At first glance, Lebanon’s political system seems very complicated, mixing constitutional stipulations, customs, and age-old traditions. In particular, the resignation and the formation of a new government appear to be a very chaotic and complex process. However, if you dig deep enough, there is a clear blueprint for the next steps. In this article I will try to explain the process and enumerate the steps, that should hopefully result in the appointment of a new Prime minister and the formation of a new government.
In mid-October Lebanon was faced with a new ‘crisis’. It is worthy to note that in the past few years, Lebanon has stumbled from one problem after the other. Indeed, in just the past few months, Lebanon has almost had a war with Israel, was faced by a large natural fire that engulfed most of the country for a week, while continually suffering from a deep ongoing economic crisis that affected the livelihoods of all Lebanese. Yet, throughout all that time, the Lebanese people armed with their renowned resilience have kept going.
On October 17th large demonstrations started, clamoring for change and an end to corruption, a week later Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned. The main question on everyone’s lips has been: now what?
First, the day after the resignation of PM Saad Hariri, President Aoun directed the PM and the council of ministers to form a caretaker government. This is a customary step, that is almost symbolic, as caretaker governments have minimal power, and the council of ministers can’t officially meet to issue decrees. Yet, in their boundless ingenuity, Lebanese politicians have at times been able to issue a few decrees under a caretaker government, by using the ‘traveling decree’ workaround. This is simply a policeman going from minister to minister, and getting their signature on a decree, in order to circumvent the prohibition on the meetings of the council of ministers. Nevertheless, it has been rarely used and only for critical decrees that cannot be postponed.
Second, the next step will be for the president to call for binding consultations. It is a form of elections, where all 128 members of parliament visit the President and cast their votes to elect the next Prime Minister. The MPs usually come as part of their political parties or factions. According to tradition, the day starts with the visit of previous presidents or prime ministers who are still MPs, and then by each different party or group present in the parliament. The president has not yet called for these consultations, and he is not bound by a time frame. Nevertheless, it would probably occur by next week.
Third, is the government formation. In this step, the newly elected PM and the president would meet and decide on the composition of the next government, after the PM takes the non-binding input of the MPs and their political parties. This step is also unfortunately not bound by a time limit, in 2018 it took nine months. This horse-trading per excellence. Political parties, especially the largest ones (Amal, Hezbollah, Future Movement, Lebanese forces, FPM, PSP) represented by their leaders, meet, discuss, and trade political capital for different ministries and the patronage they award. This process embodies most of what is wrong in the Lebanese political system, in view of the demonstrations calling for a change, one can hope that the process will be different his time!
Fourth, once the new government is formed, the political parties that are part of it form a ministerial commission, tasked with writing the ministerial statement. This is a general blueprint of the government’s main policies and focuses. Then, the Prime Minister will present the ministerial statement to the parliament, and the MPs will discuss it. The process is televised and takes a few days of rowdy discussions in the parliament, ending with a vote of confidence. Usually, governments in Lebanon win this votes, as most political parties are already represented in the government, undermining the importance of this step! Finally, after all these steps the government can be considered legitimate and fully functional, and it can start its urgent work on fixing the economy.
In conclusion, it is hard to estimate the time this process, between the resignation and the formation of a new government, could take. Historically it ranged from a few weeks to almost a year, like what happened with PM Hariri previous government, that took almost nine months to be formed. However, with the current economic situation, all political parties must know that a delay is very dangerous, and the process should hopefully be fairly short.