Alwaght- Seven months after Lebanon’s election, political stalemate remains standing still in the country, and in addition to the crisis caused by the parties’ failure to elect a new president, a new crisis is hitting the shaky caretaker cabinet.
Najib Mikati, the prime minister of the caretaker government, who practically has no administrative power and only carries the title of prime minister, convened the cabinet for the first time in six months on Monday, so that after a long time, the people feel that their politicians still care alittle about home affairs.
According to Mikati, the meeting was a special one addressing the cases of hospitals and health services to people, especially those with special diseases like cancer. The important point about the meeting was absence of 7 ministers who said that none of the cabinet draft laws were not approved by them as the constitution does not authorize a caretaker PM to take over the president’s duties and powers when the seat is empty. The PM, they said, is also devoid of constitutional powers as he is still does not have the current parliament’s confidence.
Former President Michel Aoun has the same idea and in a speech warned about the consequences of violating the constitution and called on the ministers to take a united stance against violation of the constitution articles that apparently cites the caretaker government’s duties. At least 16 of 24 ministers should be present for a cabinet meeting to be held, otherwise it loses the majority and any decisions taken are non-binding.
Najib Mikati is seeking to hold cabinet meetings while he has virtually no legal authority to manage Lebanon’s political affairs. During the presidency of Aoun, he did not take any action to form a cabinet to solve the political crisis, but now he is trying to exploit the presidency vacuum to his advantage and take control of political affairs officially. A month ago, Mikati pledged not to hold a cabinet meeting in the midst of a presidential vacuum, unless all cabinet members agreed to this action. He held an extraordinary meeting despite opposition from ministers.
So far, eight rounds of meetings have been held to elect the president, but the political factions have failed to agree on a figure. The president’s signature is required for any new government to take office, but due to the ethnic composition of the political parties in Lebanon’s constitution, there is no consensus among them, and the election of the president may take months.
The division among political parties in the cabinet and parliament is a grave challenge that not only does not settle the problems but also perpetuates political impasse.
The current political situation is highly critical in the country and there is no political official who, in association with political factions, beat the challenges and bridge the gaps of the parties to end the instability. Hezbollah and its allies, who hold the majority in the parliament, want a new president who is strong enough to resist the largely overbearing US demands, but other political factions are looking for an anti-Hezbollah and resistance person, and these differences have made it difficult to reach political agreements. Indeed, Lebanon has fallen victim to the political ambitions of some factions that seek to satisfy the desires of foreign actors instead of securing national interests.
The caretaker government, which has neither a power nor a will to settle the crisis, is doing nothing good to the administration of the country. Mikati is seeking to persuade the ministers that since the conditions are critical, the PM should be allowed to take the leadership and so solidify his position for the future, and retain the post under a new president.
Lebanon’s political divisions continue while the country has been grappling with a grave economic crisis since 2019, and according to figures, Lebanon has the world’s third-highest debt to GDP ratio, and worse can be expected if the political standstill continues. Economists say the crisis will deepen as long as Lebanese politicians delay the approval of reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund in return for billions of dollars in aid.
The governance vacuum is causing concerns about a failure to Mae the reforms required for IMF aids. $3 billion is planned for Lebanon, but power vacuum is delaying this aids package. Mikati appears to be holding the extraordinary cabinet meetings to increase his power, take the loan, and advertise himself as the savior of Lebanon who could solve part of the problems in the gloomy present condition.
Since part of the loan is allocated to medical and health services, Mikati is taking a humanitarian gesture to tell the public and the foreign creditors that his aim is help to the incurable patients. But these efforts come while some factions do not recognize him a legal PM, and are pushing for a new president election to name a new person for the PM post.
Election of a president is key to name a PM and actually the canine formation process is initiated by the president. Therefore, Lebanon cannot tolerate a political vacuum when the country is going through an acute economic crisis, and important and urgent decisions on economic reforms must be made, because the economy is paralyzed. Lebanon’s national currency has lost more than 90 percent of its value in the last three years, and people cannot access their bank deposits and continue to suffer from raging inflation, rampant poverty, insecurity, unemployment, and lack of medicine, electricity, fuel, and food.
Lebanon is facing a situation unprecedented in its history. Meanwhile, using economic sanctions and putting the skids under settlements to the crises, the US and Saudi Arabia, which are the main obstacles ahead of government formation, are pushing to paint Hezbollah the source of all the crises and consequently provoke the people against it. But so far the Lebanese have not played this dangerous Western-Arab game and have a strong belief that during the fuel crisis, Hezbollah was the only party providing party of the fuel in association with its ally Iran, while others who played as backers of Lebanon stabbed Lebanon in the back with economic sanctions.
In Lebanon, decisive decisions like those on the president and prime minister are usually delayed due to political disputes, reckonings, and sectarian quota system and there is no clear outlook for end of differences. This means the political instability would prevail and the people pay the price as they fall victim of their political leaders’ excesses.