christian seats of Northern Mount-Lebanon. The Metn is Lebanon’s biggest Christian constituency in terms of MPs, has a very small Muslim minority, and has 4 types of Christian seats (4 Maronites, 2 Greek Orthodox, 1 Greek Catholic, and 1 Armenian Orthodox). Also, (a very known) fun fact: It’s also Samy Gemayel’s home district. The past two years saw Gemayel Jr rise in popularity, and the latest municipal elections are the proof that he will be a force to be reckoned with in Lebanese politics in the years to come. He is becoming more popular by the day, but he isn’t getting popular fast enough. By June 2017, if the kataeb can’t at least win/compete all by itself in at least one Christian district, the FPM and the LF are going to ignore the Kataeb’s demands for concessions in all of the Christian constituencies and they’re going to take control of everything they can take control of. They will treat the Kataeb in the parliamentary elections the same way they treated Dory Chamoun in Deir El Kamar during the municipal elections. After all, one of the obvious non-official goals of the Christian wedding was to create a Christian duality when it came to national politics and to eliminate everything not related to the FPM and LF from the parliament. The LF no longer need the Kataeb to counter the FPM, the FPM never needed the Kataeb anyway, and the Future Movement, the Kataeb’s last ally – at least on paper – isn’t exactly on good terms with Gemayel – blame his remarks against sukleen and the CDR – and has a new Christian bro called Sleiman Frangieh.

The Metn remembers?

To sum things up, the phalangists need to secure 51% of at least one constituency’s voters or they’ll lose everything in 2017. And the only place where that might be possible is the Metn, and it’s a big might. The FPM and the Tashnag won the district both in 2005 and in 2007’s by-elections. In 2009, they did it again, and this time even without the help of Michel el Murr. True, Samy Gemayel – alongside Michel Murr – was the only non-FPMer to make it to parliament in the Metn in 2009, but those were the days when the LF were Kataeb allies. One can argue that the FPM and LF didn’t do so well in their Metn municipal campaigns, but the fact remains that in the Metn, six parties will dictate the rules of the game in 2017: The FPM, the LF, the Kataeb, the Tahsnag, the SSNP, and Michel Murr. This is where it gets complicated: The FPM is friends with the Tashnag, the LF, and the SSNP. The LF is friends with the FPM. The Tashnag is friends with the FPM and Murr. The SSNP is friends with the FPM. The Kataeb, on the other hand, is the LF’s “March 14 Christian rival” (If you still believe in this whole M8/M14 duality), is the SSNP’s historical rival, is the biggest Christian party not supporting the FPM’s Michel Aoun right now, and is less friends with the Tashang than the FPM. The only politician who might stand with them if they face an FPM-LF-Tashnag-SSNP alliance, is Michel Murr (because the FPM and the LF will also probably try to isolate him as well). To make things worse, Murr is even less reliable than Jumblatt when it comes to stable alliances.

In 2017, the Kataeb know that they’ll be alone, with no allies, in a very hostile electoral environment because of an electoral law that currently favors bigger parties / alliances and that tends to eliminate political minorities from being represented in their constituencies (the Kataeb are going to regret their opposition to proportional representation soon enough). According to the laws of Lebanese politics, once you’re totally outside parliament, you hardly ever make it back: Only few politicians have ever managed to make a comeback after losing all of their party seats. Gemayel can’t risk losing it all, not while he’s still rising. The only way he survives the FPM-LF wedding is by securing the Metn, and the easiest way to secure the Metn is by giving the Metnis the impression that the FPM wants to turn the caza’s coast into a dump while the Kataeb were ready to resign their biggest government share ever in modern history just to protest that.

Mother nature?

According to Kataeb discourse, their resignation was about preserving the Lebanese environment – they took similar stances when it came to the infamous Jannah Dam. But in truth, it’s really more than saving mother nature, helping the Lebanese animal kingdom and taking care of the fauna and flora. It’s about electoral survival: The Kataeb ministers didn’t resign when two entire Mohafazas were drowned in trash, and aren’t really eco-friendly in some of their other stances (see here for not-so-eco-friendly dumps, and here for not-so-safe-dams). While it isn’t as “double-standardy” as the other politicians’ stances, the Kataeb are treating the Metn differently for a reason, and the timing of the resignation just isn’t right since if it was really for eco-friendly reasons, it should have happened months ago, not just after an FPM-sponsored dam was going to be built in a Christian region and after dumping was going to resume in the Metn coast. Constitutionally, and according to article 27, every member of the Chamber shall represent the whole nation, and by the laws of common sense, the cabinet serves the entire country, so the Kataeb can’t really say that they can only defend Metni interests because Gemayel represents the Metn. The Kataeb’s officials in parliament and government serve the entire nation by law, yet in a very “clientelistic Lebanese mentality (found in all mainstream Lebanese political parties), they behaved differently when it came to the districts that matter to them electorally .The Kataeb want (need) re-election, and are maneuvering with eco-friendly reasons, which really shows you the level of desperation (no Lebanese politicians has ever done that).

(But on the bright side, that means a struggle for more forests and less trashy trash solutions, just so you don’t say that I’m cynical all the time 😛 ).

Plot holes, plot holes

Another plot hole in the Kataeb’s maneuver is – like I mentioned earlier – that they convinced the Lebanese that they were the opposition from within the cabinet for the past two and a half-years, which is why they refused to resign time after time, especially that there was no Christian president in power. The biggest irony is that they eventually resigned anyway, for lesser reasons (trash crisis in Mount-Lebanon + Beirut > trash complication in the Metn), and in the middle of a debate on a Christian-Shiite rivalry in a Lebanese security apparatus, while there was still no president in power, and while being fully aware that the two caretaker ministers that will assume the Kataeb’s responsibilities in parliament are both Muslims. The Kataeb are definitely playing a long-term survival maneuver, and they’ll clearly let nothing stand in their way (this time, it’s Star Wars I’m quoting).

 Did they really leave?

What makes the Kataeb move look even more like a complicated professional maneuver than an eco-friendly move is the fact that while their decision to leave the cabinet was unquestionable since they officially submitted their resignation to Salam, one of the kataeb ministers who resigned, Sejaan Kazzi, also told the world that there has to be a president who accepts the resignations in order for their resignations to become official (which isn’t true…), as if (at least a part of) the Kataeb leadership wants to give the impression that it wants to leave without actually leaving the cabinet. With the amount of  anger from the party base and leadership regarding Azzi’s remarks (check this hashtag on twitter), it shows you how unconventional yet popular Gemayel’s move is: The last time a minister (not called Rifi) tried to resign because of a government policy, it was Nahas in 2011.

Plot twist: Ramzi Jreij is still out there

Oh, and there’s still Ramzi Jreij in the cabinet, who is pro-Kataeb but not officially Kataeb (so he wasn’t forced to resign by the Kataeb political bureau). In other words, what happens in the Grand Serail will not stay in the Grand Serail – at least not for now – as Ramzi Jreij should still report to Bekfaya every once in a while.

The rise and rise of Ashraf Rifi

I can go on for hours in this blog post about what Amal Bou Zeid’s win in Jezzine means, and overthink the awkward Machnouk comments about Frangieh’s presidency, but May was an electoral month, so nothing really counts, and three huge events are everything one needs to remember from these past 60 days of political chaos: The FM lost Tripoli to Ashraf Rifi and almost lost Beirut to Beirut Madinati, Robert Fadel resigned from parliament, and two Kataeb minsters left government.

The beauty of Lebanese politics is that although it seems that the three events aren’t connected with one another, they’re actually directly related: When Ashraf Rifi politically clashed with Salam and Hariri, and resigned from cabinet earlier this year, everyone saw it as political suicide. And that included myself: “Rifi […] signed with this move his mini-political death warrant“, I said back then. But the Tripoli strongman outsmarted us all. The timing of  his resignation, the causes of his resignation, as well as his political intuitions were so good that he actually managed to defeat – as an underdog, and all by himself – a  huge (HUGE) alliance made of three billionaires (Hariri, Mikati, Safadi), two former prime ministers (Hariri, Mikati), and the heir to the most prestigious political family in the North (Karami). Three years earlier, Rifi was not even a politician, and yet against all odds the list he supported won the municipal council of a city that has more than 8 MPs in parliament, and that victory was partly due to the context in which he resigned.

Inspired by a true story

By their resignation moves, Fadel (more on that in this blog post), as well as the Kataeb, are trying to appeal to their electorates in the same way Rifi did – via resignations in critical moments important to their electorates. Even Mikati tried to do the same strategy in 2013: Remember when he resigned months before parliamentary election because Rifi was isolated?

If a charismatic (in his region at least) newcomer/underdog/micro-Zaim can defeat three billionaires, two prime ministers, and the heir to Abdulhamid Karami, than Gemayel can do the same to the FPM, LF and SSNP in his home district. Two things seem to work in this country: Resignations and sectarianism. If you use both correctly, nothing stands in your way.

How much are you ready to risk?

And if you think about it, the government will be considered resigned the moment a new president is elected and isn’t currently doing much right now, so it shouldn’t be the end of the world even if the Kataeb give up their highest ministerial quota in Lebanon’s modern political history. The Kataeb’s maneuver is a risky gamble tough, especially if the presidential vacancy keeps on getting longer, but the Kataeb party has no choice but to give up its ministers in order to at least try to win more parliamentary seats in the next elections, or Sami Gemayel will soon be as influent as Michel Sleiman is right now. The Kataeb ministers had the perfect excuse/context to resign this June, and they did it smoothly, without making anyone feel it was a maneuver, literally advertising their move on every social media outlet there is (cc the hashtag mentioned earlier). Now we wait 12 months and see if the maneuver will succeed.

1960 or 2016?

The fun/weird part in this whole story is that Robert Fadel’s resignation meant that there might have been electoral redistricting in sight (with the possibility of transferring the Greek Orthodox seat from Tripoli to a wider Northern constituency under PR), while the Kataeb resignations mean that the Metn should remain unchanged in the next elections since the maneuver is adapted to the 1960 (2008) electoral law constituencies. This contradiction is the ultimate proof that even our politicians have no idea what’s happening with the electoral law debate.

757 days since the 25th of May (presidential vacancy). 1116 days since the 31st of May (parliamentary extension) .

Lebanese Politics – 2015 In Review

The image that sums up 2015: A trash revolt and several crises in the cabinet

The image that sums up 2015: A trash revolt and several crises in the cabinet

2015 will probably be remembered as the first year in Lebanon’s history that was entirely spent without a president. But for what it’s worth, there was a lot more than that to it, which is why this post is a summary/compilation of all of Lebanon’s events for this year. The time has come to link 2015’s political events with one another. Happy New Year 🙂

Aoun tasted Geagea’s truffles and we almost had a war with Israel (January 2015)

In the last months of 2014, Hezbollah and the Future Movement decided to have a dialogue. As soon as the rumors started, everyone panicked: Aoun agreed to sit with Geagea (and even tasted his truffles), Geagea agreed to support Aoun (if certain conditions were met), and Jumblatt decided – via Wael Abou Faour – to preemptively mark his electoral territory (remember the food health campaign of 2014?) But all the political maneuvering eventually ended when Hezbollah finally chose the “time and place for the retaliation” against Israeli aggressions. For the past 3 years, the party had been constantly criticized for participating in the Syrian civil war and  for directing its weapons away from Israel and towards Syria. So when Israel’s recent airstrike in the Golan Heights killed Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian General, the prefect time and place were found: Hezbollah fighters retaliated by  attacking an Israeli military convoy in the occupied Shebaa Farms, 45 days before Israeli elections, on a disputed Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli territory. The party of God wanted to prove a point without starting a war, and the aftermath was a political success*.

