Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cabinet Formation in Parliamentary Democracies.

Parliamentary democracies, as a general rule, assign legislative power to an elected parliament and assign executive power to the Prime Minister. Usually a role is also given to the president that is essentially ceremonial although in some cases the president is given a consultative role and some executive powers. The Lebanese constitution is no different. It follows the above formula to a great extent. Articles 16 and 17 of the Constitution speak to this very clearly:
Article 16 Legislative power is vested in a single body, the Chamber of Deputies.
Article 17 Executive power is entrusted to the Council of Ministers to be exercised it in accordance with the conditions laid down in this constitution.
As for the presidential powers, they are discussed in great detail in Article 53. The powers range from accrediting ambassadors, presiding over official functions, granting pardons to the right to preside over cabinet meetings without casting a vote.
Then obviously there is the judicial arm which is to ascertain that the laws of the land are being applied in accordance to the constitution.
This system of separate Legislative, Executive and Judicial functions has evolved primarily to make sure that the majority do not ride rough shod over the minority and to assure all citizens of equal protection under the law. The right to dissent without the fear of unjust retaliation by the ruling party is an elemental right for a vigorous and robust democracy.
The above schema forms the basis of democratic governments whether they are the mature parliamentary system of the United Kingdom, the German Federation, the state of India or the Russian Federation just to name a few. This nearly universal system of parliamentary democracy seems to work to the satisfaction of most but for one reason or another it is not deemed to be good enough to the Lebanese who I might add have willingly adopted the constitution mentioned above. For the past three years the opposition has waged a well determined campaign that has effectively paralyzed the country to demand participation in the cabinet and to be given the right of veto. Unfortunately the majority gave in , a “national unity” government was formed and new parliamentary elections held. The opposition failed to gain a majority of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies but yet has been waging another determined campaign with the equally absurd interpretation that the cabinet must be composed of all parliamentary groups each according to its share of the parliamentary seats. The previous cabinet, where all factions were represented, turned out to be a disaster as many have predicted. It was simply a tower of Babel. The new demands are equally absurd. A government that represents everyone is a government without any accountability. Which political group is to get credit for effective and popular policies and who is to carry the blame for the failure to act during emergencies or in face of social, political, economic and military challenges. If no one party is to be held responsible for either the success or the failure then why bother and hold elections.
Mr. Sa’ad Hariri, the Prime Minister designate, has not formed the cabinet yet, but he has given every indication that he intends to form a government that has a large proportion of the opposition in it. That will be a tragic mistake not for rigid ideological reasons but for simple logical ones. A member of a government cannot be expected to be an advocate for a position and yet at the same time be opposed to it. If the opposition is to be integrated into the cabinet then that means that there is essentially no opposition and that does not a healthy government make. Dissent promotes growth.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Hariri is getting all sorts of advice to proceed and form such a mish mash of a cabinet that will not be able to function and whose very essence would be undemocratic and illogical. I wonder why is it that Mr. Sarkozi does not follow his own advice to Sa’ad Hariri by forming a French cabinet that includes all factions represented in the French parliament? And Mr. Hariri must never forget that the advice or pressure that he is under from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt is from countries that might have the best intentions for the Lebanese state but unfortunately this advice does not come from democratic practitioners and so how can they teach that which they do not understand. Mr. Hariri needs to understand that the electorate voted so that the winning coalition can implement its platform, it did not vote to see the winners equivocate and go back on their promises. Mr. Hariri has to realize that a victory margin of 55% vs. 45% is a respectable margin by any standard and that he should not blow this margin away through indecisiveness and appeasement.
And finally let me be very clear about this, Sa’ad Hariri is not to blame for this. The fault lies squarely on our shoulders, the Lebanese citizens. Our whole political culture is at fault. A Lebanese daily ran a great caricature recently which said that the Lebanese political leaders have failed to teach the citizens anything about accountability. That political cartoon would have been so insightful had it been exactly in the reverse. Governments and politicians are a reflection of the values, sophistication and mores of the populace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought that you should know that I find your posts about Lebanon informative. Keep it up


Free Blog Counter