May’s election should have been a cause for celebration, as the Lebanese people’s first successful outlet for democratic expression in close to a decade, but nine months on from the political crisis precipitated by Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s flight to Riyadh, there remains far more cause for consternation.
Lebanon’s economic and fiscal affairs lie in a sorry state, and far from shaking up the political field, the election has simply crystallised the sectarian divisions of the 2009 election.
It has strengthened the position of Hezbollah – a divisive force within Lebanese politics – and nearly doubled the seats of the opposing Lebanese Forces, a far right-wing and equally divisive Christian party.
The main battle lines in the formation of a cabinet are over the appointment of Lebanon’s interior, foreign, finance and defence portfolios, which, according to political convention, have been assigned to the country’s Sunni, Maronite Christian, Shiite and Orthodox Christian sects, respectively.
It was with this in mind that the speaker, Nabih Berri, declared on 10 May – before even Al-Hariri’s role was confirmed – that the Finance Ministry was a Shiite portfolio and should go to his Amal Movement. Others within the government have expressed their opinions that parties should be represented according to their parliamentary size.
The difficulty of forming a new cabinet is in turn holding up the elections for the heads and members of parliamentary committees – a process that has been repeatedly postponed to avoid having MPs elected to the bodies and later being appointed as ministers.
Perhaps ironically, by mid-July it was a spat between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces over Christian representation in government that appeared to pose the most serious threat to the formation of a cabinet.
In reality, Beirut has plenty to be getting on with, including drawing up the legislation for the licensing of both onshore and offshore oil reserves, and that should be parliament’s priority.
MORE FROM THIS MONTH’S LEBANON REPORT
Government & economy: Lebanon struggles to find its political feet
Databank: August 2018
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