Monday, November 12, 2007

Elections postponed until after elections

To hardly anyone’s surprise, the presidential elections scheduled for today, have been postponed again, this time to November 21. That’s only 1 day before the new president has to be sworn into office. According to Lebanon’s Constitution, the new president has to take office on November 22.

Not to worry, though: Given that most Lebanese systematically arrive late and seldom plan ahead, there might still be plenty of time. Making reservations in restaurants, e.g., can be done the same day, even for the more popular ones. Compare that to the Spanish restaurant El Bulli which is fully booked all through 2008. Not so in Lebanon. Here, life is less structured and more flexible. The Lebanese are used to doing things the last minute and it’s exactly this feat that comes in handy now.

To put a 'scientific' spin on things, the Lebanese politicians excel in task avoidance, a concept that can be defined as follows: “The political game, where the winner is the player who, while looking busy, most consistently avoids being associated with any decision.” The players can choose from various strategies:

A. Avoidance of Information Contamination: knowledge, in any quantity, is a dangerous thing. Since you might be required to act upon it, it’s best not to know. This can be observed sometimes in Lebanon where people are exquisitely vague in both stating and demanding information. Best to leave topics untouched. If party A is not going to give information, party B will not press for it. An actual example in Lebanon would be the hesitation to share with and demand from the other party what candidates they deem acceptable for the presidential position.

B. Avoidance by Changing Subjects. Everybody knows there is never enough time to discuss everything so the more frequent you change subjects, the less you can actually discuss. As a result, fewer decisions can be made. A perfect example was seen yesterday in Nasrallah’s speech: he introduced the concept of national elections followed by election of the president. Obviously, with only 10 days to go, this is not a realistic proposal. Yet, it fulfills the purpose of using up time that would otherwise have to be dedicated to discussing the real issues.

The optimal way of changing subjects while coming across as coherent is to focus on strategic issues if the current issue is more of an administrative nature and vice versa, all the while insisting that the new issue must be solved first before going further. This strategy is followed by people who love to claim that “First, we have to set out an overall strategy before going into details” alternated with “Let’s make sure the details are fully covered before we make any drastic change in strategy”. In both cases, the most important outcome is obvious: to avoid action.

C. The Rushing Strategy: this is based on two complementary situations that always occur: either there is not enough time to make a decision (so let’s not rush to make one, we need more time) or there is ample time to make a decision (so let’s not rush to make one, we have more time). It’s a sure winner and will work anytime, anywhere.

Again, the Lebanese presidential elections are an excellent example of this: since the extension of Lahoud’s term back in 2004, everybody knew the deadline of November 22, 2007 was coming. First, the politicians played the ‘there is enough time’ strategy and so one postponement followed the other. No one should be surprised that come November 21, they decide to switch to the alternative strategy of claiming that there is not enough time to make a decision. That’s the beauty of this strategy, it works every time!

Now, even when playing one’s hand carefully by applying a mixture of all three strategies to postpone any and all action, a decision could slip through. The most important thing to remember is not to panic. Contrary to what you might feel at the time you become aware of this gruesome notion, it’s not the end of the world; in fact, it presents you with one final strategy:

D. Judicious Absence. This strategy is based on being absent when the decision is scheduled to take place. If you’re not there, you can not be held responsible later on for that decision. As the reader has already realized, this strategy is also widely and successfully applied in Lebanese politics. In fact, the politicians in this country are such experts in the game of decision avoidance, I bet the next postponement will say that the elections are now rescheduled to take place until after the elections!


M Bashir said...

very interesting scientific spin :-)