The so-called bloc of change in Lebanon’s parliament is threatened with collapse. Until last week, the bloc consisted of 13 parliamentarians who won seats in the May elections. They presented themselves as opponents of the political elite who reflected the reformist aspirations of those who rose up against the Lebanese system in October 2019.
Two developments underscored how the bloc faced major challenges. In the parliamentary committee elections, Change MP Ibrahim Mneimneh was not re-elected to the key finance and budget committee. President Nabih Berri had wanted to implement previous agreements in which all major blocs had appointed representatives on the committees. The Change bloc argued that this would only give them one member on each committee, so they refused, demanding an election. Marc Daou submitted his candidacy to the committee, hoping that he would win a seat alongside Mr. Mneimneh, but in the end both men lost to a third candidate.
Soon after, a change MP unhappy with this situation, Michel Douaihy, announced that he was withdrawing from the bloc in its current form, dealing a heavy blow. While Mr. Douaihy’s resentment was understandable, it would have made more sense to handle the situation from within the bloc, rather than taking a step that threatened its very existence.
From the outset, the Change bloc faced a major challenge, which it has not resolved. It had to act as a cohesive unit, while adapting to the fact that it is not a political party and that its members are chosen from separate lists. In addition, each of its members has its own ambitions, which means that they are often more likely to adopt positions that clash with those of their peers.
Politics is about negotiating and horse trading
At the same time, while the bloc has made clear what its general preferences are and has tried to distance itself from the practices of the traditional political elite, it has not really adopted a practical strategy that sets achievable and realistic priorities. In announcing his withdrawal from the blog, Douaihy expressed his hope that it would become a consultative meeting. But in the absence of internal rules and specific political goals, this is more or less what the Change bloc had already become.
Nor is it a minor matter. The Change block reflects the aspirations of tens of thousands of voters who hoped that by electing a new type of parliamentarians they would help achieve some of the goals of the 2019 uprising. However, with a display of chaos , the Change blog. it is effectively removing the faith these voters had placed in it.
Is there a way out of this situation? The simple truth is that divided, the members of the Change bloc will fall, meaning that unity remains their only path to political relevance. It is difficult to see, for example, what Mr. Douaihy’s added value will be now that he is alone, in a parliament dominated by large blocs. At best, he will be someone whose presence will be felt at political talk shows, but little more than that.
However, the Change bloc remains one of the largest parliamentary blocs and can play an important role if it chooses its battles wisely. But he is currently sidelined in the election of a new president, Lebanon’s top issue. In all parliamentary sessions to vote for a president, members of the bloc have not nominated a candidate. While they support a number of respectable political figures, at least two have asked the bloc not to vote for them, fearing it would make them less likely to appear as compromise candidates.
This has placed the Change block in the middle of a maelstrom. The candidate of the so-called sovereignist parties in parliament, which tend to oppose Hezbollah, is Michel Mouawad. However, the Change bloc has refused to vote for him, seeing him as a representative of the old political class. This has angered sovereigntists, while those close to Hezbollah are delighted that no consensus is being built around a candidate they oppose.
If the Change bloc had voted for Mouawad last week, that would have given him about 55 votes, nine of the 64 needed to be elected in a runoff for a president. At the very least, such a tally would have allowed Mouawad’s supporters to strengthen their hand in negotiations with Hezbollah over a consensus candidate, bolstering the parliamentary majority, including the Change bloc, which is uncomfortable with the party’s dominance. By refusing to think tactically, the Change bloc has simply isolated itself.
Not naming a candidate of your own and not supporting Mr. Mouawad is a recipe for irrelevance. It makes no sense to win an election to parliament and then refuse to do politics. Politics is about negotiation and horse-trading, and unless the Change bloc secures its priority goals by giving other actors or political blocs what they want elsewhere, it will achieve little. Electing a new president is a good place to start.
For now, however, the Canvi blog needs to self-criticize and modify its approach. If you keep making the same mistakes, the blog will guarantee your inconsistency. His fate certainly shows how difficult it is to change political life in Lebanon, but this should not be exacerbated by the fact that the agents of this change fail to agree on a sensible plan of action.
Published: 26 October 2022, 04:00