If you can’t beat them, join them, then beat them (February 2015)

It was a political success for the first two weeks*: A minister close to the FM in the cabinet said that Hezbollah did not break the ministerial declaration and Jumblatt lauded Hezbollah’s retaliation. Yet by the laws of Lebanese politics, March 14 was supposed to criticize Hezbollah which is why the Christian parties thought that the dialogue between Hezbollah and the FM was a serious one, and the fear of a deal on the presidency throwing them outside made them…panic. And when the FPM and the LF tried to start an all-out political war between the FM and Hezbollah in order to stop the possible deal, the two Muslim parties simply ignored the Christian brouhaha and made their Christian allies panic even more by removing all their political posters from the city of Beirut in order to “defuse tensions“. Then, after approximately three weeks of bonding with Hezbollah (and throwing Khaled Daher outside the FM’s parliamentary bloc), Hariri threw this political bomb on the 14th of February: “Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria is insanity and Hezbollah has brought this insanity to Lebanon. Tying the Golan Heights to south Lebanon is insanity as well. In 3 weeks, Hariri (1) gave the impression that he had no problem with Hezbollah’s retaliation and made it look as if Hezbollah was following the cabinet’s guidelines that were jointly set by M8 and M14. Then, (2) Hariri managed, whether he meant it or not, to cause confrontations between the members of M8, and between the LF and the FPM. He also managed to (3) undermine Siniora, (4) to throw Daher out and eventually attract a friendly Christian electorate towards M14 while (5) setting boundaries for his MPs, (6) to give the impression that Hezbollah lost him as an ally after they thought they were winning him over, while (7) showing that he is a moderate at the same time because he wants to have a serious dialogue, and (8) highlighting the fact that he is actually making a big sacrifice by negotiating with  Hezbollah, which would mean that he is (9) a patriot that values Lebanon above everything else. These three weeks were supposed to be about Hezbollah’s achievement. Instead, they became all about Hariri, who didn’t even have an achievement. It was – by far – the best political maneuver of 2015.

The two president’s men and a new bey in Mukhtara? (March 2015)

In the last half of February, PM Salam wanted to amend the cabinet’s voting mechanism after several cabinet members began exercising veto power, stalling several of the government’s projects. What happens next? 7 Lebanese ministers meet and decide to form a “consultative gathering”. The ministers are the ones who are loyal to Amine Gemayel and to Michel Sleiman. The rapprochement between the ministers was logical: They all either belong to one of the smallest Lebanese parties in parliament or represent a former president that no longer has any concrete power (not even one MP). That was Gemayel and Sleiman’s way of counterbalacing the FPM-LF’s recent dialogue: The Aounists and the Lebanese Forces were also about to reach an understanding. The process – whose unannounced intention was probably to slow down the Hezbollah-FM dialogue – could have meant two things: (1) That the two main Christian parties were trying to keep the president’s seat to themselves or (2) that no consensual candidate would become president unless the biggest two Christian parties agree on him. Speaking of consensual candidates, Walid Jumblatt’s decision to transfer his power to his son before the presidential elections (and not the parliamentary elections) could have meant that he didn’t want the transition of power to happen in Mukhtara while a president from the Chouf – did I mention that General Kahwagi  is from the Chouf – interferes from the Beiteddin palace.

Yemen, Yemen everywhere (April 2015)

Here’s a short summary of the three productive weeks we had between the 27th of March and the 17th of April: First, Hariri supports the “Saudi intervention” in Yemen. Then, Hezbollah condemns the “Saudi aggression” in Yemen. Then, the Future Movement supports the “Saudi intervention” in Yemen.Then, Nasrallah criticizes Saudi Arabia. Then, the Future Movement criticizes Hezbollah. Then, Hezbollah criticizes the Future Movement. Then, the Future Movement criticizes Hezbollah. Then, Nasrallah criticizes Saudi Arabia. Then, Hariri criticizes Nasrallah. Then, Hezbollah criticizes the Future Movement. Then, the Future Movement criticizes Hezbollah. Then, Hezbollah criticizes the Future Movement. Then, the Future Movement criticizes Hezbollah. This time however, it was Gebran Bassil who was responsible for April’s political bomb: he expressed support for “legitimacy in any Arab country, especially in Yemen”. Four days later, Bassil struck again: “We don’t wish to see Hezbollah fighting with the Houthis or see anyone from the Future Movement fighting alongside the Saudis”. For the second time in the same week, Bassil was indirectly criticizing the FPM’s key ally, Hezbollah. And it wasn’t a good month for Hezbollah: The upper hand that the party had in the two weeks after the January retaliation had disappeared: Jumblatt asked “What’s wrong with Nasrallah?“, the Prime Minister said that Beirut supported any move that preserves Sanaa’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the speaker said he supported Oman’s efforts to solve the crisis, Michel Samaha confessed, Rustum Ghazali died, and the Patriarch said that the March 8 alliance was responsible for the presidential vacancy. So yeah, you can say that it was the worst month for March 8 in 2015.

The War for Shamel Roukoz (May 2015)

By the month of May, a new development had happened: The commander of the army’s term was supposed to end in September, and it was time to find a replacement. For Michel Aoun, March 8’s presidential candidate, the name of the next General in charge of the LAF mattered even more: His son-in-law, Shamel Roukoz,  headed at the time the army’s special forces (The Maghawir) and was a serious candidate for the post. If Roukoz became commander of the army and got the right political backing, he would have been in a position to be as influential as his father-in-law and ultimately succeed him as the party’s leader and idol.  So when The FM and the PSP realized how badly their Christian rival wanted the post, they played it smart. Instead of vetoing the appointment, they outmaneuvered Aoun by accepting the nomination (Here’s a link of Hariri saying yes to Roukoz, and another link of Jumblatt saying yes to Roukoz) while indirectly requiring some concessions from the FPM: (1) Someone not named Michel Aoun as president, (2) a gentler electoral law towards the FM and PSP’s interests, and (3) Hezbollah agreeing to some of their terms. But that’s not all of it. Giving Roukoz the green light comes at a price: The FM insisted on naming Roukoz commander after the presidential elections, making it a difficult task for Aoun to accept that deal: What if the next president didn’t want Roukoz to lead the army? It was a risky prospect for Aoun. For the FPM, appointing Roukoz as commander seemed like one of the two steps needed to secure the presidential elections of 2021 (since the commander of the army is usually the candidat-favori). For the FM, appointing Roukoz seemed like the easiest way to try to sow discontent between the FPM and Hezbollah. Anyway, the month of May 2015 ends with the hope of implementing a settlement including a Aoun withdrawal from the presidential race and a Roukoz appointment in the army.

The rise of the Christian parties (June 2015)

Surprise. For the first time since 2005, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea met. Live. Face to face. Without having to shoot at one another like the good old days of the late eighties. After 6 months of speculation, the FPM and the LF finally agreed on a “declaration of intent”, which was basically an agreement to agree on an agreement between the two parties. The symbolism of the meeting was however very important, and if you read the declaration, you’ll find out  that it revolves around one main idea: protecting the Christian interests, and at their core, the election of a strong president (a “strong president” = Aoun and /or Geagea). Although the FPM looked like the winning party (since it was Geagea the one who visited him in Rabieh), the leader of the Lebanese Forces succeeded in bringing back the “strong president” rhetoric to life, thus pushing Aoun away from the idea of a consensual president (in case he was even tempted by it) and a Roukouz deal with the Mustaqbal and the PSP. At the time, it didn’t look as if a new pseudo-alliance between the LF and the FPM was genuinely starting: It looked more like the consensual candidate – Roukoz deal was being put off the table, At least for a while. Meanwhile, the transfer of power in the Kataeb was already underway: Samy Gemayel officially declared his candidacy for the Kataeb presidency on the third of June, and was officially elected to succeed his father on the 15th of June; it was always too obvious that the presidency of the Kataeb would eventually be given – even if by elections – to the eldest living heir of the eldest heir of Pierre Gemayel. With a temporarily weakened Kataeb in a succession period, one can only imagine the impact an FPM-LF pseudo-alliance might have on Lebanese politics.

Christian rights and political maneuvers (July 2015)

The appointment of Shamel Roukoz as commander of the army meant that Kahwagi, who will no longer be commander of the army, would slowly lose momentum as a presidential candidate in favor of other candidates, while at the same time Roukoz seemed the man to fulfill the legacy of Aoun. The problem however for the FPM is that the party did not wish to make concessions (such as Aoun’s withdrawal from the presidential race) in order to bring Roukoz into the army command. Aoun wanted the cabinet to discuss the commander of the army’s appointment from July, in order to avoid any deal that could be forced upon him in September. The early/urgent appointment of Shamel Roukoz as commander hence became the FPM’s main priority. For a little over than a month – empowered by the newly signed declaration of intent – Aoun took it upon himself to launch the most aggressive political maneuver of this year:  He called for the demonstrations and tried to prove that he is the most popular leader with the Geagea polling deal. He also played the sectarian card by saying that Salam was abusing his powers in his refusal to discuss the appointment of a new commander of the army: Constitutionally speaking, it’s the Sunni PM that sets the agenda in the cabinet meetings (article 64) although the Maronite president is allowed to “introduce, from outside the agenda, any urgent matter to the council of Ministers” (article 53). But there was no president which gave the FPM the chance to play a double sectarian card: The FPM leaders argued that the PM doesn’t want to discuss the appointment of the Maronite commander of the army, and is refusing to let the biggest Christian party in the cabinet use the authorities of the Maronite president. So when Bassil told the PM that he was the President in the absence of a President during a cabinet session, it was clear that it was going to end badly in the executive power: The pressure and paralysis in the government eventually led to rumors that the Prime Minister was going to resign. It was a clever maneuver from Salam: In case he leaves the premiership, his cabinet – that already assumes the role of the president – becomes a caretaker one, the parliament loses the remainder of its legislative power and the FPM’s demands in the government become useless (since a caretaker cabinet cannot theoretically meet). The FPM lose their chance of making a scene by throwing Salam outside like they did to Hariri in 2011,  and instead of showing themselves as victims, they become the ones responsible for literally everything: Every institution in Lebanon becomes paralyzed because of the M8 boycott of the presidential elections, and the only one who would still keep a bit of influence is Tammam Salam as president of the caretaker cabinet. Also if no solution was reached by September, the commander of the army will probably see his term extended, since a caretaker cabinet doesn’t officially have enough authority to discuss such an important post, especially that the country would become highly unstable once we cease to have a functioning government alongside a paralyzed parliament and a non-existent president. In the end, Salam didn’t resign and the Aounists didn’t appoint Roukoz as commander, but the FPM’s July jockeying will be remembered as a major turning point in Lebanese politics this year.

A coup in the cabinet and a garbage revolt everywhere else (August 2015)

Weakened by his failed July maneuver and by an expected succession crisis in his party, Michel Aoun suffered a major blow on the 6th of August when defense minister Samir Mokbel signed a decree to postpone the retirement of Army Commander General Jean Kahwaji. While the FPM ministers’ resignation seemed like the typical response to this “mini-declaration of war”, the fact that Aoun wasn’t on board with Berri that month (Berri lashed out at the FPM that same week, told us that he wouldn’t vote for Aoun in the presidential elections, that toppling the cabinet was a red line and that the government paralysis hurts citizens) meant that Amal’s 2.5 ministers wouldn’t have resigned along with the FPM officials. In other words, a Hezbollah-FPM double resignation wouldn’t have been enough to collapse the cabinet, and Salam was free to extend Kahwaji’s term. The move to throw Roukoz outside the army command and to isolate Aoun in the government was humiliating yet there was still one, and only one (fast) way left for Aoun to vacate the army command before the summer of 2016 (when Kahwagi’s new term expires): Agree to make Kahwagi president, which would leave room in the army command to bring in Roukoz. Deep down, March 14’s maneuver of extending Kahwagi’s term wasn’t necessary about ending any chance of striking a deal with the FPM. It was might have actually been their way of enforcing one.

