Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Hanna Saleh

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Beyond The Presidential Vacuum!

Lebanon, which just marked its centenary, has fallen victim to hegemonic aspirations. As a result, its presidential seat has been vacated for periods after the end of every term since President Emile Lahoud's tenure ended 16 years ago. The country was thus deprived of the optimistic atmosphere that follows the election of a new president by its national imbalance of power, which is a consequence of civil war. This imbalance was then exacerbated and entrenched by the presence of Syrian forces and the betrayal of the 2005 "Independence Uprising.”
Since Lahoud's term ended in 2008, the presidential seat has been vacant for a total of five years, and caretaker governments (like its current government, which has been in power since its most recent parliamentary elections two years ago) with limited authority have been in “power” for over six years.
Further underlining this state of affairs, seats of high office have been vacant for periods since Elias Hrawi came to power in the early 1990s following the Taif Agreement. The problem aggravated with Lahoud’s presidency, reaching new heights with the presidencies of Michel Sleiman and Michel Aoun. These vacancies are intended to marginalize the presidency and undermine its role. It all began with the coup against the Taif Agreement and the constitution, with the rise of the "Troika" (three heads of state instead of one president) and was perpetuated when each of the three was given a "specialty.”
During this downward spiral, the political class was comforted by the rise of a sectarian-quota-based spoil-sharing regime that affords leaders (leading financial and militia figures of the civil war), in the name of their sects, particular roles and shares of the nation's wealth and state institutions!
It can be said, without the slightest exaggeration, spoils-sharing defines every facet and seat of power in the state: ministers, director-generals, heads of departments, the army leaders, and heads of security apparatuses. This system grants each faction the "right" to choose the person who holds the seat allocated to their sect, even in the judiciary and education, and especially in the national university and other institutions. All the vile appointments that were made have sidelined competent individuals and promoted sycophants. At the first stage, this was greenlighted by a Syrian officer in charge of Lebanon. In the second stage, it was Hezbollah, the strongest of the sectarian-militant armed factions, that gave the green light. Its role was solidified after Rafik Hariri's campaign to legitimize its "resistance" after the criminal Grapes of Wrath war.
The militia-ization of the country’s authorities took precedence over everything else. The state was thus hollowed out of its merit and talent. The republic, with its symbols and values, is now on the verge of extinction. Its authority has been limited to giving up medals, quid pro quos transactions, and trading in dubious naturalization decrees intended to fund a clique among the factions that have their hands on the spoils.
For these reasons, the election of presidents never inspired hope among the Lebanese that a normal state could be built, one of the institutions that are subject to the constitution and apply the law consistently. Consequently, when parliamentary circles tie the proper functioning of institutions to the election of the president, they seem to be in a state of deep denial. They ignore reality and the shifting lines of influence among the sectarian factions when they tell the people that they will accept nothing less than an honest, reformist, independent, and sovereignist president!
A few days ago, on May 15, the parliament convened to discuss the complex issue of Syrian displacement, which has been exploited by populist and racist fanfare. It issued “surplus to requirements” recommendations that neither bind the government to do anything nor address the most serious challenge facing Lebanon.
It is striking that halfway through this parliament’s term, no party has felt compelled to present a summary of its achievements to voters. Lebanon has turned into a camp and a ticking time bomb, but no questions are being asked. Its financial, economic, and social collapse has deepened, and no reforms to chart a path towards recovering citizens’ bank deposits have been taken. Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has tied their retrieval to the seizure of state assets. There has been no step to restructure the banks or implement any of the reforms agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund. Instead, the "law of impunity" has been fortified.
The judiciary is being manipulated to prevent holding those responsible for the port explosion to account or the interrogation of anyone who had taken part in looting the state. Riad Salameh, the keeper of the secrets of the financial collapse, has not been apprehended although international arrest warrants (for embezzlement, money laundering, and bribery) were issued against him a year ago!
Despite the inclusion of a few independent or "reformist" deputies, this parliament will finish where its predecessors left off. Its greatest achievement is to rubber-stamp a deal decided outside its halls. With a state whose decisions are hijacked under the nose of a regime incapable of curbing a plan to turn the country into a frontline in Iran’s project, putting our hopes on parliament has become an outdated and untenable narrative. By failing to realistically assess these shifts and search for out-of-the-box approaches to counter the claims of the resistance, it will continue to operate as though it has achieved victory, asserting that what was impossible before October 7, 2023, has become definitively so afterward.
Thus, it is no small matter that foreign initiatives and the activities of the "Quintet" avoid addressing the dominance of the statelet over the state, waiting for regional changes. Accordingly, meetings are held to kill time, which is grinding the Lebanese down, and only temporary solutions are discussed and circulated!