Yesterday, the newly elected Lebanese parliament headed to the presidential palace to conduct the binding consultation with President Michael Aoun to name a Prime Minister designee. However, this simple constitutional process of forming a cabinet is mired with challenges primarily because the ruling establishment has no interest or ability at this stage to expedite the process. Many consider this exercise a chance to obtain key cabinet positions.
Complicating things further is the fact that the term of President Michael Aoun will expire on the 31st of October. The failure to elect his successor would put the caretaker Prime Minister or his replacement in a predicament. The inability to form a new cabinet with a president elected would leave caretaker PM Najib Mikati leading a transitional government. Its sole aim would be to ensure the election of the next president. It’s a scenario Hezbollah and its main Christian ally Gebran Bassil wish to avoid.
The political establishment only wishes to see the return of Mikati to optimally form a similar government to the one he is currently leading. Still, each faction wishes to improve its share by adding to it or hustling to acquire better cabinet positions to expand its clientelist network. The worst-case scenario for the political elite would be to name Mikati or anyone else but prevent them from forming the government by throwing out unrealistic demands. Consequently, Mikati could only get 54 votes and was named Prime Minister Designee.
With the forces of change, the 13 new lawmakers and the other classical opposition parties successfully name a Prime Minister who hails from outside the corrupt political elite. This credible and competent figure can form a transitional government capable of carrying out the much-needed structural reforms and reclaiming the state’s lost sovereignty. To many, this might seem unrealistic to achieve. Yet foiling the establishment’s plan would have been possible. Especially so, since these newly elected legislators have yet to reach political puberty, their performance thus far inside the parliament has been disappointing. To date, they have debated who to name as Prime Minister, studied the CV, and discussed who best fits the job.
Such an exercise sounds juvenile, given that only one of the debated names qualifies and has a chance of making it. Lebanon’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nawaf Salam, is that person. Currently, he is a seating judge at the International Court of Justice. He is no superhero and will not be able to turn things around with a push of a button, but at least adopting his name would be a step in the right direction. It will open the way for putting together a cabinet that can lead a long-term transitional phase and regain the trust of the Lebanese and the international community.
Many of those within the change bloc were hesitant to go with Nawaf Salam, with three ending up voting blank. They are aware that this will be a move that will antagonize Hezbollah, as-Salam is the stark opposite of what this Iranian-funded militia stands for. Consequently, some gullibly or maliciously have gone out of their way to appease Hezbollah by publicly affirming that the Lebanese crisis is rooted in the country’s liberal economy. Many place the nation’s woes at the feet of the corruption of the political class while carefully avoiding engaging in Hezbollah’s Iranian weapons and its breach of sovereignty.
Coincidently, at least those on the fence, the change bloc, must realize that they are no longer activists on the streets or academics or medical doctors. Instead, they are politicians whose responsibility is to engage in the realpolitik without compromising their values properly. Thus, they should not only name Nawaf Salam but also reach out to anyone willing to vote for a true reformer even if they don’t fit the criteria.
Therefore, naming Nawaf Salam does not end the responsibility of the change bloc towards the thousands that voted for them. Instead, it should signal their transition to collaborate towards creating a cross-national grassroots support. They should act as a pressure movement, becoming a safety net for any reform cabinet under Salam or anyone else. It is achievable only if Salam and those who support him do not shy away from confronting the elephant in the room. They must realize that trying to cut corners and avoiding the eventual confrontation with Hezbollah is futile and dangerously senseless.
Realistically, Salam or Mikati will not be able to form a cabinet given the two months left for Aoun’s term. Naming Salam or any reformer of his caliber is a necessary battle cry. It will rally those genuinely committed to ending Lebanon’s misery and introducing a new political culture that borders normalcy and sanity.