By the second week of August, all the political maneuvering Lebanon had for years turned suddenly stopped: Lebanon turned into a dumpster and a garbage crisis – caused by the government’s inaction for 20 years and aggravated by the recent deadlock – was quickly threatening the authority of the Lebanese political class. For the next month, Beirut was at its most beautiful in years. Small demonstrations protesting corruption and oppression grew in size and on the 29th of August, as hundreds of thousands of Lebanese gathered in martyr’s square asking for solutions to the trash crisis, early elections and accountability, there was finally hope that this country might one day change for the better.

Another coup in the cabinet (September/October 2015)

While the protests were still ongoing to pressure the cabinet to solve the trash crisis, Lebanon was witnessing two important developments regarding the FPM: Gebran Bassil became the leader of the party, and Chamel Roukoz was thrown out of the army for good, raising several important questions: Who gives the orders in the FPM? Aoun? Bassil? Who does the FPM answer to? Bassil? Aoun? What to do with Roukoz? Bring him in since he’s too popular? (Or keep him outside since he’s too popular?) Can the FPM nominate Roukoz instead of Aoun to the presidency? What would that make of Bassil? The FPM also started changing their discourse into a more “Christian rights” – based one: The whole “reforming the system and rooting out corruption from within” wasn’t working so much anymore, especially with the recent waves of anti-government protests.  The crisis in the cabinet continued, and as everyone threatened to bring down the cabinet,  the premier, who probably knew – like everyone else – that no one was ready to bring down a government in which they thrive on the status-quo, took it upon himself to end the discourse and indirectly told everyone that if they won’t calm down and try (or at least pretend) to figure out how to solve the trash crisis, he will be the one who will bring down the government. Ironically, it might have been the fear of the trash protesters that prevented the government from imploding.

The boycott and the bait (November 2015)

November was weird. Lebanon’s Muslim parties wanted to legislate in the middle of a presidential vacancy (hint: It’s unconstitutional), while the Christian parties refused to do so and formed a brief yet historic tripartite alliance to dis-legitimatize the session by boycotting it. Among the 38 draft laws on the table was a proposal that was supposed to lure the Christian parties and push them to take part in the legislative sessions: A draft law that would grant citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates. For ages, that was one of the main requests of the Christian parties (they believe that most of the expatriates are Christians which would strengthen their position ahead of parliamentary elections). So why weren’t they willing to participate? For the LF and the Kataeb, boycotting the legislative session meant that they were pissing off the leadership of the March 8 alliance and that they too – and not only the FPM – are ready to stand up for Christian rights (= the priority of electing a Christian president before legislating in this case). For the FPM, their boycott of the session was probably a mini-retaliation on Berri for letting the extension of Kahwagi in the army command pass and for not standing with them on the Chamel Roukoz issue. So is revenge a dish best served cold? No, not really: The bait (citizenship law) actually worked and the FPM and LF eventually participated in the (theoretically unconstitutional) session after it became obvious that the Muslim parties were going through with their plans regardless of the Christian boycott. After passing the citizenship law, it seemed as if the declaration of intent had finally reached its purpose and both the LF  and FPM had won their first battle as half-allies. So everything seemed to be fine for the Christian parties that month…until the Future Movement hinted that they might endorse Sleiman Frangieh, the second-in-command among March 8’s Christian parties and a long-term ally of the Syrian regime as their presidential candidate. As you can expect, the Christian parties panicked: Frangieh had the right family name, the international support, enough “Christian legitimacy” (he’s one of the Maronite Four), and support from three powerful Muslim parties across the political spectrum.

Frangieh The Second? (December 2015)

As the seriousness of Sleiman Frangieh’s candidacy became evident, Lebanon’s traditional March 8/March 14 alliances were on the verge of collapsing. While the PSP, the FM and Amal rallied around Frangieh, the election of Frangieh was out of the question for the biggest three Christian parties (the LF, FPM, and Kataeb). Hezbollah stayed silent and as the FPM’s final say that they would stick with Aoun became more obvious, the party of God’s decision not to support the Marada leader (for the time being) will have saved Lebanon from a Christian-Muslim confrontation in parliament. Only time will tell if Frangieh’s candidacy was an M14 maneuver to blow up M8 or an M8 counter-maneuver to take the presidency, but for now, the future of the Frangieh settlement remains unclear: While the election of Frangieh as president is a long-term investment for Hezbollah and could reinforce the March 8 alliance till the next parliamentary elections, Aoun doesn’t exactly benefit from the Frangieh deal. A minor ally of his becomes a major rival that threatens the influence of the newly elected FPM president Gebran Bassil, and Aoun will have no guarantee whatsoever on what happens with the electoral law. If the FPM isn’t given assurances – the outline of the new electoral law, the FPM’s share in the new cabinet, or even bringing Chamel Roukoz (in a way or another) back into the army command – the deal is as good as dead: Hezbollah and the FPM control a little less than the third of the parliament’s seats making it extremely difficult for any candidate to secure the two-thirds quorum needed for the presidential elections.

You might also like 2013’s review and 2014’s review.

Legislation of Necessity and the Excellent Bait

Aoun Geagea

Yesterday, we were on the verge of a Christian-Muslim confrontation in parliament. For the first time in Lebanon’s modern history, Lebanon’s biggest three Christian parties in the parliament were going to stick together on an important matter: Boycotting legislative sessions in the absence of  a president in power. Within  days, the Sunni-Shia (or Future Movement – Hezbollah) rivalry in the country was replaced with a Christian-Muslim one, bringing back the memories of the civil war.

But today is a different day: The FPM, LF and FM just made a deal to eventually participate in tomorrow’s legislative session. Welcome to the incredible world of Lebanese politics.

The bait worked…

Nabih Berri gambled and won. In order to secure the legitimacy and quorum for his “legislation of necessity”, the speaker tried to lure the Christian parties by adding to the agenda a draft law that would grant citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates. For ages, that was one of the main requests of the Christian parties (they believe that most of the expatriates are Christians which would strengthen their position ahead of parliamentary elections). But the Christian parties  (until today – November 11) were still planning on boycotting the session despite Berri’s “bait”, each for its own reason:

For the LF and the Kataeb, boycotting the legislative session means that they’re pissing off the leadership of the March 8 alliance and that they too – and not only the FPM – are ready to stand up for Christian rights (= the priority of electing a Christian president before legislating in this case).

For the FPM, their boycott of the session is probably a mini-retaliation on Berri for letting the extension of Kahwagi in the army command pass and for not standing with them on the Chamel Roukoz issue. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

But in the end, the FPM and the LF eventually decided to show up on Thursday’s session, probably because the speaker wasn’t intending on adjourning the legislative session and because the Muslim parties were going to participate in it despite the Christian uproar. The Christian parties – probably after working things out with the FM (The FM and the FPM all by themselves could form a parliamentary majority which means that the citizenship law would probably pass) – eventually decided to take advantage of the presidential vacancy and get a pro-Christian law in exchange of securing the legitimacy of the legislative session. It’s a practical deal: Berri’s session doesn’t get too questioned in terms of legitimacy (imagine laws passing in the absence of 2/3 of the Christian MPs and a Christian president), and in exchange, the two major Christian parties (the LF and the FPM) send a message of pseudo-Christian unity while strengthening their position ahead of possible parliamentary elections. If the Christians would have planned on continuing their boycott, the session would have probably happened anyway and then the Christian parties would have to confront their Muslim allies and explain themselves in front of their electorates on how they let their allies bypass them on such important decisions. Getting a law granting citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates via a deal is the easier/smarter solution for both the LF and the FPM, especially since the Muslim parties won’t oppose them because of the presidential vacancy which puts them in a stronger position. In other words, the FM, PSP, Hezbollah and Amal were successfully blackmailed by the LF and the FPM after trying to blackmail them.

…And everyone won..

By striking the deal with the FM, the FPM managed to send a message to its Muslim M8 allies that if they aren’t going to stand with them in the future on important matters (like the Roukoz crisis), a rapprochement with the FM isn’t out of the question. It’s also a mini-humiliation to the speaker since the agreement is being circulated by the media as an FPM-FM-LF deal that wasn’t sponsored by the speaker .

For the LF, the deal puts them in the middle (since they were the ones who brokered the deal), and finally gives purpose to the FPM-LF declaration of intent. For the first time since they exited the executive power in 2011, the Lebanese Forces seem to have a role, and it’s an important one. “We passed the most important law for the Christians” will be used before the parliamentary elections (I’ll remind you when it happens).

For the Kataeb, they send a clear message that they’re the only ones who care about the constitution and the Christian rights since they refused to compromise, although they suffer a mini-defeat by being abandoned/ignored – for the millionth time – by the LF-FPM duo. More than ever, the May 2015 declaration of intent seems to be directed at thwarting the slow but steady rise of the Sami Gemayel’s Kataeb.

Berri eventually wins since his plan on holding the legislative session eventually went through.

…Except the Constitution. The only loser seems to be the Lebanese constitution

Have you met article 75?

The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.

But then again, it seems that no one cares.

Maneuvers, maneuvers.

536 days sincwe the 25th of May. 372 days since the 5th of November. 82 days since the 22nd of August.

How Lebanon’s Constitutional Council Shamed the Parliament

Protesters carry a sign ugring judges meeting at the Constitutional Council headquarters in Beirut to accept a challenge against Parliament's extension. (The Daily Star/Khalil Hassan)

Protesters carry a sign urging judges meeting at the Constitutional Council headquarters in Beirut to accept a challenge against Parliament’s extension. (The Daily Star/Khalil Hassan)

The Lebanese parliament that cancelled elections and extended its term twice has spent the past two months of protests trying to prove its legitimacy (instead of doing something else more useful like discussing a new electoral law or solving the trash crisis properly). Among the propaganda justifying the extension, the political class mentioned the absence of an alternative electoral law to the 2008 one, “exceptional circumstances”, presidential vacancy and safeguarding the national pact.

Well, guess what. In November 2014, and after some of the FPM MPs asked Lebanon’s constitutional council to review the parliamentary extension law, the council’s response was relatively violent. Aside from indirectly shaming the parliament and listing the huge amount of constitutional articles  that were violated because of the extension law – The preamble (several times) and articles 22, 24, 27, 41 – the constitutional council considered that:

  • The Lebanese parliament is unconstitutional. (“قانون التمديد المخالف للدستور“)
  • It is a fait accompli  parliament. (“يعتبر التمديد امرا واقعا“)
  • The 2 years 7 months period is unjustifiable. (“ان تمديد ولاية المجلس غير متناسية مع مقتضياته، وبما ان المدة الطويلة لا يمكن تبريرها بمعطيات آنية وراهنة، كما ان تبريرها باعتبارات مستقبلية او افتراضية لا يستقيم لا واقعا ولا قانونا“).
  • The parliamentary extension contradicts and is not justified by the national pact. (” لا يجوز التحجج بالميثاقية لتأجيل الانتخابات وتمديد ولاية المجلس، لان ذلك يؤدي الى تقويض الاسس التي قام عليها الميثاق الوطني، وبالتالي تقويض التعهدات الوطنية والنظام والدولة، “)
  • The parliamentary elections are not related to the presidential elections, and the vacancy in the presidency doesn’t justify the extension especially since it’s the parliament’s responsibility to elect a president.( “تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب لا يجوز ان تبرر بالشغور في سدة رئاسة الجمهورية، وبخاصة ان المسؤول عن هذا الشغور هو مجلس النواب نفسه،“)
  • Holding parliamentary elections is not related to the presence of a new electoral law.  (لا يجوز ربط اجراء الانتخابات النيابية بالتوافق على قانون انتخاب جديد او بالتوافق على اجرائها”)

In the end (and as expected), the FPM MPs didn’t resign and even kept on nurturing the presidential vacancy, and the constitutional council only criticized the law without stopping it.

