Post-Election Lebanon Grinds On Without A National Strategy
One vote – some will argue that electing one more independent would have prevented Nabih Berri from having the 65 votes needed to be re-elected as Speaker of the Parliament. This facile suggestion, however, flies in the face of two realities: the lack of a Shia challenger for the job, and the 38 votes Berri received from non-Shia legislators. While initially there was a credible candidate for Deputy Speaker, Ghassan Hasbani, he failed to win the backing of the reformists – a sign that they have yet to resolve their lack of a coalition mentality. “Berri’s tally would not have been possible without votes controlled by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt,” who is relishing his role as king maker.
The traditional color of the government was evident in President Aoun’s first meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, accompanied by the new deputy speaker, Elias Bou Saab/FPM, and four new members of parliament’s bureau: Alain Aoun/FPM and nephew to the President; Michel Moussa/Amal; Hagop Pakradounian/Armenian Revolutionary Party; and Karim Kabbara/Future.
This protocol visit did nothing to reassure Lebanese that the IMF-backed reforms would become a priority until the members of the cabinet are chosen and the parliamentary statement is agreed. The news that came out from several sources continued to underline the absolute need for a strong reform program despite well-known opposition to the government’s economic reform plan adopted last week. Looking at the quality of the economy, the Legatum Institute ranked Lebanon near the bottom of its 2021 analysis, just ahead of Yemen and Sudan.
The International Support Group for Lebanon, commented on the election results, noting that, “Now is the time to move boldly forward to pass the legislation needed to stabilize the economy, improve governance, and enact the reforms Lebanon and its people urgently need.” But the process begins and ends with the parliament and the Council of Ministers, which is why the next period of coalition-building and electing a President who can reliably call on 70+ members to vote for change is so critical.
Fitch Ratings commented in a report released May 27, that the challenges of building coalitions portends significant roadblocks with respect to Lebanon’s reform momentum. The report called the results of the election “inconclusive,” and asserted that it will be difficult to form a stable governing majority and therefore adopt any reform agenda. Chief among the disagreements among MPs is banking sector reform, despite the economic reform plan adopted on the final day of the Mikati government and in spite of the Staff-level agreement with the IMF. There are a number of banking sector reforms, opposed by some veteran MPs that must be addressed before any IMF relief package can be implemented.
Fitch, of course, did not directly engage with critical issues such as an independent judiciary, completion of the Beirut Port explosion investigation, political reforms, reduction of public sector costs, and improvements to key sectors such as electricity and telecommunications. While the list is well known as well as optional solutions, the lack of a consensus among parliamentarians will impede any progress and hold up the presidential election as well.
So the question of coalition-building remains front and center in Lebanese politics and is as much of a challenge to the reformers as it is to their opponents. For example, what will it take for Walid Jumblatt to join forces with the reformers and independents – what issues are key levers with his constituents? Answering these questions in detail will test the fortitude of strategists on all sides of any given issue and will hopefully bring the legislative process into the open air rather than behind the closed doors of the kind of ‘business as usual’ that is all too familiar in past Lebanese parliaments. The Lebanese people are waiting, and their fuse is burning.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.