Aoun, Hariri political settlement dealt blow as Cabinet formation stalls

What options does President Aoun have to emerge from the current impasse?
by Bassem Ajami

25 September 2018 | 12:37

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 25 September 2018 | 12:37

President Michel Aoun (left) holding discussions with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri (right) at the Baabda Presidential Palace (AP)

BEIRUT: There is little doubt that the "presidential settlement" between General Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri is faltering.

The 2016 settlement brought Aoun to the presidency and Hariri to the premiership, thus bringing an end to two and a half years of the presidential vacuum. Since then, the two men cooperated in running the affairs of state.

But did the settlement work? To answer that question the Lebanese should ask: Are we better off today than they were two years ago? The answer is obviously not.

This shows that the core of the problem lies in faults in the country's political system, which demands an initiative by the president.

What options does President Aoun have to emerge from the current impasse?

Some suggest that he send a letter to parliament seeking its help. But, other than offering moral support to the president's efforts, and help Hariri form the awaited government, there is little that parliament can do to end the deadlock. Still, a presidential letter to parliament may provide an opportunity for critics of the president, in the debate that will follow, to blame him for the impasse, which could complicate matters even further.

Others propose that the president should ask the designated prime minister to excuse himself in order to pave the way for designating another personality to form the government. But such option has no constitutional power. Moreover, Hariri has already declared that he has no intention to quit, while the president insists on working with Hariri.

To break the deadlock, does President Aoun have the recourse to emulate President Fouad Chehab?

In 1960, two years into his mandate, President Chehab expressed his frustration with the political system by shock treatment. He resigned.

His sudden resignation brought together politicians of various groups and sects pledging their support and demand that he continues his institutional reforms. Such reforms became the bases for the modernization of the country's civil service while curtailing corruption to a considerable extent. Also, President Chehab's moderate approach towards regional political issues steered Lebanon clear from the turbulence of the area.

Of course, the entire setting is different now. Lebanon has a different constitution that limits the powers of the president.

Moreover, the region is a far more dangerous place today than it was during the mandate of President Chehab.

But it begs the question, can a shock treatment by President Aoun force a reshuffle the cards of the political process? Faced with a total vacuum in government and the presidency, with the threat of economic meltdown looming, will perhaps force the political actors to reconsider their priorities, and thus devise a new presidential settlement that will bring an end to the current deadlock. 

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