Lebanon Needs More Than an Executive Branch Shake Up: Legislative and Judicial Reform Are As Pressing

Wednesday 18 December 201906:04 pm

The debate all over Lebanon today revolves around the need for a cabinet reshuffle including independent ministers not aligned to the traditional political parties which lead the country to the point of collapse. These calls could lay the groundwork to gain back national and international confidence amid the worst economic malaise the country has witnessed. However, to what extent a new “technocratic or semi-technocratic” government can be effective in changing the performance of public institutions marred by decades-old confessional corruption remains to be seen.

While sweeping away the old guard from the newly anticipated government - albeit being quite a far fetched option at the moment - is seen as a step forward to kick start the economy and deal with a collapsing financial situation, fighting corruption and facing endemic challenges the country has been reeling from since the 90s under consecutive governments won’t be magically solved with the birth of a new government. Issues that are central to the problems Lebanon is suffering from revolve around questions over the independence of the judiciary, the rule of law, separation of powers, the impunity of politicians and much more. These absent notions embody the fundamental requirements needed to push through the proper legislations to carry out the basic demands of the protestors. Without being able to enforce the necessary laws where the implementation of policies are often meddled with by various political powers, it makes it rather impossible for any future government to preside over institutional change.

Amidst an entrenched power struggle among the various political parties and their interference in all public institutions, setting out functional mechanisms to bring people to account becomes a rather unrealistic demand. The current power structure needs to be reconfigured while capitalizing on the current popular mobilization on the streets today in order to put an end to the plundering of millions of dollars as a result of a lack of transparency and the siphoning off of the country’s resources in a political economy run by a consociational power-sharing system.

If a new Lebanese cabinet was formed without exceptional executive powers to carry its agenda, this throws into question the effectiveness of such calls for an independent ministers without the usual suspect conventional political figures #LebanonProtests
Here’s the challenge: In the event that an “independent” cabinet were to see light - that amid a parliamentary majority in the hands of Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement, it is hard to see a breakthrough meeting the demands of protesters.
The argument so far from the Popular Mobilization Movement is that by being leaderless, lacking popular figures or leaders, this makes it stronger and more effective. This theory could be easily disputed.

If a new Lebanese cabinet was formed with no exceptional, executive powers to carry out its agenda, then this throws into question the effectiveness of such calls for an independent government ministers absent the conventional political figures. At the same time, there’s a real challenge - in the event that an “independent” cabinet were to see light - that amid a parliamentary majority in the hands of Hezbollah, their Amal ally and the Free Patriotic Movement, it is hard to see a breakthrough of the sort that the protest movement is hoping for. The only breakthrough they can ever hope for is one that takes place with a new general election that succeeds in generating a substantive power bloc representing the opposition on the streets for over two months now. In the meantime, it is hard to see how this current power struggle is able to bear fruit in terms of breaking the monopoly of power by the ruling class in public institutions, one that exceeds government ministries to include securing parliamentary seats and hold the strings of power in various public institutions with the power of oversight over every public office, usually politicized in favor of the establishment rather than being in service of the public interest.

The argument so far from the Popular Mobilization Movement is that by being leaderless, lacking popular figures or leaders, this makes it stronger and more effective. This theory could be easily disputed. It is true that by being leaderless it makes the movement less susceptible to being attacked or dismantled by those holding the grips of power. However, change is only ever materialized by rising up through the ranks of power. It eventually means being represented in parliament with the aim of an increasing representations among large swathes of society. Change doesn’t take place by protesting only. Unless these protests generate an official body with the aim of making it to the top where the decision making process and policy making take place. On the other hand, the power of civil society lies in its name, its civil nature, calls for change will remain a distant dream. The pressure played by the civil society by engaging the general public and getting them involved through activism and campaigning should be coupled by the emergence of representatives of the popular mobilization movement that command the support of its diverse base with the aim of rising up through the ranks of power. Street protests and civil mobilization is one form of protesting and exerting pressure on government. But without a strategy that enables those voices to reach the halls of power, the impact of these protests will remain intangible with its true representation increasingly debatable and thus it casts doubt on the movement as a whole as it continues to be dealt with lightly by those in power.

Based on what has preceded and what is to follow, perhaps everyone on both sides could take lessons from one of the oldest democracies, which happens to be embroiled in the biggest turmoil to ever divide its people; the UK and Brexit. The results of the general election a few days ago were shocking. The labor party has lost seats in its heartland in the northeast of England- seats that were considered traditional labor strongholds and were discounted by the conservatives as impossible to win for being labor since the seat was created. Why is that, because people felt that they were not listened to following their voted to leave the EU in 2016. Despite being labor for decades and given that they voted leave in those areas, they needed a PM that would respect their votes and so they voted conservative leading to the worst showing the Labor party has seen since 1930. One labor bastion fell one after the other and the result was a resounding victory for the tories under Boris Johnson. All this to say that breaking party affiliations/lines and holding to account the leaders that fail to deliver on the will of the people is what is needed.

Against this backdrop, a lot could be learned from mature democracies and something similar in nature needs to be seen in our country in terms of the shift in allegiances, one that puts the party under continuous scrutiny by the people and not vice versa. We need to see people in Shiites’ strongholds flipping against their leaders when they see that they have strayed in its foreign policy or if they feel that its foreign policy is no longer in Lebanon’s security interests and or on line with the national interest. We need people in the North voting against their “Sunni Zaim” when they see that they are being held in a patronage system that is antithetical to the establishment of a strong state and no longer serves their needs. Citizens loyal to the various Christian parties need to stand up to their decades old support for their leaders in a review of the party’s policies since he came to power. The same applies for every other confessional leader in Lebanon both the Muslim, Christian and Druze strongholds to be challenged in the way Loyalties are traditionally mapped out and the voting trends are understood to take place.

In the absence of the mechanisms enacting transparency and accountability, how can the Lebanese trust their current leaders in the exploration and management of the emerging petroleum sector. There’s another challenge in the face of any future cabinet to be representative of a cross-section of the society and not a section of it. On a scale from 0 to 100, zero being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean, Lebanon ranks at 28/100 indicating high levels of perceived public sector corruption. It also ranks 138 out of 180 most corrupt countries. This throws into question the effectiveness or rather ineffectiveness of confessional democracy to transition into a fully-fledged democracy, which has been in play since its independence. considering the specificities of the Lebanese national construct, it has hard to see a way to continue with the system that perpetuates sectarianism and beholds its citizens to the existing current injustices just as hard as it to see a way out in a system that accommodates the social, cultural and religious constructs of its diverse components.

On a more positive note, it so happens that the protests that erupted on the 17th of October were in large part about just that. it was about breaking the decades old allegiances, just as it was about exercising an oversight from the people over its leaders- something that has been missing for generations amid blind sectarian subjugation. And unless we see a real breakthrough in the ranks of the old establishment and a change in electoral trends that secure independent voices in the upcoming parliamentary elections, calls for an establishment of a third republic remains ambitious at most. Given that the 2018 elections has regenerated the same political class with the exception of one parliament member, Paula Yacoubian, being able to make it on an independent platform, I am afraid spelling the death of the postwar system is too just too little too early to pronounce, notwithstanding the great potential the current uprising carries.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Raseef22

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