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The futile quest to form the next Lebanese government

Makram Rabah

Published: Updated:

The recent parliamentary election, which took place in Lebanon in mid-May, was theoretically a chance for this failed state to regain a semblance of normalcy. It should have jumpstarted a political and economic reform process that would be met by the international community and particularly the International Monetary Fund, which stands ready to inject funds and leverage international support.

Naturally, the process mentioned above is nowhere to be found as the Lebanese ruling elite have yet to show any intention to champion and support any proper reforms or to facilitate the formation of a government; one that can lead Lebanon out of its abyss. As it stands, Lebanon has a caretaker cabinet led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, with 54 members of the new parliament recently renamed to form the upcoming cabinet.

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Yet Mikati’s constitutional mandate of forming the next cabinet was thwarted by the incumbent president of the republic Michael Aoun. He rejected the line-up offered to him, preferring to stall and refrain from publicly snubbing it. Mikati, a veteran politician and a pillar of Lebanon’s ruling elite, not necessarily a good thing, was aware of Aoun’s predisposition. Thus, he made sure to leak the line-up to the press to embarrass and perhaps force the hand of Aoun. It was a manoeuvre that failed to achieve its goal.

Mikati’s new line-up only introduced changes to six out of the current 24 members. These changes were designed to remove ministers with critical portfolios who have proved to be incompetent and unfit to carry out their duties. It includes primarily the Ministry of Economy, Energy, and Water and the Ministry of Finances that are pivotal for Lebanon’s projected economic resurgence. The Lebanese constitution grants the president the prerogative to discuss any proposed cabinet line-up. Still, the ultimate vote of confidence is reserved by the parliament. Yet, Aoun, time and again, has derailed and abused his rights to secure gains for his son-in-law and political heir Gebran Bassil and Hezbollah’s political fig leaf.

Mikati knows that the government he tries to put together will never see the light of day. Yet, he is adamant not to come across as the reason for this failure and, in the process, gain some merit points with the international community who wishes for Lebanon to stand on its feet. Bassil and Aoun refuse to grant Mikati this simple concession because Aoun’s term as president expires on October 31. The projected failure to elect his replacement will leave Mikati’s cabinet as the remaining caretaker executive power.

US government sanctions mire Bassil’s quest to replace his father-in-law. Thus, he will try to stall until he can remove his name and be eligible to be elected president, or so he hopes. Consequently, Bassil wishes to capitalize on power before the end of Aoun’s term. He has put forth a package deal that includes an agreement over critical ministerial portfolios, senior security positions, diplomatic appointments as well as the governor of the central bank. It’s an impossible feat to achieve given the current political status quo.

Coincidently, given the terrible projection of things, the Lebanese are left with no choice but to try to avoid this scenario by either going back to the streets and overthrowing the corrupt ruling elite or applying pressure on the newly elected members of parliament, commonly referred to as the 13 reform MP’s. Those classified as members of the opposition to drive through the demand to elect a new neutral and capable president also form part of this group. Its aim is to once and for all end the destructive legacy of Michael Aoun and Hezbollah’s hold through him over all elements of the state.

The failure or success in forming the next cabinet will not stop the spiral descent of the Lebanese state, as the entire political establishment has refused to take any responsibility for their previous and future crimes and mismanagement of state resources. It has consequently continued to use the mandatory bank reserves - literally the savings of the Lebanese - to bankroll their financial acrobatics. Pondering the government’s fate is time wasted; let’s focus on the battle ahead.

Mikati and his fellow politicians might look like statesmen. They are nothing but a façade for an archaic, corrupt system that has time and again endangered the lives of its inhabitants. It has allowed Hezbollah, a transnational Iranian militia, to seize control of the resources of the state all in the service of Iran and its expansionist project. However, the Lebanese wish to deal with their problems ahead. It has become apparent that the current political system and all that comes with it have become toxic and incorrigible. It must be put to sleep and never allowed resurrected.

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