Turbulence ahead

Prime Minister Najib Mikati leaves the Parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

To listen to Prime Minister Najib Mikati, one might think that Lebanon is merely encountering a bit of minor turbulence as it prepares for a problem-free round of parliamentary elections next year.

Mikati has been making statements about the state of his government to various traditional and social media, reiterating that Lebanon will remain steadfast on this or that issue.

Although he refers to his government as a cat with nine lives, Mikati surely recognizes that it is a very unstable, turbulent set of conditions that allows his Cabinet to remain in office.

His recent statements, however, omit this important fact. He is acting as if he and his team enjoy the support of a significant majority of the Lebanese people. Instead, the majority that he clings to is quite precarious, and unable to get its way in Parliament.

One component of his Cabinet, the faction headed by Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, met recently with the leader of the opposition March 14 coalition, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, to mend fences and discuss issues on which they share similar views. These happen to be of crucial importance, since the issues in question are Lebanon’s stance on the uprising in Syria, and the law that will govern next year’s elections.

But Mikati is content to say that he has put aside his letter of resignation from the prime minister’s post, and intends to continue heading the government and overseeing the crucial polls of 2013.

Mikati’s Cabinet is not to be trusted to oversee a satisfactory election law for next year, and supervise the elections, as the prime minister should be well aware by now.

A significant number of Lebanese might back the government, but the March 8 coalition has been beset by constant infighting and tension among its members. This state of affairs has dragged down the Mikati Cabinet and rendered it unable to offer solutions to even “non-political” issues, such as how much to pay civil servants and teachers, or deal effectively with even humanitarian aspects of the crisis in next-door Syria.

Meanwhile, the government remains unable to engineer any kind of meaningful consensus on the parliamentary election law.

Another, significant group of Lebanese are very much opposed to the March 8-dominated Cabinet, and a third group is probably equally wary of both sides.

Mikati should realize that his government has given no signals that it should be trusted to oversee the parliamentary polls, especially since more than half its members intend to be candidates. The prime minister might act as if he is in the driver’s seat until 2013, but he should expect turbulence every step of the way, until the polls arrive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 11, 2012, on page 7.




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