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Posts Tagged ‘Ziyad Baroud

Kinds of Decentralization Law? And what Lebanon political parties prefer?

Sami Atallah and Michèle Boujikian, LCPS posted this November 2015

Recent demonstrations and calls for political reform in Lebanon have stemmed from and focused on the government’s inability to address a national waste management crisis. One key demand of demonstrators is that local municipalities be given greater control over waste management and how money is spent collecting and processing waste.
Such calls beg a broader question: What kind of decentralization law would Lebanese political parties really want?
According to recent findings by LCPS, Lebanese MPs would favor a more restricted role for regional councils, sectarian quotas for elected officials, and an electorate comprising the registered population under a new decentralization law.
Following the release of the decentralization draft law in April 2014 by a committee that was established by former Prime Minister Mr. Najib Mikati in November 2012 and led by former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Mr. Ziyad Baroud, LCPS interviewed 120 opinion leaders to hear their thoughts on decentralization in general and on various elements of the decentralization draft law.

What Kind of Decentralization Law Do Political Parties Really Want?

Among those interviewed were MPs on the National Defense, Interior and Municipalities Parliamentary Committee and the Administration and Justice Parliamentary Committee, senior political party members, mayors, religious leaders, experts, and members of civil society organizations.

They were asked about different facets of the law which fundamentally transformed qadas (small department) into elected councils endowed with the mandate to provide a wide range of services as well as the fiscal resources to do so.

The survey, which was largely closed ended, focused on 5 key areas: The respondents’ understanding of decentralization, elections, the prerogatives and financing of the qada councils, and the financial transfer system.

Using this survey we have been able to get a clearer picture of what MPs think of decentralization.

Although more than 90% of them support decentralization, this high level of support masks serious issues.

In brief, they seem to prefer a more confined role for the qada councils, favor sectarian quotas, and prefer that they are elected by the registered rather than resident population. It appears then that their position highlights their desire to not only keep sectarian quotas intact but in fact to prevent political reforms.

For instance, a key pillar of decentralization is giving elected councils wide prerogatives and fiscal means that they would otherwise not have.

Although more than 88% of politicians and senior party members think that elections and financing are key elements of decentralization, their support for wide prerogatives for councils drops to 60%. This contrasts sharply with the 96% of other respondents who think that prerogatives are key to decentralization.

Furthermore, only 34% of politicians and senior party members think that qada councils should have wide prerogatives and the authority to collect taxes compared to 58% of others surveyed.

In fact, party leaders and politicians (63%) prefer that the qada councils’ responsibilities be confined to a coordinating role among municipalities.

The political elite appear to be in favor of entrenching sectarianism in qada councils.

When asked whether they support sectarian distribution in qada council seats, 69% of politicians and senior party members said they are in favor of such a measure compared to only 28% of others.

Political parties appear to have no appetite for serious reform as they seem eager to replicate the parliamentary experience by having the registered rather than resident population elect their representatives.

In fact, 40% of party leaders and politicians compared to only 26% of others surveyed want the election to be based on the registered population. A key part of financing the qada is through an intergovernmental fund.

Based on best practices, this fund should establish clear criteria for distribution to prevent favoritism. When asked about the criteria of distributing the fund, 40% of politicians and senior party members preferred it be done on an ad hoc basis compared to 19% of other respondents. (And what ad hoc basis means?)

Finally, in order for politicians to make sound decisions, one would expect them to be familiar with facts and figures about municipalities and municipal spending.

None of the MPs, including members of committees, knew how much money is transferred from the central government to local governments through the independent municipal fund or how much municipal expenditures amount to as a share of central government spending.

When political parties and politicians call for decentralization, one should be cautious of what their real intentions are.

After all, MPs do not seem interested in decentralization as a first step toward larger political reform but only as a way to consolidate their own power.

Catastrophic Constitutional Vacuum in Lebanon? Lebanese don’t care...

When Lebanese President Michel Suleiman’s term ended on May 25, he left a vacuum that some fear could further erode the influence of Christians in a turbulent region consumed with sectarian infighting.

 of FoxNews.com published this June 2, 2014

lebanonpres.jpg

Sleiman’s  (tacit “constitutional”) post has traditionally been held by a Christian, in the delicate sectarian balance of a nation made up of (19 officially recognized religious sects).

Currently, the vast majority of the population of Shiite Muslims is supported by Iran. The Sunni Muslims are mainly backed by Saudi Arabia.

Five attempts by parliament to reach a deal to fill the presidency have failed, leaving an impasse that not only exacerbates political and social polarization in the country, but also weakens the Christian community in the Middle East, where Christian presence is rapidly disappearing.

“With Lebanon you can never tell when the combination of internal struggle and external regional struggle will fuse together in a combustible way,” says New York University Middle East expert Mohamad Bazzi.

“The more instability and insecurity in Lebanon, the more likely there will be violence in car bombs and potentially worse. The Lebanese Christians are also watching the fate of fellow Christians in Syria, the violence against them from Sunni jihadists.”

David Hale, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, urged Lebanon to seize the opportunity “to elect a new president without allowing any other country to dictate the results.” (And what was the purpose of Kerry’s visit to Lebanon, coinciding with election in Syria?)

The Lebanese people need leadership “made in Lebanon,” he said. “The price of a power is “simply too high. The United States supports this Lebanese process.”