Anyway, this document – taken from the official National News Agency – that wasn’t very publicized  at the time (for the obvious reasons) is here to remind everyone with one sentence: Our democracy was stolen, and the biggest proof is that our political class no longer abides by the constitution.

Take a look at the full text of the constitutional council’s decision (sorry, couldn’t find an English or even French version). I marked the worst violations in bold.

رقم المراجعة 6/2014

المستدعون: النواب السادة: ميشال عون – ادكار معلوف – ابراهيم كنعان – حكمت ديب – سيمون ابي رميا – نادي غاريوس – زياد اسود – فادي الاعور – نبيل نقولا – الان عون.

القانون المطلوب وقف العمل فيه وابطاله:

القانون المعجل النافذ حكما الرقم 16 تاريخ 11 تشرين الثاني 2014 والمنشور في العدد 48 من الجريدة الرسمية تاريخ 11/11/2014 والمتعلق بتمديد ولاية مجلس النواب.

ان المجلس الدستوري الملتئم في مقره بتاريخ 28/11/2014، برئاسة رئيسه عصام سليمان وحضور نائب الرئيس طارق زياده والاعضاء: احمد تقي الدين، انطوان مسره، انطوان خير، زغلول عطية، توفيق سوبره، سهيل عبد الصمد، صلاح مخيبر، ومحمد بسام مرتضى،

وعملا بالمادة 19 من الدستور،

وبعد الاطلاع على ملف المراجعة وسائر المستندات المرفقة بها، وعلى تقرير المقرر، المؤرخ في 19/11/2014،

وبما ان السادة النواب المذكورة اسماؤهم أعلاه تقدموا بمراجعة سجلت في قلم المجلس الدستوري بتاريخ 13/11/2014، ترمي الى الامور الاتية:

اولا: تعليق مفعول القانون المطعون فيه: يقضي القانون بتمديد ولاية مجلس النواب الحالي الى 20/6/2017، تلك الولاية التي سبق تمديدها بصورة استثنائية الى 20/11/2014 بالقانون رقم 246 تاريخ 31/5/2013 والمنشور في ملحق خاص من الجريدة الرسمية رقم 24 تاريخ 1/6/2013، ما من شأنه ان ينشىء ولاية جديدة كاملة لمجلس النواب بفعل التمديدين المذكورين.

– لم يتضمن التمديد الجديد اي اشارة الى طابعه الاستثنائي، على عكس ما ورد في صلب القانون الرقم 246/2013 والذي سبق الطعن به لدى المجلس الدستوري.

– من شأن تعليق مفعول القانون تمكين السلطات المختصة من اجراء العملية الانتخابية بالتاريخ المحدد بالمرسوم رقم 321 تاريخ 19/8/2014 (دعوة الهيئات الناخبة لانتخاب اعضاء مجلس النواب)، اي في 16/11/2014، وذلك قبل نهاية فترة التمديد الاول، بخاصة ان حددت وزارة الداخلية والبلديات موعدين لاقتراع المغتربين في الكويت واستراليا (سيدني/ مليورن)، تباعا في 7/11/2014 و 9/11/2014.

– ان تحقق واقعة اجراء الانتخابات النيابية في موعدها في لبنان ينفي طابع الاستثناء ومصلحة الدولة العليا والخطر الامني الداهم وما شابه من اسباب تم ايرادها في الاسباب الموجبة، ما يعني ان الاستحقاق الدستوري المفصلي قد جرى في موعده دون عوائق، فتتحقق الغاية الدستورية من الانتخاب، مع الاشارة الى رقابة المجلس الدستوري على صدقية اي انتخاب مطعون فيه.

ثانيا – ابطال القانون للاسباب التالية:

– مخالفة الفقرة (ب) من مقدمة الدستور (التزام لبنان الاعلام العالمي لشرعة حقوق الانسان والفقرة (ب) من المادة 25 من العهد الدولي الخاص بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية الصادر عن الامم المتحدة في 16/12/1966 والذي انضم لبنان اليه بالمرسوم رقم 3855 تاريخ 1/9/1972 (الاشتراك اقتراعا وترشيحا في انتخابات دورية صحيحة نزيهة تجري على اساس الاقتراع العام المتساوي السري وتضمن الاعراب الحر عن ارادة الناخبين)، وكذلك المادة 4 الفقرة (1) من العهد المذكور (في حالات الطوارىء الاستثنائية التي تهدد حياة الامة والمعلن قيامها رسميا، يجوز للدول الاطراف في هذا العهد ان تتخذ، في اضيق الحدود التي يتطلبها الوضع تدابير تتقيد بالالتزامات المترتبة عليها…، وكذلك الفقرة 3 (وجوب على اية دولة طرف في هذا العهد استخدمت حق عدم التقيد ان تعلم الدول الاطراف الاخرى فورا، عن طريق الامين العام للامم المتحدة بالاحكام التي لم تتقيد بها وبالاسباب التي دفعتها الى ذلك، وعليها، في التاريخ الذي تنهي فيه عدم التقيد، ان تعلمها بذلك مرة اخرى والطريق ذاته”.

– مخالفة المادة 21 (فقرة1) من الاعلان العالمي لحقوق الانسان (لكل فرد الحق في الاشتراك في ادارة الشؤون العامة لبلاده اما مباشرة واما بواسطة ممثلين يختارون اختيارا حرا (….) وارادة الشعب هي مصدر سلطة الحكومة، ويعبر عن هذه الارادة بانتخابات نزيهة دورية…”

– مخالفة الفقرة ج من مقدمة الدستور (لبنان جمهورية ديموقراطية برلمانية).

– مخالفة الفقرة (د) من مقدمة الدستور (الشعب مصدر السلطات وصاحب السيادة يمارسها عبر المؤسسات الدستورية)

– مخالفة الفقرة (هـ) من مقدمة الدستور (النظام قائم على مبدأ الفصل بين السلطات وتوازنها وتعاونها)..”

– مخالفة مبادىء وثيقة الوفاق الوطني التي استقى الدستور منها حرفيا مقدمته.

– مخالفة المادة 27 من الدستور (عضو مجلس النواب يمثل الامة جمعاء ولا يجوز ان تربط وكالته بقيد او شرط من قبل منتخبيه، ما يعني التقيد بأجل الوكالة اي في 20/6/2013 وتنتهي الوكالة بحلول الاجل اي في 20/6/2013 حسب المادة 808 من قانون الموجبات والعقود.

– مخالفة المادة 44 من الدستور التي يستفاد منها صراحة ان ولاية المجلس النيابي اربع سنوات وهذه الولاية عصية على الاستنساب.

– مخالفة المادة 32 من الدستور حول تخصيص جلسات المجلس النيابي بالبحث في الموازنة والتصويت عليها.

– مخالفة المادة 42 (تجري الانتخابات العامة لتجديد هيئة المجلس في خلال الستين يوما السابقة لانتهاء مدة النيابة)، مع العلم ان موعد اجراء الانتخابات العامة حدد في 16/11/2014 من السلطة المختصة ويشير هنا الطاعنون الى انه لا قيمة قانونية ملزمة لاي تعهد يرد في محضر الجلسة باجراء الانتخابات النيابية عند حلول استحقاقات دستورية اخرى او بمواعيد تسبق انتهاء الولاية الممددة تكرارا، ذلك ان العبرة والالزامية لما ورد في النص التشريعي.

– ولاية المجلس المحددة بقانون لا تعدل بقانون، اختصارا او تمديدا، في ضوء وجوب مراعاة القانون في هذه الحالة المبادىء العامة والاحكام الدستورية.

– ضرورة تفسير الاستثناء حصرا وبصورة ضيقة وفي الحالة الراهنة عدم توفر شروط الاستثناء والخطر الداهم خلافا للتفاصيل الواردة في الاسباب الموجبة.

– لا يشكل الفراغ القاتل، في رئاسة الجمهورية ذريعة للتمديد: وحتى اذا اتفق حصول خلاء الرئاسة ومجلس النواب منحل تدعي الهيئات الناخبة دون ابطاء لانتخاب مجلس جديد، على ما ورد في المادة 74 من الدستور، وصلاحيات رئيس الجمهورية تناط وكالة بمجلس الوزراء حسبما جاء في الطعن.

– مخالفة المادة 57 من الدستور في اصدار القانون حيث ان الرئيس الجمهورية سلطة محفوظة له، كما ورد في الطعن بطلب اعادة النظر في القانون.

– مخالفة المادة 19 من الدستور حول حق رئيس مجلس الوزراء المحفوظ له، كما جاء في الطعن، بمراجعة المجلس الدستوري (اقرار المجلس الدستوري رقم 1 تاريخ 6/5/2005 بالمراجعة رقم 12/205)، وورد في الطعن ان حق مراجعة المجلس الدستوري هو ايضا من الحقوق الضيقة بشخص رئيس الجمهورية، ذلك ان المادة 19 خصته بالتسمية، كما سواه، كمرجعية من المرجعيات التي يحق لها مراجعة المجلس الدستوري.

وبناء على ما تقدم،

اولا – في الشكل:
بما ان المراجعة، المقدمة من عشرة نواب، جاءت ضمن المهلة المحددة في الفقرة الاخيرة من المادة 19 من القانن رقم 250/1993 مستوفية جميع الشروط الشكلية فهي مقبولة شكلا.

ثانيا: في الاساس:

1 – في تعليق مفعول القانون المطعون فيه.

تدارس المجلس الدستوري طلب وقف العمل بالقانون المطعون فيه المبين في المراجعة، وذلك في جلسته المنعقدة يوم تقديمها بتاريخ 13/11/2014، ولم ير سببا للاستجابة الى هذا الطلب.

2 – في مخالفة القانون المطعون فيه المبادىء الواردة في مقدمة الدستور

بما ان مقدمة الدستور جزء لا يتجزأ من الدستور وبما ان مقدمة الدستور نصت على التزام لبنان بالاعلان العالمي لحقوق الانسان وبمواثيق الامم المتحدة، وعلى تجسيد الدولة المبادىء الواردة فيها في جميع الحقول والمجالات دون استثناء،

وبما ان المادة 21 من الاعلان العالمي لحقوق الانسان نصت على ارادة الشعب هي مصدر السلطات، يعبر عنها بانتخابات نزيهة دورية تجري على اساس الاقتراع السري وحرية التصويت،

وبما ان الاتفاقية الدولية بشأن الحقوق المدنية والسياسية، التي انضم اليها لبنان في العام 1972، نصت على ان لكل مواطن الحق والفرصة في ان ينتخب وينتخب في انتخابات دورية على اساس من المساواة،

وبما ان مبدأ دورية الانتخابات أكدته قرارات المجلس الدستوري وبخاصة القرار رقم 2/79 والقرار رقم 1/2013.

وبما ان مبدأ دورية الانتخاب مبدأ دستوري لارتباطه بمبدأ انبثاق السلطة من الشعب وخضوعها للمحاسبة في الانتخابات،

وبما ان المحاسبة في الانتخابات عنصر اساسي في الانظمة الديمقراطية، وقد نصت مقدمة الدستور على ان لبنان جمهورية ديمقراطية برلمانية، تقوم على احترام الحريات العامة، وفي طليعتها حرية الرأي والمعتقد وعلى العدالة والمساواة في الحقوق والواجبات بين جميع المواطنين دون تمايز او تفضيل.

وبما ان الانتخابات النيابية هي الوسيلة الاساسية لتحقيق الديمقراطية البرلمانية،

وبما ان الانتخابات تفسح في المجال امام المواطنين للتعبير عن ارادتهم في اختيار من يمثلهم.

