Scenarios for the Formation of the Government in Lebanon Following Hariri’s Resignation

 

On October 29, 2019, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri tendered his resignation to President Michel Aoun. While this has satisfied the first of the demands called for during the popular protests that have gripped parts of the country for 13 days, the contest to form a new government in one form or another is certain to dominate the Lebanese arena over the coming period.

Motives for Hariri’s resignation

During the public speech that he gave before travelling to Baabda Palace to hand his resignation to the President, Hariri stated that his resignation came “in response to the great will of the Lebanese people who have taken to the streets to demand change, and as a commitment to the need to establish a safety net to protect the country at this historic time”. It could be said, however, that Hariri only made the decision to resign because he was driven to it by a number of factors:

  • His fear that civil revolt would drive Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to attempt to clear the streets by force, leading to clashes with protesters;
  • His sense that all his attempts to overcome the political crisis have failed in the face of the intransigence of the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and the Amal Movement;
  • His fear that the country will enter economic and financial decline as a result of the continued crisis;
  • His hope that, by tendering his resignation, he will wipe his slate clean in the eyes of protesters and increase his chance of being accepted as the head of the next government.

Current situation

Officially, Hariri’s resignation has taken effect, in accordance with the constitution. The President has appointed Hariri’s government as caretakers, and has ordered it to begin consultations with the parliamentary blocs to appoint the next prime minister as required by the constitution.

Although protesters have welcomed Hariri’s resignation as the first in a line of victories, they have called for the rest of their demands to be met. While most roads have been cleared, the protesters have confirmed that they will continue to occupy the main squares.

Positions of the main Lebanese parties

Among the various parties and factions, opinions on Hariri’s resignation are split, following the same divide that appeared at the start of the protests between factions that support the current government and those that do not. While it was natural that pro-government factions would resent Hariri’s resignation for undermining the 2016 presidential settlement that led to the three-way dominance over the government, opponents of the government view the resignation as an opportunity to collapse the presidential settlement which has, in their view, disrupted the necessary balance of power and unleashed the ambitions of the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil. Although the Lebanese Forces party has called for a government of independent experts to be formed, there is no guarantee that the party will not change its position once negotiations on the formation of the new government begin.

The process of forming the next government is therefore not expected to be quick, owing to the difficulty of resolving the points of conflict between the political forces in Lebanon. Moreover, it may be in the interest of pro-government factions to draw out the negotiations in order to exhaust the protest movement and drive those occupying the squares to leave out of boredom. They are therefore likely to be more generous in their support for options that advance their interests.

However, any agreement between the political forces in Lebanon on the formation of a new government stands no chance of surviving unless the new government is able to implement an urgent economic plan and re-establish a balance in Lebanon’s regional and international relations, thereby reducing the country’s isolation within the Arab and international communities and opening it up to receive economic support.

Possible scenarios for the formation of the next government

Regardless of how long the process takes, there are three possible scenarios for the formation of the next government:

  1. Single-color government: In this scenario, pro-government factions punish Hariri for resigning by choosing another Sunni figure close to the pro-government factions to form a government of mainly pro-Aoun forces. They maintain the parliamentary majority required to win approval for their government. There are three obstacles to this scenario, namely that: The Sunni population may not approve of the candidate chosen by the pro-Aoun parties; the protest movement may reject such a partisan government; the country may face overwhelming Arab and international opposition. This scenario is unlikely.
  2. Small technocratic government: In this scenario, all parliamentary blocs agree to form a small technocratic government in one of two ways: Either a government will be formed under the leadership of Hariri; or pro-Aoun forces will insist on appointing another Sunni as leader. This scenario is possible, particularly in its second form.     
  3. Political government with no traditional party figures: If the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and the Amal Movement refuse to accept a technocratic government, the political powers could agree to form a government comprising most political factions, on the condition that they appoint lesser-known party members with clean records. The Prime Minister would be a Sunni on whom all political factions can agree. This scenario is considered the most likely, especially if the formation of the government is accompanied by the adoption of a clear, time-bound program for economic reform and a commitment to review the elections law to make it fairer and more representative. The challenge facing this scenario is whether the President will agree to exclude Gibran Bassil from the cabinet, and whether the popular movement will be sold on the decision. This will require a leadership or coordination body to which the political forces can turn during the negotiations and convince that this is the best possible option.

Conclusion

Although the popular movement has achieved the fall of the government, this is not enough in their eyes. The political parties and forces — in particular those who support the current government — are likely to drag their heels with regard to the other demands that have been made, in particular the formation of a new government and the approval of a new election law, especially as the protest movement will not be able to continue to block streets in the way that has thus far paralyzed the country and placed immense pressure on the political class. More possible scenarios for the formation of the future government will come to light in the next few days.

 

 
 
 

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