Tuesday, March 17, 2009

National Unity Government? No thanks!

The election campaign kicked off for March 14 with a grande soiree hosted by Pamela Anderson. No better way to represent the Beirut supporters of Saad Hariri than with a blonde, plastic Hollywood babe to cheer for a plastic Lebanon.

But according to a sound assessment by Qifa Nabki, it doesn't matter who you vote for as both sides appear to be heading for a compromise national unity government.

Hizballah, and its March 8 allies, are favourites to win the 2009 parliamentary elections, which would place the resistance movement officially at the helm of Lebanese politics for the first time.

In the face of an obvious election loss, March 14 patron Saudi Arabia has been courting Syria in a bid to iron out a stabilising post-election solution that will ensure Hariri still has a role to play in a Lebanon firmly again in Syria's sphere of influence. Washington's move to re-establish ties with Syria is also a sign that Obama has no interest in tackling the Syrians in Lebanon, since his hands are already full with Iraq, Afghanistan/Pakistan and the global economic crisis.

Adjoining the conciliatory tone between Syria and the US/Saudi Arabia is Hizballah. The Shia party has been talking down reform and change, and promoting national unity and stability instead. There was a rumour circulating that Saad Hariri may be chosen as Prime Minister in a Hizballah-led government, but a counter-rumour on Friday-Lunch-Club has stated that Hizballah would prefer a low-profile PM from the March 14 camp.

The Prime Ministership is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in our warped, sectarian political system.

Hizballah could also take a low-profile in the government, handing many key posts to its allies to thwart any Hamas-style economic repercussions from the US and EU, or action from Israel.

False stability

But the change that opposition voters are hoping for remains elusive. There is no guarantee that the rampant corruption will be tackled, nor any national focus on lifting our economy out of the slums. Indeed, the long-awaited reform to our dividing sectarian political system will most likely remain on the backburner, despite Hizballah's alliance including two major proponents of secular change, the FPM and SSNP.

In other words, very little will change in the name of "stability". The focus of the current Opposition will be to maintain the status quo, form a national unity government with its rivals, and not risk any potential conflict. The other aim behind this is to prevent March 14 from forming a popular opposition to Hizballah-rule by including them in the decision-making process, as Hizballah has done to the leadership whilst in opposition.

But the truth remains ... nothing will be achieved with 10 factions in government. The political wrangling, threats and snipes will continue, meaning that Lebanon will be without an effective government for another four years. The Lebanese people will continue to lament, the only hope of change will disappear in the air, and many more Lebanese will scramble for visas to leave the country.

The Hizballah-led alliance has a major opportunity to form a government based upon Lebanon's national interest. Never has Lebanon been led by a leadership with a national focus, but Hizballah's alliance (otherwise dubbed the Shia-Christian alliance) could transform the political landscape if it were to tackle national issues head on and deviate from sectarian-based politics.

In order for the country to truly stabilise, all parties need to invest in centralising power into our national institutions, including the government and presidency. As it currently stands, the Lebanese parliament and government serves as a quasi-UN General Assembly that brings together various confederate states. Lebanon is at present a false amalgamation of a variety of sects and groups, each sectarian group a local hegemon in its own right. By pursuing a "national unity government" that will encompass all major sectarian groups - effectively creating a UN Security Council-like leadership - one is endorsing the status quo of decentralised power, with each fragment of Lebanon operating to its own interest.

The cause of our instability is due to our fragmentation and the competing sectarian interests in the country. A "national unity government" will only preserve this fragmentation, allow for the competition of sectarian interests, and maintain an air of instability.

Hizballah and its Christian allies must sacrifice short-term gains by making the move no Lebanese movement has made - the centralisation of political power and the defragmentation of Lebanese politics and society. Indeed, in order to centralise power, sectarian hegemons such as Hizballah, FPM, PSP, LF and FM would need to sacrifice some of their own power.

Whilst these groups may form competing alliances, they do agree on one fundamental point ... the preservation of the status quo that ensures they retain their individual power as sectarian hegemons.

This is why forming a national unity government will pose no problem for either coalition.

As I have stated all along, the entire Lebanese political establishment is guilty for our ineptness, misery and instability.

My advice to voters: Throw the ballot paper in the bin.


theFool said...

Thats a bit harsh to throw away "a say" we've been dying to express the past 4 years of instability and chaos that our 'leaders' put us through.

I, as a citizen, look for new faces, centrists, pro-activists, taoist spirited in governing Lebanon.

Politicians come and go, most really drag, but eventually the changes are minute, and steady.

Antoun said...

But my point is that there won't be new faces and instability will persist, because the fundamental cause of our problems will remain.

No faction (March 14 or March 8) disagrees entirely on the root cause of our problems, which is our divisive, sectarian system. Each faction is content in having supreme authority over its "canton" or "sect", and will not relinquish that to a central authority.

For example, if we do have a central government power that overrides all others authority, Aoun would no longer be the "Christian" representative, Hizballah will no longer be the "Shia" representative, Jumblatt and Hariri would lose relevance in their communities also.

This is why as the election date creeps closer, the less we will hear about "reforms" and the more we will hear about "national unity" and "compromise".