While Western media decried Hizbullah’s victory in last month’s election, any notion that the Shi`ite party can dominate Lebanese politics is at best an exaggeration, says As’ad AbuKhalil.
Part One of this article can be read here.
By As`ad AbuKhalil Special to Consortium News
One can’t evaluate the results of last month’s Lebanese elections without understanding the real power of the legislative branch, namely that Lebanon’s bizarre sectarian system is a deformed version of a parliamentary democracy.
The president ruled supreme prior to the 1989 Ta’if reforms, which ended the 15-year civil war and restructured the Lebanese political system. He was able to tailor the results of the Lebanese elections to his liking. This was done either through outright rigging (as Kamil Sham`un did in 1957 with U.S. help) or by gerrymandering.
Furthermore, the Lebanese president (who has to be a Maronite Christian) had absolute power and would often push the parliament in the direction he wanted.
But the Lebanese political system was thoroughly changed after 1989, and the powers of the president were greatly diminished, reflecting the changes in the balance of power between the various warring sects and factions in the war.
New powers were given to the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet), although there is still an unending constitutional debate over whether the Ta’if reforms really shifted the powers of the president to the Council of Ministers or to the office of the prime minister (who has to be a Sunni Muslim). The speaker of parliament (who has to be a Shi`ite Muslim) was awarded an extension of his term from one year to four, although he remains largely without meaningful authority.
The real power in Lebanon’s parliament rests with a handful of key zu`ama’, sectarian political bosses, many of whom became war lords in the civil war, and not in the committees where draft bills are theoretically formulated. More often than not, the zu`ama meet in private and agree on key decisions and policies. Furthermore, these political bosses all have foreign sponsors, which means that foreign embassies often play a key role in the political decision-…