Monday, July 14, 2008

The "Elections Cabinet"

On the new Cabinet's operational and administrative effectiveness I won't comment. In the long/medium and even short-run it doesn't matter, all the progressive moves or gains that might be made in the next ten months can easily be erased in a day if a decision similar to that of July 2006 or May 2008 is taken [again, by Hizballah or their masters in Tehran, rather].

Instead, I want to take a brief look at those cabinet members fielded specifically in preparation for the 2009 parliamentary elections. The most prominent names that stand out in that regard are, of course, that of Ibrahim Shamseddine and Nassib Lahoud, both M14 affiliates.

On Nassib Lahoud and the political battle in the Metn, much has already been said on this blog, and much of that has already been corroborated by developments on the ground. While Murr and the Armenian Tashnaq party have renewed their vows to each other, we are still awaiting word on further developments. The naming of Jean Ogassapian, a Tashnaq rival, as a Minister of State, has highlighted the Future Movement's commitment to their Armenian allies in Beirut, but of Hashnaq's (to which Ogassapian belongs) ability to bring about a political victory, much remains uncertain. In any case, political shifts [and compromises] on that front certainly can't be ruled out until the elections are actually over.

Also unclear is whether Aoun will benefit from a tripartite electoral compromise in the Metn dividing seats and votes along M14 - M8 - Presidential lines. Meanwhile, the procuring of the Ministry of Agriculture to Aoun's erstwhile ally, Elias Skaff, and the Ministry of Tourism to the Kataeb's Elias Marouni points to a heated electoral battle in the Beqaa city of Zahleh from which both men hail, and where the battle may be more personal than political. Earlier this year, Marouni's brother and another Kataeb partisan were both gunned down by the Baath party-provided [i.e. Syrian provided] security men of Skaff.

Whether this incident, and the local outrage and hostilities generated by it, will be enough to overcome the favors sure to be doled out from the ministry Skaff has come to occupy in a region known as the heart of the country's farmland, remains to be seen. In either case, we can mark this Orangesque appointment down to Aoun's full-fledged participation in the country's favor-politics (a euphemism for corruption).

The Orange General's appointment of his inept son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to the vital Telecommunications portfolio stinks of nepotism and should be seen in light of the General's [so far unsuccessful] attempts to name his blustering relative as the FPM's vice president, ahead of far brighter members. His running in the district of Batroun will pit him against the seasoned anti-Syrian parliamentarian, Butros Harb.

Aoun's other political appointment, Mario Aoun, carries with it the hallmarks of the 2005 elections and the political mud which netted 'Mario' an almost totality of Christian votes in the Chouf district. As it turned out, those votes were not enough to secure for the Aouns an electoral victory in a pre-dominantly Druze district, but it did underline Christian malcontent with the quadripartite alliance and, specifically in the Chouf, the electoral neglect paid [by Walid Jumblatt] to another original fighter against Syrian occupation, Dori Chamoun.

In that regard, Chamoun and Aoun have a lot in common. Both men are leaders of Christian movements which actively took part in the demonstrations and movements that ousted the Syrian occupiers throughout the Cedar Revolution; and both were sidelined by the political machinations which dominated those elections. But thats where the similarities end. Contrary to Aoun, who went on to cement his alliances with the SSNP, Hizballah, and all manner of Syrian thugs in his crusade to reach the Presidency, Chamoun remained within the Anti-Syrian alliance and continued to take positions in line with long-standing "Christian" stances.

Indeed, if March 14th is to successfully conduct its electoral battle on the Christian front, they must be willing to correct the mistakes of the previous election. Fielding two Lebanese Forces ministers, Ibrahim Najjar and Antoine Karam, was a move in the right direction, so was the naming of Nassib Lahoud (as representative of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering). Putting forward a list of candidates including those submitted by Chamoun (which would presumably include himself) in the Chouf, would go the extra mile in mobilizing the significant anti-Syrian Christian electoral bases in the Chouf, Baabda, and Aley: All Hizballah border regions that have witnessed their fair share of provocations and maneuvers by the group.

For its part, Hizballah has chosen to forsake its share of cabinet seats in favor of its allies. A particularly repugnant choice is Ali Qanso, former head of the SSNP. Aside from the [failed] argument put forward by Siniora to keep this man out of the Cabinet lineup (it didn't make sense to object to him based on his members' ransacking of Beirut while at the same time accepting Hizballah and AMAL in the Cabinet), it should be noted that Qanso, throughout his tenure at the SSNP presided over what essentially was a Syrian assassination cell, with little to do with the original philosophy (now long gone) attributed to the party.

His nomination, is perhaps meant to distract (unsuccessfully) from the nomination of another Shiite, this time by March 14, from outside of the two parties that have enforced a Syrian hegemony - and in the case of Hizballah, an Iranian Khomeiniest ideology - on the country's Shiites. That nomination is that of Ibrahim Shamseddine.

On the pros and cons of Shamseddine as a politician and/or administrator I won't bother to comment, he is yet unproven, but his nomination takes me back to some of the first posts I put up on this blog. Those posts dealt with the hegemony imposed on the Shiite community as enforced by AMAL and Hizballah, and the need to break it to allow the country's Shiites to be full participants in the democratic institutions of the state (no matter how much reform they currently need).

The promotion of Shamseddine [who was reportedly slated for the position of Information Minister before being blocked by Berri who thought the post would give him too much air time and publicity], along with the support given to Ahmad al Asaad (who will run in the Marjayoun + Hasbayya districts of the South) is a very important step in that direction.

It is a step frayed with dangers. Hizballah has in the past demonstrated how it deals with critics within its community and the recent stoning of the U.S. Ambassador (to-be's) convoy on its way to Shamseddine's residence in the South last month stands proof of its intentions to these men.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the country's post-Syrian elections, so far, has been the absence of violence. In 2005, international pressure, monitoring, and will-to-act ensured that any attempts [by Syria or others] to cripple those elections through the use of terrorist acts would bring about severe reprecussions. As we near 2009, we can only hope that these pressures and will-to-act can provide us with the same, relatively calm, atmosphere conducive to any democratic process.

1 comment:

  1. From one of the linked articles:

    Though rare now, attacks on U.S. diplomats and interests in Lebanon were once common.

    That so much needed to end in "..." !

    ReplyDelete

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