Date :Saturday, November 24th, 2018 | Time : 07:35 |ID: 78817 | Print

Lebanon experiences a government formation crisis

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SHAFAQNA Lebanon today is experiencing a government formation crisis. Six months after general election, parties are still wrangling for ministerial posts to form a new government.

“Lebanon today is experiencing a government formation crisis … Lebanon no longer has the luxury of wasting time,” Lebanon’s President said in a televised speech on the eve of the country’s 75th independence day since the French mandate ended in 1943, usnews reported.

On the eve of the traditional military parade in the heart of Beirut, Michel Aoun told the Lebanese people in a national address that “to be an independent nation, the homeland needs to be the master of its decisions and its land, and to be able to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in all issues relating to its national affairs.

The president reminded the Lebanese that “the interference of external elements costs us the ability to decide, wastes the essence of independence, and places sovereignty in danger.”

He stressed that “differences should not be over the homeland, but over politics, and my call today to all officials, political factions and sects is to discard our differences and highlight the sense of responsibility toward the people, who are fed up by the indifference of the decision-makers to their fears and broken dreams. It is our duty to reassure them about their future and to work hard to save our country economically, socially and morally.”

He said that “the crisis of forming a government is not unique and Lebanon has lived through it before. It may happen in other deep-rooted countries too, but it is costing us precious time and preventing the possibilities of production.” Aoun stressed that “the independence and sovereignty of the homeland must remain outside the equation of opposition and loyalty, and outside the scope of a power struggle.”

Back in 2009, it took five months to form a government

After nearly a decade of turbulent politics and postponed elections, Lebanon held its first general election since 2009 this May. Six months later, parties are still wrangling for ministerial slots to form a government. A country defined by a rigid sectarian political balance where custom dictates how cabinet seats are allocated, Lebanon is no stranger to political stalemate. Back in 2009, it took five months to form a government, and it took twice as long to appoint a new one in 2014. But with concerns that an already-frail economy could go into a dangerous tailspin, a new government is urgently needed to launch the fiscal reforms required to unlock billions of dollars in conditional loans .

Acountry recognises 18 official religious sects

There are several factors behind the hold-up, but “at the core of it is the political equilibrium” at both the national and regional level, Johnny Mounayar, a political commentator, told Al Jazeera. “Each side has its own calculations.” However, in a country that recognises 18 official religious sects, all with a stake in governance, cabinet selection is more about political representation than technocratic efficiency. The country’s 15-year civil war was brought to an end in 1990 through a power-sharing system that divided the legislature equally among Muslims and Christians, reinforcing an older formula that dictated the president must be Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.

Lebanon’s pluralism “leads to this competition between factions and leaders,” said Anthony Elghossain, a Lebanese-American writer focused on Washington-Beirut relations. “That provides space for regional intervention, often because the leaders themselves recruit regional or international actors to participate in the politics of Lebanon.”

The complexity is compounded by regional and international dynamics

Along with the high stakes and dizzying political horse-trading, results from the new proportional electoral system, first used in May, have complicated the cabinet formation talks ongoing for months. The complexity is compounded by regional and international dynamics: the Saudi Arabia-Iran regional rivalry, the future of the Syrian regime next door and the attention these issues attract from Washington.

Lebanon’s cabinet mirrors the allotment of parliamentary seats

Lebanon’s cabinet mirrors the allotment of parliamentary seats. Its 30-minister cabinet is split equally between Christians and Muslims, divided in turn among each confession’s sects. Sunnis receive six seats in the Muslim share, Shia get another six, and Druze get three. The cabinet must also reflect electoral results. While there is no official ratio of parliamentary seats to cabinet roles, it is largely understood among political leaders that a bloc of five or more MPs qualifies for one ministry.

Everything and nothing is at stake

“Everything and nothing is at stake,” Elghossain said about the government’s formation. “Nothing is at stake because if, and when, a government is formed, it’s hard to imagine that it will somehow manage to tackle all of these challenges.” At the same time, “everything is at stake because it’s almost impossible to think of how Lebanon still exists and survives in this sort of state of ‘controlled chaos’,” he added, referencing a term used by Lebanese to describe the country’s social and political equilibrium.

Lebanon has over $85bn in public debt, ranked the world’s third-largest and constituting over 150 percent of the gross domestic product. The country has chronic power cuts, a rubbish management crisis, water collection and distribution challenges, environmental degradations and rampant corruption, to name a few issues. In addition, the country has had to deal with more than a million Syrian refugees.

 

Read more from shafaqna:

Lebanon: Hariri hopes for government formation soon

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