Taymour Jumblatt

The Month that Doesn’t Count

Lebanon municipal elections 2016

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

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

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

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

Except Jumblatt. Jumblatt was hyperactive.

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

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

And Gemayel. Gemayel was hyperactive too.

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

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

The experience of Sleiman Frangieh

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

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

Happy voting this May. Choose change.

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

Introducing Taymour

Yep, that's Right. The kid next to Kamal Jumblatt in that picture is no other than Walid Jumblatt

Yep, that’s Right. The kid next to Kamal Jumblatt in that picture is no other than Walid Jumblatt

Looking further ahead, “Walid Beyk” believes his elder son Taimur will be prepared to assume the leadership of the Lebanese Druze community whenever Jumblatt decides to “retire and get my green card.” Emitting a low sigh and rubbing his bald head, Jumblatt worried though that his ‘Generation Y’ younger son, Arslan, is less enthralled by the whole Druze feudal ethos (of course, Jumblatt himself was a motorcycle-riding hippy when he was suddenly thrust into the Druze leadership following his father Kamal’s assassination in 1977).

Found on a WikiLeaks cable dating from August 2006.

Taymour. Read this name, and remember it well. Because in the next few months, Lebanon’s parliament is going to gradually see the rise of a new young politician who will one day lead the Lebanese center and eventually be Lebanon’s new Kingmaker. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt confirmed last Tuesday he will hand over his seat in Parliament to his eldest son, Taymour. In remarks to local daily As-Safir, Jumblatt said Parliament Speaker Berri has promised he would hold by-elections in May after the Druze leader submits a letter of resignation to Parliament.

So Why Now?

If you’ve been following Lebanese politics closely for the past few years, this shouldn’t be too surprising. Like you just read in the cable, Taymour had probably been Jumblatt’s preferred choice to lead the PSP since the last decade. Taymour started participating in a lot of his father’s meetings since the last parliamentary elections (here’s an example of one with Nasrallah 2009). In 2011, Taymour was made the second in command of the PSP. While rumors of Walid Jumblatt giving up his parliamentary seat for his son have been ongoing for quite a time now, Jumblatt chose the perfect moment to end his presence in parliament and formally put his son in charge of the PSP bloc.

1) The Perfect Parliamentary Timing

As I said on this blog a couple of months earlier, Jumblatt’s presence in parliament has seen a steady decline since 2000. It shrunk from 16 in 2000 to 7 in 2011, after 4 of his MPs abandoned him following the Mikati nomination to the premiership. Anyway, it’s very unlikely that Jumblatt would control more than 12 MPs in the next parliamentary elections, let alone keep the 11 MPs he currently has. This why Jumblatt doesn’t want to wait till the next parliamentary elections to get Taymour into Nejmeh Square, because he probably wants him to be elected while there’s still the biggest number of MPs next to him in parliament, which would help his son a lot by giving him some sort of guidance. Also, it would give the impression that Taymour doesn’t have any rivals in the Chouf: While it is very likely that M8 and M14 would field contenders in regular elections, I find it hard to believe that any of the two coalitions would be ready, by their own, to challenge Jumblatt on a Druze seat, in his home district, especially if it’s a by-election: Because if you piss off the PSP while they’re in the middle – and especially while there’s no president, Jumblatt won’t be in the the middle anymore, there will be a president (that you won’t like), and most importantly, Taymour Jumblatt will still win the seat in the Chouf => Not a smart move to challenge the PSP right now. (This opportunity doesn’t come every day for the PSP)

2) The Perfect Governmental Timing

Walid Jumblatt’s minister in the cabinet, Wael Abou Faour, is now Lebanon’s sole raison d’être. Since November 2011, the minister of health has been launching heavily mediatized campaigns to force different Lebanese hospitals, restaurants, factories, pharmaceutical companies, and shops to abide by the guidelines of the health ministry. It might not look like a big deal, but for Lebanon, it was a revolutionary move. Two months ago, I said that it was probably because Jumblatt wanted to (1) maximize his chances at the Rashaya-West Bekaa district in the upcoming elections and (2) at the same time start a transition of power while having the upper hand. Today, I believe we can confirm it. Jumblatt wants to be the man who decides the outcome of the 2017 elections in the southern Bekaa while preparing his transition of power.

3) The Perfect Presidential Timing

There’s something very important about the timing here. Jumblatt didn’t only decide to give up his seat before the parliamentary elections, he decided to give it up before we even had an elected president. And it’s not only because Jumblatt wants to finish the transition before M8 and M14 agree on a deal that is likely to isolate him in the center. We all know by now that – one way or another – the PSP always finds itself in the ruling coalition. What scares Jumblatt here is the identity of the new president. While Sleiman was an ally, the new president might not be one. The last time we had a president from the Chouf (Camille Chamoun), a civil war erupted in the mountains, and Kamal Jumblatt wasn’t reelected in 1957 (And the best part? Kamal Jumblatt was actually an ally of Chamoun when he became president). Jumblatt is aware that a president from the Chouf would gather a certain amount of influence, especially among the Christians of the district. He is also probably more than capable of handling that problem. 2015 is not 1955. He just doesn’t want the transition of power to happen in Mukhtara while a president from the Chouf is interfering from the Beiteddin palace.

And Guess who is from the Chouf? Presidential candidate no. 1, Commander of the Army Jean Kahwaji.

And yes, I am clearly hinting here that the upcoming transition of power in parliament might mean that Kahwaji is the most likely candidate to win right now.

With a new Kingmaker in parliament, hopefully a new King.

300 days since the 25th of May, 136 days since the 5th of November. 3 Million years till the next parliamentary elections.

Reminder: We still don’t have a President.