وبما ان مقدمة الدستور نصت على ان الشعب مصدر السلطات وصاحب السيادة يمارسها عبر المؤسسات الدستورية.

وبما ان المجلس الدستوري اكد، في قراره رقم 1/2013، ان الانتخابات الحرة والزيهة هي الوسيلة الوحيدة لانبثاق السلطة من الشعب وهي اساس الديمقراطية البرلمانية.

وبما ان مبدأ التنافس في الانتخابات هو الاساس والقاعدة في الانظمة الديمقراطية وهو مبدأ له قيمة دستورية،

وبما ان المادتين 22 و24 من الدستور نصتا على ان مجلس النواب مؤلف من نواب منتخبين.

وبما ان مجلس النواب يمثل الشعب في ممارسة السلطة، ومنه تنبثق السلطة الاجرائية، وهو ينتخب رئيس الجمهورية،

وبما ان شرعية مجلس النواب هي اساس شرعية السلطات في الدولة.

وبما ان اساس شرعية مجلس النواب هو الانتخابات الحرة والنزيهة التي تجري في مواعيدها، ويعبر الشعب من خلالها عن ارادته ويحاسب من مثله في مجلس النواب، ويحدد خياراته ما يتطلب الالتزام الصارم بدورية الانتخاب والتقيد بمدة الوكالة النيابية،

وبما ان مقدمة الدستور نصت على ان التزام قائم على مبدأ الفصل بين السلطات وتوازنها وتعاونها،

وبما ان الالتزام بهذا المبدأ يقتضي تقيد كل من السلطات بالمدة الزمنية التي تمارس وظائفها في اطارها، اي تقيد مجلس النواب بمدة الوكالة النيابية، وتقيد الحكومة بالثقة الممنوحة لها من مجلس النواب وتقديم استقالتها عند حجب الثقة عنها،

وبما ان تمديد مدة الوكالة النيابية بقرار من مجلس النواب، في حين ان مدة ولاية الحكومة رهن بقرار منه ايضا، يؤدي الى الاخلال بالتوازن بين السلطتين الاشتراعية والاجرائية لصالح الاولى،

وبما ان الاخلال بالتوازن بين السلطات، على الشكل المبين أعلاه، يتعارض مع الدستور، ويؤدي الى الطعن في شرعية مجلس النواب في الفترة الممددة واستطرادا الطعن في شرعية كل ما يصدر عنه،

لذلك يتعارض تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب سنتين وسبعة اشعر، بعد ان مددت سابقا سنة وخمسة اشهر، مع الدستور من حيث المبدأ،

3 – في مخالفة المادة 27 من الدستور.

بما ان المادة 27 من الدستور نصت على ان عضو مجلس النواب يمثل الامة جمعاء ولا يجوز ان تربط وكالته بقيد او شرط من قبل منتخبيه،

وبما ان الوكالة النيابية غير مقيدة يمارس بموجبها النائب مهامه كما يرى مناسبا،

وبما ان عدم تقييد الوكالة يقتضي تحديد مدتها الزمنية,

وبما ان التوازن في الوكالة النيابية غير المقيدة قائم على عنصرين اساسيين: عدم تقييد الوكالة النيابية وترك النائب يتصرف وفق اقتناعاته اثناء ولايته من جهة وانتهاء الوكالة عند انتهاء الولاية والعودة الى الشعب، مصدر السلطات، يعبر عن ارادته في انتخابات جديدة من جهة اخرى،

وبما ان تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب بقرار منه يؤدي الى اخلال بالتوازن الذي قامت عليه الوكالة النيابية، ويتعارض بالتالي مع مفهوم الوكالة النيابية التي نصت عليه المادة 27 من الدستور،

وبما ان المجلس الدستوري سبق وابطل في قراره رقم 4/96 النص الذي جعل ولاية مجلس النواب اربع سنوات وثمانية اشهر لانه اخل بالقاعدة والعرف البرلماني المعمول به في لبنان،

وبما ان تمديد مدة الوكالة النيابية بعد اجراء الانتخابات، اخطر من تمديد الولاية في قانون الانتخابات قبل اجراء الانتخابات،

وبما ان المادة 44 من الدستور نصت على امكانية نزع الثقة من رئيس مجلس النواب ونائبه بعد عامين من انتخابهما عند بدء ولاية المجلس، ما قد يؤشر الى ان ولاية المجلس، وفق الدستور، محددة باربع سنوات،

وبما ان لبنان درج منذ زمن بعيد على تحديد ولاية المجلس بأربع سنوات، وهي مدة الوكالة النيابية،

لذلك تعارض تمديد ولاية المجلس مع الدستور من حيث المبدأ.

4- في مخالفة احكام المادة 32 من الدستور

بما ان المادة 32 من الدستور نصت على تخصيص جلسات المجلس النيابي في عقدها السنوي العادي الثاني للبحث في الموازنة والتصويت عليها قبل كل عمل آخر،

وبما ان هذا النص لم يأت امرا وليس بالتالي ملزما، بل يعطي افضلية وأرجحية لهذا العمل فيأتي في رأس جدول اعمال المجلس قبل اي عمل آخر، الا انه لا يمنع المجلس من التشريع في امور ضرورية وطارئة قبل بحث الموازنة،

وبما انه بالرجوع الى سائر مواد الدستور نجد ان بعضها رتب بطلانا على مخالفة النص كما في المادة 31 منه التي نصت على ان كل اجتماع يعقده المجلس في غير المواعيد القانونية يعد باطلا حكما ومخالفا للقانون، وكما في المادة 34 التي نصت على ان ” لا يكون اجتماع المجلس قانونيا ما لم تحضره الاكثرية من الاعضاء الذين يؤلفونه”.

كما ان المادة 78 من الدستور نص “اذا طرح على المجلس مشروع يتعلق بتعديل الدستور يجب عليه ان يثابر على المناقشة حتى التصويت عليه قبل اي عمل آخر، على انه لا يمكنه ان يجري مناقشة او ان يصوت الا على المواد والمسائل المحددة بصورة واضحة في المشروع”.

وبما ان هذا النص قد جاء بصيغة آمرة بقوله “يجب” واتبعها بصيغة اخرى “لا يمكنه” وهذه تمنع على المجلس صراحة البحث في ما هو خارج عن المشروع،

وبما ان هذه العبارات الآمرة والجازمة والملزمة وردت في مواد كثيرة من الدستور (المواد 38 و40 و47 و79 و84 و85 و88 و89) الا انها لم ترد في نص المادة 32 من الدستور، الامر الذي يدل بوضوح ان احكام المادة 32 غير ملزمة بل هي تعطي افضلية وأرجحية لبحث الموازنة دون ان ترتب اي ابطال او مخالفة موجبة لابطال اي عمل تشريعي يتم قبل بحث الموازنة،

لذلك ينبغي رد هذا السبب من اسباب الطعن.

5- في مخالفة المادة 57 من الدستور.

بما ان المادة 57 من الدستور منحت رئيس الجمهورية حق طلب اعادة النظر في القانون مرة واحدة ضمن المهلة المحددة لاصداره ولا يجوز ان يرفض طلبه،

وبما ان المادة نفسها نصت على انه في حال انقضاء المهلة دون اصدار القانون او اعادته يعتبر القانون نافذا حكما ووجب نشره،

وبما ان المادة 62 من الدستور اناطت صلاحيات رئيس الجمهورية وكالة بمجلس الوزراء في حال خلو سدة الرئاسة،

وبما ان القانون المطعون في دستوريته لم يصدره مجلس الوزراء الذي يمارس صلاحيات رئيس الجمهورية وكالة، ضمن المهلة المحددة وأصبح نافذا عند انتهاء هذه المهلة،

لذلك لم يخالف القانون المطعون في دستوريته المادة 57 من الدستور.

6- في الظروف الاستثنائية.
بما ان القانون المطعون في دستوريته نص في مادة وحيدة على ما يأتي: “تنتهي ولاية مجلس النواب الحالي بتاريخ 20 حزيران 2017″، ولم يأت على ذكر ظروف استثنائية، انما وردت الظروف الاستثنائية في الاسباب الموجبة.

وبما ان الظروف الاستثنائية هي ظروف شاذة خارقة تهدد السلامة العامة والامن والنظام العام في البلاد، ومن شأنها ربما ان تعرض كيان الامة للزوال،

وبما ان الظروف الاستثنائية تقتضي اتخاذ اجراءات استثنائية بغية الحفاظ على الانتظام العام الذي له قيمة دستورية،

وبما انه تنشأ بفعل الظروف الاستثنائية شرعية استثنائية غير منصوص عليها تحل محل الشرعية العادية، ما دامت هناك ظروف استثنائية،

وبما انه في الظروف الاستثنائية، الناجمة عن احداث خطيرة جدا وغير متوقعة، يجوز للمشترع، ضمن حدود معينة، ان يخرج عن احكام الدستور والمبادىء الدستورية او القواعد ذات القيمة الدستورية، وذلك حفاظا على الانتظام العام واستمرارية المرافق العامة، وصونا لمصالح البلاد العليا، وهذا ما اكدت عليه قرارات المجلس الدستوري،

وبما ان تطبيق نظرية الظروف الاستثنائية يتطلب أسبابا موضوعية حقيقية وظاهرة، تحول دون تأمين الانتظام العام من خلال تطبيق القوانين العادية،

وبما ان الظروف الاستثنائية تتحدد في المكان والزمان،

وبما انه ينبغي ان تكون حالة الضرورة مقيدة في حدود المدة الزمنية التي ترتبط بتلك الحالة،

وبما انه اذا كان يعود للمشترع ان يقدر وجود ظروف استثنائية تستدعي منه سن قوانين لا تتوافق واحكام الدستور، في حدود المدة التي تستوجبها هذه الظروف، فان ممارسته لهذا الحق تبقى خاضعة لرقابة المجلس الدستوري،

وبما انه اذا توافرت الظروف الاستثنائية حاليا في بعض المناطق اللبنانية، وفق تصريحات وزير الداخلية، فلا يمكن التكهن باستمرارها لفترة زمنية طويلة تمتد سنتين وسبعة اشهر،

وبما ان الظروف الاستثنائية قد تبرر تأجيل اجراء الانتخابات في موعدها وقبل انتهاء ولاية المجلس، في 20/11/2014، وهي ولاية ممدة سابقا، غير انها لا تبرر تمديد ولاية المجلس مجددا سنتين وسبعة اشهر،

وبما ان تمديد ولاية المجلس غير متناسية مع مقتضياته، وبما ان المدة الطويلة لا يمكن تبريرها بمعطيات آنية وراهنة، كما ان تبريرها باعتبارات مستقبلية او افتراضية لا يستقيم لا واقعا ولا قانونا،

وبما ان الاجراءات الاستثنائية تكون محدودة في الزمان من اجل الحفاظ على الانتظام العام،

وبما ان تقصير مدة التمديد تخرج عن صلاحيات المجلس الدستوري الذي لا يستطيع يحل نفسه محل مجلس النواب،

وبما ان اجراء الانتخابات النيابية دوريا هو من اركان الانتظام العام، ولا يجوز بالتالي التفريط بها بحجة الظروف الاستثنائية،

لذلك تبرر الظروف الاستثنائية تأجيل الانتخابات لمدة محدودة تزول معها الظروف الاستثنائية غير انها لا تبرر تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب سنتين وسبعة اشهر.

7- في ربط الانتخابات بالتوافق على اجرائها.

