Friday, January 21, 2011
The mass resignation of ministers from the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week was a carefully calculated and purely political move to bring down the Cabinet. However, it was a step that was taken under the mechanisms outlined in the Constitution; thus, it was a perfectly legal move.
Hariri’s announcement Thursday evening that he would be a candidate for prime minister next week, when parliamentary consultations begin at Baabda Palace, was also a carefully calculated, political move.
However, it was a step that is in line with Lebanon’s Constitution; thus, it is perfectly legal as well.
Less than a handful of days stand between Lebanon and its next critically important political juncture, namely the parliamentary consultations process. During this period, there will be no harm done if the lobbying of politicians takes place, in a bid to influence their votes. If this occurs without bribery, blackmail, threats or intimidation, then this is perfectly fine. Also, no harm will be done if politicians seek to sway public opinion by talking about their rivals, provided that they remain within the bounds of acceptable discourse.
The last few days have seen a ramping up of rhetoric by politicians – there have been vociferous criticisms made of the performance of each side. Again, this is acceptable. But the accusations usually degenerate into unsubstantiated accusations. Unfortunately, politicians rarely go to the judiciary with their complaints, assuming that they have proof and are not merely fabricating their stories or relying on hearsay.
But anything outside these parameters – acting according to constitutional institutions, and presenting documentation when launching serious charges – is unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the resort to the street. Lebanon’s political climate was poisoned this week by a “dress rehearsal” by the opposition, albeit unarmed, that undermined all of the rhetoric by this camp that it would not take matters into its own hands.
The opposition would certainly like to exclude Hariri from the prime minister’s post, having forgotten that it is led by politicians who have complained most loudly about the lack of sectarian consensus in the past. Michel Aoun was outraged when he was not recognized as a leading Christian politician. Hizbullah and Amal were outraged when the government of Fouad Siniora “excluded the Shiites” from its decision-making. Now, these same camps find no problem in seeking to exclude Hariri from government, even though he occupies a similar stature in his sect.
Behaving according to the Constitution is in the interest of all sides – but the Constitution also assigns a lofty status to sectarian consensus. Lebanon’s politicians have only a few days left to resolve this conundrum, and all past experience points to the utter failure of any attempt to exclude the leader of a major community.