Lebanon: Will the momentum be squandered?

Sunday 08/01/2017
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun (R) and Prime Minister Saad Hariri attend the first meeting of the new cabinet at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, on January 4th. (Reuters)

After two-and-a-half years of presidential vacuum, the Leba­nese parliament succeeded in electing a new president, former army commander Michel Aoun, who was practically refused by all parliamentary blocs only weeks before going to the ballot.

Regardless of the reasons or circumstances that stand behind this election, the new president attempted to send positive signals in all directions. His inaugural address was meticulously written and applauded by almost all parties in the long-divided political society.

He received envoys from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt and promised to pay his first visit as president to Riyadh. Aoun said Lebanese-Arab rela­tions would return to their previous status of friendliness, expecting come back of Gulf citizens to Beirut after lifting the ban imposed last year in an unprecedented deterioration of mutual relations in contemporary history.

However, questions arise as to whether the momentum gained after the presidential election, nominating long-exiled Saad Hariri as prime minister and creating a 30-member cabinet that represented almost all the political parties and gaining parliamentary confidence in less than 48 hours; yet, this momen­tum is under scrutiny.

Information leaked that Hezbollah would not accept the return of Hariri to the premiership after parliamentary elections was never refuted. Talk about sacrific­ing to accept his comeback when the regional axis of resistance, with enormous Russian support, is achieving victory, most recently in Aleppo, could not be disre­garded, either.

This highly undermines the pos­sibility of accomplishing the long-awaited solutions for accumulating problems, espe­cially in the economy, the ever-growing public debt or the rising challenges in the social demands, health care or otherwise.

Even though there are high expectations from Hariri for the six-month transitory phase, politi­cal discussion concentrates on the electoral law amid severe divi­sions regarding the issue.

Leader of the Democratic Gathering, Walid Jumblatt, warned that he would refuse any attempt to adopt laws that aim at marginalising or shrinking his parliamentary presence, a stance positively met by public and private statements from several leaders, including Hariri, Hezbol­lah Secretary-General Hassan Nas­rallah and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Whether this discussion will be sufficient to reach a new electoral law or have elections based on the 1960 law is not clear. However, there is a lot of talk in Beirut that most political forces refuse that law in public and support it in private.

Though there are increased requests that the proportional representation law be applied, political confessionalism stands in the way of making such an ideal electoral system plausible. The debate over the electoral law might hinder significant develop­ment in other fields because it might emerge as a source of tension, deviating attention from secondary issues.

Two-and-a-half years of political paralysis drastically aggravated the economic situation because the former cabinet barely functioned under the pressure from the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah under different titles. Therefore, a lot of work is expected to alleviate public services and regain confidence that has been squandered because of political differences and institutional decay with high rates of corruption in the bureaucracy and public administration.

Whether this is feasible, the coming days are to judge.