بما انه ظهر في محضر الجلسة التي أقر فيها التمديد، كما ظهر في تصريحات النواب، ان من مبررات التمديد التوافق على قانون انتخاب جديد،

وبما ان الانتخابات النيابية استحقاق دستوري يجب اجراؤه في موعده،

وبما انه لا يجوز ربط اجراء الانتخابات النيابية بالتوافق على قانون انتخاب جديد،

وبما ان الميثاق الوطني هو في صلب الدستور، والميثاقية تقتضي الالتزام بالدستور واجراء الاستحقاقات الانتخابية في مواعيدها،

وبما انه لا يجوز التحجج بالميثاقية لتأجيل الانتخابات وتمديد ولاية المجلس، لان ذلك يؤدي الى تقويض الاسس التي قام عليها الميثاق الوطني، وبالتالي تقويض التعهدات الوطنية والنظام والدولة،

لذلك لا يجوز ربط اجراء الانتخابات النيابية بالتوافق على قانون انتخاب جديد او بالتوافق على اجرائها.

8- في تعطيل المؤسسات الدستورية

بما ان انتظام أداء المؤسسات الدستورية هو اساس الانتظام العام في الدولة،

وبما ان انتظام اداء المؤسسات الدستورية يقتضي قيام كل مؤسسة دستورية، ودون ابطاء، بالمهام المناطة بها، ضمن الصلاحيات المعطاة لها، وفي اطار القواعد والمبادىء التي نص عليها الدستور،

وبما ان الظروف الاستثنائية تقتضي قيام المؤسسات الدستورية بواجبها ومضاعفة نشاطها لمواجهة الظروف الاستثنائية والحفاظ على كيان الدولة ومصالحها العليا،

وبما ان الشغور في مؤسسة من المؤسسات الدستورية، وبخاصة رئاسة الجمهورية، يؤدي الى خلل في انتظام المؤسسات الدستورية جميعها، وبالتالي الى خلل في الانتظام العام،

وبما ان تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب لا يجوز ان تبرر بالشغور في سدة رئاسة الجمهورية، وبخاصة ان المسؤول عن هذا الشغور هو مجلس النواب نفسه،

وبما ان شغور سدة رئاسة الجمهورية واناطة صلاحيات رئيس الجمهورية وكالة بمجلس الوزراء ترك انعكاسات سلبية وبالغة الخطورة على اداء السلطة الاجرائية، وبالتالي على مؤسسات الدولة كافة،

وبما ان مجلس الوزراء لم يشكل الهيئة المشرفة على الانتخابات ولم يتخذ التدابير الضرورية لاجراء الانتخابات،

وبما ان تردي الاوضاع السياسية والامنية وشغور سدة رئاسة الجمهورية، قد يؤدي الى فراغ في السلطة الاشتراعية، في حال ابطال قانون تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب بعد ان انتهت هذه الولاية في 20/11/2014، ولم يعد بالامكان اعطاء مجلس النواب فرصة لتقصير مدة التمديد،

وبما ان الفراغ في المؤسسات الدستورية يتعارض والغاية التي وجد من اجلها الدستور، ويهدد النظام بالسقوط ويضع البلاد في المجهول،

وبما ان قانون تمديد ولاية مجلس النواب صدر قبل انتهاء الولاية بتسعة ايام فقط، وقدم الطعن في دستوريته قبل اسبوع من انتهاء الولاية، ما ادى الى تقليص الخيارات امام المجلس الدستوري الى حد كبير،

وبما ان ابطال قانون التمديد المخالف للدستور، في الوضع الراهن، قد يؤدي الى فراغ في السلطة الاشتراعية،يضاف الى الشغور في رئاسة الجمهورية، ما يتعارض جذريا والدستتور،

لذلك ومنعا لحدوث فراغ في مجلس النواب وقطع الطريق بالتالي على انتخاب رئيس للجمهورية، يعتبر التمديد امرا واقعا.

وبعد المداولة،

يؤكد المجلس الدستوري على الامور التالية:

1- ان دورية الانتخابات مبدأ دستوري لا يجوز المس به مطلقا.

2- ان ربط اجراء الانتخابات النيابية بالاتفاق على قانون انتخاب جديد، او بأي اعتبار آخر، عمل مخالف للدستور.

3- ان التدابير الاستثنائية ينبغي ان تقتصر على المدة التي توجد فيها ظروف استثنائية فقط.

4- اجراء الانتخابات النيابية فور انتهاء الظروف الاستثنائية وعدم انتظار انتهاء الولاية الممددة.

5- ان تعطيل المؤسسات الدستورية، وعلى رأسها رئاسة الجمهورية، انتهاك فاضح للدستور.

واستنادا الى الاسباب الواردة في الحيثيات،

يقرر المجلس الدستوري بالاجماع:

1- قبول المراجعة شكلا.

2- رد الطعن للحيلولة دون التمادي في حدوث الفراغ في المؤسسات الدستورية.

3- نشر هذا القرار في الجريدة الرسمية”.

A Fair Electoral Law For Lebanon

The proposed electoral map

 

Disclaimer: All the numbers used in the proposal are based on Lebanon’s 2013 electoral lists that I took from the awesome lebanonelectiondata.org website. The numbers could be a bit inaccurate (the government sometimes forgets to remove deceased electoral voters), but it’s the only thing I could have worked on right now.

Lebanon’s quest to find a fair electoral law has so far been a failure. Throughout the 1940s and the 1950s, the different Lebanese governments were accused of holding elections under gerrymandered laws that kept them in power. Parliamentary elections were known to be rigged in order to safeguard Bechara El-Khoury’s regime and promote Khoury’s reelection. Khoury eventually left power, but in 1957, a new electoral law resulted in the defeat of several of the opposition’s leaders throughout the republic, and the accusations of gerrymandering as well as the calls for a fair electoral law were among the main elements that led to the 1958 uprising. Another law was consensually adopted in 1960, but will go down in history as one of the indirect causes of the 1975 civil war. After the war, several electoral laws (1992, 1996, 2000) were adopted but their primary role was to keep a pro-Syrian majority in parliament. Lebanon eventually re-adopted a modified version of the 1960 electoral law in 2008, but it was considered to be outdated and unfair by many. Several attempts to find another consensual law failed, and the Lebanese political class, refusing to head to elections under the 2008 law while unable to find a fair or even consensual alternative, has successfully extended the current parliament term twice, in May 2013 and in November 2014. Beirut has recently been busy with anti-government protests, and as citizens take the streets and ask for reform, solutions for the trash crisis and early elections, the electoral law debate would eventually complicate any call for early elections.

Lebanon needs a fair electoral law now more than ever. This is why in this post, I’m going to talk about an electoral proposal that has not yet been mentioned nor discussed. The concept of the law is based on fairness, equal representation for all Lebanese citizens, equal representation for all regions, historical constituencies, safeguarding the current sectarian representation, and most importantly, a system automatically moving seats before every parliamentary election in order to stay updated and proportional to the number of registered voters in every constituency. I’m going to get into the detail of every aspect of this electoral proposal and try to explain it as much as possible.

  1. The General System: Proportionality

The main criticism of Lebanon’s previous electoral laws is that they weren’t representative. The current law (and many of the ones before it) adopted a majority system. This means that if a list of MPs got 35% of the votes while the two other lists got 32.5% each, the coalition that didn’t even get an absolute majority and that only got a 2.5% advantage over its rivals would get all the seats. To make things worse, some of the constituencies had/have a high number of seats (like Baalbak-Hermel with 10 seats under the 2008 law and Beirut with 19 seats under the 2000 law) and thus had a representation in parliament that wasn’t accurate at all. Since most Lebanese MPs now run in lists, the unfairness of the representation is often found in most of Lebanon. The proportional system solves this issue by allocating a number of seats for every list proportionally to the number of votes it got. Take Beirut III in 2009 for example. The March 14 coalition got around 79% of the votes but still managed to take all 10 seats. If the elections were held under proportional representation, they would have gotten 8 seats and left 2 for the March 8 alliance. The same could be said in the district of Keserwan, where the March 14 alliance got 44% of the votes yet ended up with 0 MPs out of 5. If the elections were held under proportional representation, they would have gotten 2 seats. That unfairness is found in most of the constituencies, and a much better representation could be achieved with proportional representation.

There’s another electoral proposal in Lebanon, known as the Fouad Boutros law in which you have small districts (the cazas) with majority representation (71 seats) and bigger ones (the muhafazas, that include the cazas) with proportional representation (57 seats). The problem with such mixed laws is that they could be misrepresentative towards the regions: A caza with an originally low number of seats (like Bcharre) could not give any seat to the muhafaza (like the North, for Bcharre) while another one with a bigger number of seats (Akkar, for example) could see many of its seats transferred to the muhafaza, which would mean in the end that Bcharre, already overrepresented, will be even more overrepresented  while the opposite would apply for Akkar. That was the case with mixed law proposals the Lebanese forces party  or even March 14 introduced in 2013. But it’s not only about being unfair to the regions: There is no clear/simple mechanism of how the seats would be allocated, and their distribution would hence be restricted to the government. In other words, political parties could move seats as they wish before every elections in order to control the results as much as possible, which would severely harm the democratic process. If the system was only based on proportional representation, there is a way, via a formula – explained afterwards – to divide the seats automatically without interference from political parties. Another problem with the mixed law is the ethical debate that would eventually come with it: Who is more legitimate in the Lebanese parliament, the member of the parliament that is elected by the caza under a majority system, or the member of the parliament that is elected by the muhafaza under a proportional representation system? The Constitution (via Article 27: A member of the Chamber shall represent the whole nation. No restriction or condition may be imposed upon his mandate by his electors) stipulates that every MP in parliament represents all the Lebanese people, which eventually means that all MPs are equal in their representation. But will it really be like that in parliament?

  1. Five Districts, The Historical Regions of Lebanon: No Gerrymandering and Better Representation

Now that we’ve established that proportional representation would provide the fairest representation for any multiple-seats constituency, the remaining dilemma would concern the size of the constituencies (in terms of number of MPs), and their geographical borders. Now this is the part where most of the political gerrymandering is made, which is why, and in the simplest way to avoid that, the best choice for an electoral map of Lebanon would be to choose the five historical regions as constituencies: the muhafaza of Beirut, the muhafaza of Mount-Lebanon, the Greater North (the muhafaza of the North and the muhafaza of Akkar), the Greater Bekaa (the muhafaza of the Bekaa and the muhafaza of Baalbak-Hermel) and the Greater South (the muhafaza of the South and the muhafaza of Nabatieh). One could easily say that the constituencies are too large, and that they are more or less similar to the ones that were established under the Syrian tutelage. But then again, there wasn’t proportional representation in the Syrian era, and it was the winner-takes-all system that made the results unfair. In fact for a proportional representation system, the bigger the constituency is (in term of voters), the more the results become accurate. For example, if a party gets 30% of the votes in three districts, each with 4 seats each, it will end up with 3 MPs (1.2 MP => 1 MP per district). But if the three districts are joined together, it becomes more representative and the party will get 30% of 12 MPs = 4 MPs.

So why not make Lebanon as one district (like the Israeli electoral system)? Because some entire regions might become underrepresented and others overrepresented: A simple example is that none of the Lebanese political parties has a leader or even high ranking officials hailing from the Bekaa, which would mean that the têtes de listes would be in their majority from other regions, and the Bekaa, that deserves around 21 MPs, might end up with 10. By keeping every historical region alone, one avoids the prospect of such unfairness without entering the realm of gerrymandering that smaller/different districts would open the door to.

And why not divide Lebanon into 128 districts (1 man – 1 vote) and forget about proportional representation? Imagine the amount of gerrymandering and inequality that our politicians could do while drawing up 128 districts. Another problem is sectarianism: Imagine a constituency that is 45% from the sect A and 55% from the sect B. We all know that on the long-term, A would eventually root for the politician who is endorsing their “rights”, and B would eventually support another politician speaking “in their name”. The idea of a fair electoral law is to end fear, represent everyone and build a society based on mutual trust, not create 128  civil wars instead of one.

