Monday, July 30, 2007

Staying neutral in Lebanon...errr...right

Yesterday, one of the readers commented on my alleged neutrality and has raised questions regarding this blog’s point of view regarding the upcoming by-election in the Metn. Since her comments are thought-provoking and thoughtful (the best combination possible), here’s a relative long reply.

First of all, the reader would be absolutely right to question the neutrality of this blog. The postings here are not neutral and although I am certainly questioning some of Siniora’s decisions, this blog is located somewhere around March 12.5. In other words, the reader is fully correct in assessing that I am biased towards March 14 and this shows quite often in my postings, the majority of which are more critical vis-a-vis March 8 (mostly Aoun) than March 14.

That being said, there were plenty of entries in which this blog did raise questions towards Siniora’s policy and also questioned the bias in other media. It is interesting to note, e.g., that most of the blogs I can find are with March 14 or are cynical towards Lebanese politics altogether. It would be great to include March 8 blogs as links on the left side bar of this blog in either English or French, but somehow they’re difficult to find.

As other blogs have pointed out, these days you have to have an opinion in Lebanon. It seems that these are not the times for neutrality: you are either with March 8 or March 14. In that sense, Lebanon starts to resemble a two party state, similar to the USA. There is one huge difference, though: in America, the winner takes it all, the loser’s standing small…and the losers are OK with that. Not so in Lebanon. In a suffocating way, the Lebanese political scene does not allow the winner to take anything unless all losers agree.

And this brings me to the main reason why this blogger feels more sympathy for March 14 than with March 8. The latter group lost the elections, despite the fact that these were prepared for by the old regime and tailored as much as possible to ensure a victory of the pro-Syrian parties. However, despite all of this, the March 8 parties lost.

In a mature democracy, the losers would still continue to participate in the political process, trying to gear up for the next round of elections. Being in the opposition gives you an excellent opportunity to learn from possible mistakes you’ve made and to come out stronger. By not taking such a mature approach, the Opposition has lost much goodwill. Instead of sucking it up, the Opposition brought the country to a devastating stand-still.

Imagine the Democrats would have occupied Broadway in New York after the USA Supreme Court ruled that George Bush had indeed won the last elections! For most people, such a situation in the USA would be unimaginable, yet in Lebanon this is exactly what happened.

Some people have argued that the government should have stand down after the Opposition members of parliament and government withdrew. They typically refer to countries like Italy where the government falls every so often if they lose their basis to govern. However, the resignation of a government due to the resignation of a coalition partner typically only happens if the government would lose its majority. In Lebanon, this was not the case and Siniora was therefore not pressed to step down and to request new elections.

It’s actually quite amazing to this blogger, how little Siniora has done with the mandate of the Lebanese people. Without the Opposition to worry about (from a strict political sense), he could have pushed through many more reforms and new laws than he has done so far.

Compare this to the USA, or pretty much any other western country, where a newly elected president can use the first 100 days in office (the honeymoon period) to really make some changes in order to reflect the will of the people. Lebanon doesn’t seem to have this kind of attitude, which is one explanation for the political impasse that has hampered this country ever since its independence: election results are normally not used to enforce change.

Getting back to the upcoming Metn election. This blog feels that Aoun should not run against Amin Gemayel for various reasons, the most important one being the lack of respect for the death of his son and the division it will sow in the Christian community.

Aoun is, however, fully entitled by Lebanese law to run, and what’s more, he might win the elections depending on how much of his Christian base he still has got left, how much Michel Murr can mobilize and how much the Armenians will follow one of their leaders who made a pact with Aoun.

Although Aoun has the law on his side, many people would feel his choice to run against a father succeeding his murdered son, is not very respectful. Also, he is dividing the Christians once again. The latter part is not a democratic concern. As the commenter pointed out, why can’t the Christians have a mind of their own and be divided in two or more groups?

Well, there is no reason whatsoever to deny anyone in Lebanon a choice. Yet, I can’t help but feeling that the Metn are used as the location for another round of a proxy war between Syria and the west. It’s interesting that the Beirut elections go pretty much uncontested. Sure, there is a contester, but he won’t stand a chance and the Opposition is not going to put up a fight out of fear of another round of clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, something Iran and Syria don’t want.

Instead, the Opposition has chosen the Metn as its battlefield at the expense of the Christians and finding a willing tool in Aoun. Clashes among Christians is not considered a problem apparently for either him or the rest of the Opposition. In a country like Lebanon where religion is still very much important and mostly defines one’s identity, such strives are unnecessary and harmful. Throughout Lebanese history, Christians (or rather the Maronites, somehow the Orthodox are more at ease in a predominantly Muslim region) have felt threatened by their Muslim surroundings, a feeling which has only increased over the years with their numbers dwindling compared to the increase of Sunnis and Shiites.

The last thing the Christian community needs is a useless division. Why not have Amin Gemayel have the seat of his son? Again, there are no legal laws that can stop Aoun from running against Gemayel, but to claim that Aoun is defending democracy by contesting the Metn seat is taking it to the other end of the argument.

Normally, a country doesn’t organize elections in case an MP dies. The seat simply goes to the party that assigns a successor. It’s a mystery to me why Lebanon has the legal requirement to organize by-elections when tradition requires the seat to be uncontested in case of tragedy. Aoun has made it painfully clear that it’s high time to change this law.


Jeha said...

May I suggest "March 14/Service Pack 2.0".

It is hard not to be biased when the alternative is the surrender of Lebanon's soul to the ninjas and Co.

Don Cox said...

"Normally, a country doesn't organize elections in case an MP dies."____We do in Britain. After all, why would the voters necesarily want another person from the same party? There might well be a better candidate from another party, or the first party might have lost all its political support since the last election. It is very common here for seats to change parties in bye-elections.

Elissar said...

It’s actually quite amazing to this blogger, how little Siniora has done with the mandate of the Lebanese people. Without the Opposition to worry about (from a strict political sense), he could have pushed through many more reforms and new laws than he has done so far.

Riemer, I've been wondering about what this. Why do you think Siniora hasn't done more?


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

Allow me to inform you that your knowledge about the political process in the US is thin, weak and ill-informed to say the least. Suffice to say that there are many checks and balances set in the political process to ensure balance and continuity. We got none in Lebanon.

sean said...

I'm afraid that you're forgetting or unaware of the 1995-6 budget battle, which caused the federal government to be shut down by Republicans on more than one occasion.