The creation of a new cabinet in Lebanon seems to be heading toward deadlock, and the optimism that a cabinet may be formed from the presidential press office has been squandered.
A public visit by the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) Gebran Bassil, who happens to be President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, to the Presidential Palace was enough to overrule any progress that had been made.
Creating new cabinets in Lebanon has been a tiresome mission in the last few years thanks to the FPM’s approach, which has the silent support of Iran-backed Hezbollah.
FPM has introduced new customs to the process: veto power. Along with their allies, they were able to delay for months the birth of governments after the Doha Agreement of 2008 that granted all political forces including Hezbollah mutual veto power and ended months of political deadlock.
Not only did they block cabinet creation, FPM ministers along with their allies, paralyzed the cabinet functions when the agenda did not suit their requests or when they realized that their demands would not be met.
In 2010, FPM and its allies controlled the crippling third of the cabinet, meaning in a 30 member government, the resignation of 11 ministers would automatically lead to the resignation of the whole cabinet. After months of squabbling between Prime Minister Saad Hariri and then General Michel Aoun, 11 FPM ministers resigned collectively when Hariri refused to appoint Aoun’s second son-in-law Shamel Roukoz as Lebanese Army Commander.
The timing was fortuitous. Hariri was in Washington to meet with American President Barack Obama in the White House. Where he went into the meeting as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, he left embarrassed as a resigned official.
By 2016, it seemed that Hariri and the FPM had reconciled when the former officially nominated Aoun for president. But the deal would collapse again when Hariri resigned on October 29, 2019 few days after the Lebanese took to the streets in mass protests refusing his cabinet’s economic policies and criticizing the delays in reform that were promised over and over again, but those promises were never met. FPM had practically blocked all decisions that were not in harmony with its interests, especially those pertaining to the power sector that they had controlled for the past 10 years or so.
While French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative to resolve Lebanon’s compounding political and economic crises has not been respected by several local players, the old political show has once again taken center stage.
The same players have the same demands.
Hariri has succeeded in returning to his old post as prime minister after securing a small majority of votes. He had nominated himself as the “natural candidate,” an uncustomary move in Lebanon. Notably, his old ally the FPM did not nominate Hariri.
It rarely happens that a parliamentary group refrains from nominating a prime minister and then goes to negotiate with him the share it must have in the new cabinet, but this is precisely what the FPM did.
Logically speaking, a parliamentary bloc that refuses to grant its support for a prime minister should not be request representation in his government. Not only are they trying to impose their will on the negotiation track and earn a share in the new cabinet, but also they are basing their strong points of negotiations on the mandatory signature of the president on any ministerial decree to create the new cabinet. If he does not sign it, the cabinet would not see the light.
Therefore, theoretically speaking, the prime minister could propose a cabinet lineup of his choosing, and he could exclude the FPM or any other party from its membership, but he would still require the consent of President Aoun who has favored FPM political interests at the expense of national interests.
If FPM interests are not taken into consideration, Aoun would refrain from signing.
However, if Aoun did not sign off on the cabinet, he would be betraying his oath to respect the constitution; the president should be bipartisan and respect all parties equally, but he is not and he does not.
If an agreement is not reached soon, two possible scenarios emerge. Hariri could fail in forming a cabinet and, once again, step down, meaning the hunt for a new prime minister would commence. Alternatively, he could refuse to step down and wait for developments that would improve his hand at the negotiating table as Aoun has no constitutional tool that allows him to force a prime minister designate to withdraw the nomination. This route would create a new deadlock with a prime minister designate incapable of forming a new government and the economy still in freefall, the agony would continue.
No matter what the reason for the delays in cabinet formation – whether some parties are waiting for the completion of the American presidential elections or whether it be to advance personal interests – the current deadlock is detrimental for the country’s continually ailing economy and its people, still traumatized from a year of catastrophe.