And as it happens, the sizes of the districts in terms of registered voters are more or less good. Actually, the biggest three of them, Mount-Lebanon, the Greater North and the Greater South have a number of registered voters that is very close (around 800000). That is also a nice coincidence, because the biggest three of the five constituencies would be allocated a number of MPs that is either identical or extremely close (The different constituencies would be allocated a number of MPs proportional to the size of their registered voters). The details are explained below, but all in all, and according to the 2013 numbers, Mount-Lebanon, the Greater South and the Greater North would get 30 seats each, the Greater Bekaa would get 21 seats, and Greater Beirut would get 17 seats.

  1. A Fair and Flexible Law

Registered voters and populations tend to change from election to election, and a fair electoral law should adapt to those changes. Before every election, the number of registered voters would be crunched and the number of seats in every district would be allocated in a way that keeps the 128 seats represented in the fairest way possible: If a constituency sees an increase/decrease in the size of its registered voters, the number of seats representing it would change proportionally. For example, according to the 2008 electoral law, the constituencies that make up the Greater South only have a total of 23 seats, while the Greater South should be represented by 30. Beirut, on the other hand, should have 17 seats and is instead allocated 19 under the 2008 law. The list goes on. Not only does this unfairness automatically end with this electoral law proposal, it also ends forever.

  1. The Highest Christian Influence Since Taef

Now the very first thing any Lebanese would check in any electoral law is the influence the Christians would have after the elections, especially since it is mainly the Christian parties that keep asking to change the electoral law. They always consider themselves underrepresented and judge that they should have a bigger number of MPs. So I crunched the 2013 numbers (you could see for yourselves in the tables below) to see how many MPs the Christian registered voters would bring into parliament. It’s actually a very simple task: You multiply the percentage of Christian registered voters in every constituency by the number of seats automatically allocated to that constituency, and you sum up the numbers you get from the five constituencies. The result was shocking: One would think that bigger constituencies would lower the Christian influence, but it was in fact the opposite: The Christian registered voters bring in 48.5 MPs out of 128 into the parliament, which is actually very close to the proportion of Christian voters in Lebanon. And not only is this electoral proposal fair to both Christians and Muslims, it also provides the highest percentage of MPs elected by Christians since the 1972 elections: In fact, it is widely known that out of all the electoral laws used in Lebanon since 1992, the modified 1960 law (= 2008 law) brought in the maximum number of MPs elected by Christians: 47 (It’s a majority-based law so only districts where the electors are more than 50% Christians should be counted: 2 from Bcharre, 2 from Batroun, 3 from Zgharta, 3 from Koura, 3 from Jbeil, 5 from Keserwan, 8 from the Metn, 6 from Baabda, 5 from Beirut I, 3 from Jezzine, and 7 from Zahle). However, the Christian registered voters in both Zahle (57%) and Baabda (53%) are borderline / less than 60%, and within a couple of years, the Christians could become a minority in both districts: That’s a sudden drop of 13 MPs. Again, the Christians may or may not drop in numbers and with time they could get less influence with this electoral law proposal, but the drop of influence will be much more subtle under this law, and it would remain at all times proportional to their actual number of voters: if the Christian population drops from 53% to 49% in Baabda, it would mean a loss of 6 MPs under the current 2008 law, but under this law proposal, it would mean a loss of 0.3 MPs. So to sum things up, this electoral proposal does not only offer a higher and fairer Christian influence than the 2008 law (according to the 2013 numbers), it also provides a better representation for everyone on the long-term and makes sure that everyone would be equally represented.

  1. Do Not Panic: The Seats/Sect Allocation Would Remain The Same

Another thing any Lebanese would automatically check in any electoral law proposal is the number of MPs allocated to every sect. This is a very sensitive subject in Lebanon, and it’s by far the primary civil-war material anyone can think of. Perhaps an electoral law where seats aren’t allocated to sects would be the ideal alternative, but then again, we live in Lebanon, and currently keeping the status-quo regarding the sectarian distribution of seats is a requirement to keep all the Lebanese on board. The idea of an electoral law is to let the people know that they are free and safe, not threatened. This is why this electoral proposal – that safeguards the current seat/sect distribution for Lebanon – could be the perfect transition to a secular electoral law in the future. As I will prove afterwards, it forces sectarian parties to run together, gives a chance to smaller / secular ones to win some seats and eventually promotes bipartisanship in Lebanon while discouraging any kind of sectarian incitement. And in the meantime, all the sects will still have their same “sacred” share of seats.

  1. Automatic Seat-Allocating System

Now the main challenge I faced when designing the concept of this electoral proposal is that it would be very hard to know where to put every seat. For example, we know that Mount-Lebanon deserves 30 MPs (proportional to its registered voters), but how can we know what seats should be included in that district? Do we put 15 Maronite seats there, or 11, or 13? Without an automatic system, politicians could still influence the results by exchanging sect seats from a constituency with another in order to serve their interests and keep their parliamentary blocs as religiously-uniform as possible. This could open the door to another way of gerrymandering and beats the purpose of the law. That issue has bugged me for ages, until I found a way, via the formula below, to get a decimal number of the sect’s seats in every constituency, in the fairest way possible.

  • First, we calculate N. N is the number of seats in every constituency (after rounding up and making sure that the sum of Lebanon’s 5 Ns is 128 MPs).

N formula

click to enlarge. The Greater Bekaa's number of seats (yellow) is 21 and not 22 because while rounding up, I had to remove a seat ( in order to have a total of 128 seats for Lebanon) and the Greater Bekaa's N has the lowest decimal part above 0.50 (21.54<29.64<29.77<29.96)

click to enlarge. The Greater Bekaa’s number of seats (yellow) is 21 and not 22 because while rounding up, I had to remove a seat ( in order to have a total of 128 seats for Lebanon) and the Greater Bekaa’s N has the lowest decimal part above 0.50 (21.54<29.64<29.77<29.96)

  • By law, every sect in Lebanon is allocated a certain number of MPs. The trick here is to know how to divide them on the constituencies. So first, we have to find M. M is the number of seats every sect should have in a constituency: We find it by dividing the number of registered voters for that sect in the constituency by the number of registered voters for that sect in Lebanon and then multiplying that result by the number of seats that sect has (by law) in all of Lebanon.

M formula

Sect's registered voters in constituency Sect's registered voters in Lebanon

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Sect's registered voters in constituency Sect's registered voters in Lebanon Total MPs of sect in Lebanon

click to enlarge

  • So now we have the number of seats every sect should have in a constituency, but if we add all of the constituency’s seats, we might get a result that is more or less than N. We don’t want that (we want to keep all the constituencies equally represented), so we have to apply a cross-multiplication to make sure that the sum of all seats in that constituency is N. We thus find Z, the decimal number of seats every sect should have in every constituency.

Z formula small

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Voila, the formula that solves Lebanon’s electoral dilemma:

Z formula expanded

And yes, again, this safeguards the current sectarian representation: 34 Maronite seats, 14 Greek Orthodox seats, 8 Greek Catholic seats, 5 Armenian Orthodox seats, 1 Armenian Catholic seat, 1 Christian minorities seat, 1 Protestant seat, 27 Sunni seats, 27 Shia seats, 8 Druze seats, and 2 Alawi seats. The number of seats and their allocation to the sects would remain the same, and all five constituencies will have an equal representation at all times. All in all, every citizen would have the same voting power (that has never happened in the entire history of Lebanon) and at the same time, the 50/50 Christian-Muslim power sharing agreement would remain unharmed. Everything the formula does can be summed up with the following sentence: Before every election, it automatically redistributes the seats for every sect in every constituency, proportionally to the number of the sect’s registered voters and the constituency’s registered voters in order to prevent politicians from redistributing the seats themselves in a way that suits their interests.

Now the problem with this formula is that it gives a decimal number of MPs, and sometimes a manual work would still be needed to make sure that no sect/constituency would be allocated (by rounding up) a smaller or bigger number of MPs (in the tables below for example, you could see that by rounding up, the Shia sect received 30 MPs instead of 27, while the Protestant one, which is not anywhere near 0.5% in any district, failed to get its only MP). This small task (That I experimentally tried to do, check the yellow/orange cells in the tables below) could be done by an independent electoral commission, and its work would just be to make sure that the representation is accurate for both the sects and the constituencies, the two main priorities being keeping an equal representation for all five constituencies, and keeping the specific number of seats/sect in order to preserve coexistence. The formula does 95% of the work, and the commission just rounds up/adds an MP there – removes another somewhere else in order to make sure that everything is in its correct place.

  1. Small Parties Will Never Be Forgotten Again

Another beautiful thing about that proposal is that the constituencies are big enough to have a number of seats large enough to let the smaller parties into parliament. Take a party A for example. Suppose that A has support between 5% and 20% in the cazas of Mount-Lebanon. Under our current law, A would never make it to parliament without alliances it perhaps doesn’t want to make with other parties. However, under this electoral proposal,  and with at least 12% support throughout Mount-Lebanon and a 5% or  even 10% election threshold (the specified minimum percentage of votes required within a particular district in order to obtain seats in the parliament), A would receive 12% of the 30 MPs. That’s 4 MPs for a small party that would have never thought of having representatives in Nejmeh square without giving something else in return to an electoral ally.

  1. Religiously-Mixed Coalitions and the End of Sectarian Incitement

But what makes this electoral proposal truly awesome are the electoral results. While the constituencies are too large to predict any winning side (without mentioning that proportional representation only complicates predictions), there is a major achievement. I’m going to take the Greater South as an example. In the Greater South, March 14 currently have 2 Sunni MPs from the whole constituency (Saida). However, under this electoral proposal, March 14 could get (random percentages) 10% of the Shia votes and 60% of the non-Shia ones. And since the non-Shia votes are 31% and the Shia ones are 69%, this would mean that March 14 could get 25% of the votes in the Greater South. That’s also 25% of the Shias MPs representing the Greater South. In other words, March 14 would receive 8 MPs for the Greater South, out of which at least the half are Shia. You would also have for example Sunni MPs in Beirut and the North loyal to March 8 (hint: They don’t exist in parliament right now). The Lebanese coalitions will all have MPs of all sects, representing all regions, in all of Lebanon. This is a huge yet very easy step to make towards ending party-based sectarianism.

Oh, and by the way, the Greater South is by far the least religiously-mixed district. Imagine what could happen in the mixed ones. Not one coalition would have a total control on a sect’s MPs, and not one party running alone could get a religiously homogeneous parliamentary bloc. This means that Lebanon would always have its rival coalitions (if they remain in power) heavily present in all regions via many seats. This law forces sectarian parties to ally to one another, and even if they make it to parliament, there is no guarantee that they will have religiously homogeneous blocs. With time, Lebanese parties will learn that sectarian incitement won’t get you anywhere with this electoral proposal, unlike with the current one (for example, in Keserwen that is 99% Maronite, you could have an advantage over your opponents if you only focus on Christian interests and ignore the national ones. Same thing could be said for Deniyeh, or Tyre for example, where one sect forms a majority of votes). However under this proposal, the constituencies are big enough so that not only coalitions become religiously heterogeneous, but that they also lose any interest in sectarian incitement.

And if things get ugly for example, and for some reason Lebanese politics become Christian vs Muslim, you can make sure that a number of Christian MPs will remain to be elected by Christians and Muslims, and that a number of Muslim MPs will also remain to be elected by Christians and Muslims . This electoral law becomes a safety button that defuses the tensions between Lebanon’s sects by bringing into the parliament a huge number of Christian-elected Muslim MPs and Muslim-elected Christian MPs.

  1. A Quota For Women

Only 4 out of 128 MPs in parliament are currently women, and a quota should definitely be introduced in order to boost their representation in parliament. Only then will our parliament be truly representative of the Lebanese, regardless of their region, sect or gender. All citizens should have an equal voting power, and all citizens should be fairly represented. It shouldn’t be very hard to add a quota to this electoral proposal, especially that it is based on proportional representation.

  1. Easy Voting Process for the expatriates

It would be very easy to vote and count the votes from abroad. No need for any bureaucratic attempts to hinder the Lebanese citizen’s right to vote everywhere: It should be very simple as there are only five constituencies, and they happen to be historical ones based on the administrative districts of Lebanon. The ballot boxes could be organized into 5 types, one for each constituency, and the votes would be eventually added up to the results of every constituency in Lebanon. The expatriate votes are thus far easier to include in this electoral proposal than most of the other electoral laws or draft laws. Other reforms could also include electronic voting.

  1. The Numbers That Prove That The Proposal is Fair and Totally Implementable

I tried in the following tables to apply the formula and see if it could work. In the last table, Yellow indicates that a seat was lost (in order to reach the theoretical total). Green means I did not have to modify the rounded up result of the decimal result (the total was the same number as the theoretical total). Orange means that rounding up removed seats for the sects, so I had to re-add them manually to reach the theoretical total. I started adjusting the Muslim seats, then put the Protestant, Armenian Catholic and Minorities seats in Beirut (They have the higher percentage there, and there were three vacant seats there after I adjusted the Muslim representation earlier). Till now, everything worked like charm, but there were still three Maronite seats to allocate, and the three districts that still had a vacant seat were Mount-Lebanon, the Greater North and the Greater South, so I added a Maronite seat in each of those districts. Technically, the seats of the Greater South and Mount-Lebanon should have went to Beirut and the Greater Bekaa (they have a greater decimal part), but that would have given the Bekaa and Beirut an extra MP and made them overrepresented, so I eventually decided to allocate them to the Greater North and Mount-Lebanon. After all, the two districts make up the Maronite heartland, this would have kept the representation as accurate as possible for all other sects, and most importantly, the two priorities were still respected: Equal representation for the five constituencies, and an unharmed total number of seats/sect in Lebanon. The independent commission’s work would have been to make that small decision. Not that hard, is it? Still better than a cabinet allocating seats the way it wants to.

Z rounded up

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Final seat distribution, according to the 2013 numbers

Final seat distribution, according to the 2013 numbers. click to enlarge

UPDATE

  1. A lot of the readers asked if the proposal uses preferential voting / open lists (you get to choose in the list what candidate you like the most and in the end, if a list gets 30%, the most liked 30% candidates on that list get the seats) or numbered lists / closed lists (which allows only active members, party officials, or consultants to determine the order of its candidates and gives the general voter no influence at all on the position of the candidates placed on the list). Both could work, preferential voting making the proposal/vote counting a bit more complicated but even more representative (hence the need for electronic voting).
  2. Another frequent question was about the distribution of seats mechanism for the winning/losing lists. I’ll make the explanation easier and take the Greater South as an example. There are 18 Shia seats, 3 Sunnis seats, 1 Druze seat, 5 Maronite seats, 2 Greek Catholic seats and a Greek Orthodox one. Theoretically, if a party gets 25%, it gets 25% of every “kind of seat”. You can’t divide a seat if there’s only one for every sect, so those go to the winning list (the Greek Orthodox and Druze seats in this case) and the losing list (or lists) compensates by getting more seats from the sect that has the biggest number of seats. This is why a losing list with 25% of the votes would get 25% of the 30 seats: 7.5 => 8 seats, probably 1 Maronite seat (25% of 5 is 1.25%), 1 Sunni seat (25% of 3 is 0.75) and 6 Shiite seats (since 25% of 18 is  4.5 => 5, and you add an MP in order to reach the theoretical total for the constituency which is 8). All that of course would depend on the smaller details of the Law, but that’s the big picture.
  3. Another inquiry was about the type of the lists. The lists should be complete in order to force the formation of trans-sectarian alliances, or at least so that the sectarian parties start endorsing candidates from other sects.
  4. Concerning lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, that’s not something an electoral law can change. It needs a constitutional amendment (Article 21: Every Lebanese citizen who has completed his twenty-first year is an elector provided he fulfills the conditions stated by the electoral law.)

A Tale of Two Burgers and Three Men

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

No words can describe how much these last three weeks were insane in Lebanese politics: As if the Aounist July protests weren’t enough, Lebanon suddenly woke up two weeks ago on threats of resignation from the premier, rumors of resignation of March 8 ministers from the cabinet, Aoun saying that he would vote for Frangieh (probably in order to contain Frangieh who has been criticizing his political overlord lately), Future officials attacking one another, the Kataeb criticizing everything anyone can think of, the Future Movement telling the Kataeb (and the FPMtwice (the second time was via MP Hout) that a federal system will never be implemented in Lebanon and March 8 blocking the cabinet’s policy-makingAll of that was accompanied by lots of trash-talking (Jumblatt making the issue sectarian was by far the most interesting headline) and Lebanese army billboards on the occasion of the 70th army day implying that the army was the Lebanese parties’ common denominator ( ≈ presidential campaign for the commander of the army ≈ Wallahi I’m consensual, vote for me).

The bomb

Last Thursday, it was announced that the defense minister had extended the term of the commander of the army, Jean Kahwagi. The decision was a major blow to Michel Aoun who has been seeking to appoint his son-in-law Chamel Roukoz as commander for years. When Kahwagi’s term was about to expire in September, Aoun saw it as an opportunity to both put Roukoz in charge instead and weaken Kahwagi, the main consensual presidential candidate who is  also rumored to be at the same time Hezbollah’s “hidden candidate“. In fact, since mid-May 2015, the FPM has been maneuvering over and over and over again in order to bring Roukoz to the army command without having to give anything in return. Last month tayyar.org even misquoted the constitution as part of their propaganda to secure both the presidency and the army command.

How it was made possible

In the past 10 years, decisions to bring governments down were taken for far simpler reasons: In 2006, March 8 wanted the blocking third. In 2010, Hezbollah didn’t want to fund the STL (that its government eventually ironically funded). In 2013, Mikati didn’t want to throw a general outside the ISF. If you think of it, the army command is as big a deal as all of those. So the million dollar question here is why haven’t the FPM ministers not resigned yet?

While the FPM ministers’ resignation seemed like the typical move, the fact that Aoun wasn’t on board with Berri lately (Berri lashed out at the FPM that same week, told us that he wouldn’t vote for Aoun in the presidential elections, that toppling the cabinet was a red line and that the government paralysis hurts citizens) meant that Amal’s 2.5 ministers wouldn’t resign along with the FPM officials. In other words, a Hezbollah-FPM double resignation wouldn’t have been enough to collapse the cabinet (you need at least 9 ministers) and we would have ended up with a cabinet with both Shia AND March 8 representation (the Amal ministers), which means that Hezbollah couldn’t have said that it was anti-constitutional like they did in 2006. Moreover, 80% of the government would have been either M14 or centrists. That means that an angry resignation move like this one cannot be supported by Hezbollah and will only throw Aoun outside a cabinet he has Gebran Bassil in it as number 2, ultimately weakening him before the internal FPM elections in September.  Things aren’t looking very good for Bassil and Alain Aoun has been talking too much for a regular MP as he prepares to confront Gebran Bassil in the FPM’s internal elections (really,  he has been talking too much).

So to sum things up, Berri’s genius declaration of war on the FPM gave Salam and the FM the green light to go through with their plans to extend the top security officials’ terms. And now both Salam and Kahwagi owe Amal.

A game-changer

The move to throw Roukoz outside the army command and isolate Aoun in the government was humiliating, but do not be mistaken: The Roukoz deal is not off the table. The March 14 alliance knows that if it desires to end the deadlock, it would have to give something to the March 8 alliance and the FPM in return. Before the Kahwagi extension, an opportunity to make a deal was made available: The cabinet would make Roukoz commander of the army, and in exchange, the FPM would make it easier to bring a consensual candidate into Baabda palace. Aoun however did not see an opportunity to make a deal but rather a chance at winning the army command for his son-in-law while continuing his push for the presidency. And after several weeks of stalemate and confrontation the Grand Serail, it was clear to almost everyone that a deal favorable to M14 ending the Aounist campaign for the presidency was not going to happen soon, which led to last week’s controversial decision to give Kahwagi one more year as commander of the army. While it wasn’t very explicit at first, the anti-Aoun maneuver in the cabinet is getting clearer by the day. This is not 1973 anymore and Aoun cannot simply ask the cabinet to dismiss a commander of the army and expect it to comply only because it would give him the upper hand in Lebanese politics. There is one, and only one (fast) way left for Aoun to vacate the army command before the summer of 2016 (when Kahwagi’s new term expires): Agree to make Kahwagi president, which would leave room in the army command to bring in Roukoz. Deep down, March 14’s maneuver of extending Kahwagi’s term wasn’t about ending any chance of making a deal with the FPM. It was actually their way of enforcing one.

We’re (not really) almost there

I do not always (nor do I like to) make predictions, but expect the March 14 politicians to start floating the name of Kahwagi as presidential candidate: His election would weaken the FPM (yet still give Aoun a half-victory via the Roukoz appointment) and at the same time please Hezbollah (since Kahwagi never really stood against the party of God during his stay). By being the ones suggesting the deal, March 14 would also look like the real victors. This is the kind of deal that makes everyone happy, and we all know what that means. If this was the presidential vacancy of November 2007 – May 2008, I’d say we’re somewhere around January (yalla, arrabit :-P). We have a rough idea of what’s going to happen with the presidency and the army command, yet we’re still in the blue on everything else (that was agreed upon in the Doha agreement back in 2007): We still need an agreement on an electoral law (good luck with that), a clear date for the general elections, a post-vacancy cabinet formula and last but not least a mini-road-map  to guide the government through the transitional period.

The FPM in denial

As Aoun heads towards the internal elections with weakness caused by his recent defeat in government, he knows that he still has the ultimate option, his plan A since May 2014 and now his plan B since August 2015: He could continue to block the presidential elections – where Berri’s cooperation matters not – while at the same time try one last time to mobilize the masses in the name of Christian rights. His latest move was saying that it was his efforts in 2004 – and not the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 – that led to the Syrian withdrawal. Aoun – who now knows for sure that he can no longer trust the allies (a rebellious Berri and an overreaching Frangieh) of his ally – is taking his discourse to a whole new level. The war for Chamel Roukoz is becoming more and more desperate: (1) Aoun, in denial, said that he didn’t want Roukoz in first place (?!?!), (2) called for demonstrations (while defying Kahwagi and the army) to protest the non-appointment of Roukoz while his other son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, (3) literally said that the FPM “rejected dhimmitude and was fighting for the Christians of the world” (no comment).

Desperate times require desperate measures.

Two Burgers

The only thing hotter than Lebanon’s weather right now is its political tensions, and the only thing more rotten than Beirut’s streets right now is its deadlock: This is officially the longest presidential vacancy Lebanon has ever seen, the longest parliamentary term extension Lebanon has ever seen and the longest period of time without general elections since the Civil War. And August’s garbage crisis isn’t making things any easier.

Three men walk into a bar and ask for two burgers: a large one (with large fries, a Pepsi and a McFlurry) and a smaller one (with small fries only). The first man wants the large burger for himself and the smaller burger for the second man who happens to be his son-in-law, while the third man, currently savoring the small burger, wants to eat the larger one. The cherry (or in this case, bacon) on the top? No one has a clue how a burger is paid for.

Solve the burger riddle and you would have solved the longest deadlock Lebanon has ever seen.

(Meanwhile, everyone else is starving)

445 days since the 25th of May. 281 days since the 5th of November. Not that anyone cares anymore.