As part of the Taif Agreement, a national reconciliation accord that ended Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990), Maronite Christians, who had historically held the presidency and appointed the government, maintained the position of head of state but were forced to hand over the leadership of the government to the Sunnis.

The Christian president retains powers such as making recommendations for top military posts and the signing of international treaties, but he needs the prime minister’s cabinet approval. A Shiite always hold the position of speaker of parliament. (Nabih Berri, a civil war warlord, has been holding that post for 3 decades now)

This power-sharing arrangement, based on demographics in 1989, forced the Christians, who had historically been in charge of appointing the country’s prime minister, to accept that they had lost their majority to the Muslims after 1 million Lebanese, mostly Christians, emigrated during Lebanon’s civil war.

“The Lebanese Christians are also watching the fate of fellow Christians in Syria, the violence against them from Sunni jihadists,” says Bazzi, explaining why many Christians in Lebanon and Syria have chosen to side with Hezbollah by fighting on the side of the Syrian government of Bashar Assad.

“Christian communities like historic Maaloula have been decimated by al-Nusra and other Sunni militants. For the Christians the Assad regime is the best worst option because at least Assad won’t want to eliminate the Christians.”

Hezbollah and its Christian political allies hold more than one-third (how about more than half?) of the cabinet seats of the Lebanese government. This consolidation of power potentially gives them the ability to overthrow the government. Lebanon has already lost core components of statehood to Hezbollah, which brazenly follows its own military and foreign policy.

Hezbollah’s political camp has boycotted parliamentary sessions to elect the president, claiming that they want a “consensus candidate” rather than the “provocative candidate” (another warlord Samir Geaja who served 11 years of a prison term) the Mustakbal Sunnis want.

Among a field of potential Christian leaders who seek the presidency are heavy-hitters from rival camps. Samir Geagea heads the Lebanese Forces, one of 12 parties that belong to March 14, an alliance of  Christian militia groups and the Saudi-backed Sunni Future Movement, based on the date of a massive rally that pressured Syria to end its occupation of Syria. (It was the Tayyar movement of Gen. Michel Aoun that brought this massive rally)

Of the candidates, he is the most outspoken critic of Hezbollah, running on a platform of independence from Iranian and Syrian interference (but not from independence of Israel and the USA)

Geagea’s main rival is Gen. Michel Aoun, who leads the Free Patriotic Movement that is part of the March 8 alliance (the date of a huge pro-Hezbollah demonstration), an Iran-Syrian-backed coalition of Hezbollah, Amal, another Shiite militia whose leader is Nabih Berri, the current speaker of parliament. March 14 accuses Aoun of being a stooge for Hezbollah.

“Difficulty at filling the post of head of state, which takes a two-thirds majority in parliament, is not new to Lebanon,” says popular Lebanese Christian politician Ziyad Baroud, who served as minister of interior and municipalities for two consecutive governments.

Despite sectarian problems facing Lebanon, Baroud believes that moderate Christians, Druze and Sunni and Shiite Muslims can work together to build a democratic country (if the political climate around Lebanon permit it?)

“Christians play a role of moderation in Lebanon,” according to Baroud, who hopes the current presidential vacuum leads to the selection of a leader who will work to unify the nation. “At a time when there are major problems in the region, it is good timing for Lebanon to offer an example of living together in peaceful coexistence. Christians, more than any other community, have historical responsibility to carry this into the future. 

Lebanon’s presidential crisis of today comes with tremendous internal and external pressures.

Over the past year, Lebanese Sunni jihadis and their rivals Hezbollah have been battling each other in Syria, and the violence has spilled over into Lebanon with at least 16 car bombs and a spate of assassinations. Compounding this unrest are the more than 1 million refugees, mostly Sunni, from the civil war in Syria.

The refugees have increased Lebanon’s population by close to 25% (how about 40%?), creating social pressures and altering the sectarian balance in the small nation. “Try to imagine the United States or France suddenly ending up with an additional 25 percent of their population to cope with, “ says Baroud. “When you add it to the Palestinian refugees, you can imagine what is the impact on this country.”

Staying out of the Syrian civil war is arguably the most critical challenge for Lebanon. “The proxy war that the Saudis (backed by the US and western European States) and Iranians are playing in Syria has unleashed forces that they cannot completely control, both in Syria and the broader region,” says Mohamad Bazzi, who points out that the rival Muslim powers are deeply involved in promoting their agendas in Lebanon.

“The Saudis and Iranians are crafty and can instigate things, but they cannot always control it. When the genie is out of the bottle, you might not be able to put it back in,” Bazzi warns. “That is the case of Syria and the potential danger for Lebanon.”

It may be weeks, even months, until a president takes office in one of the most challenging political environments on Earth and dangerous, too.

There is a long list of assassinated Lebanese political figures — from mayors to prime ministers to presidents. “I don’t have fear,” says Baroud. “The fact that we are still in Lebanon and feel something can be done is what matters. It is not about rational thinking, it is about feelings.”

(And what are these feeling? Of utter disgust of this pseudo State?)

Note: Those parties who refuse to elect Gen. Michel Aoun (leader of the far largest Christian block in the Parliament) have been hinting that Hezbollah (ally to Aoun movement) is blocking an election of a President in order to reform the Taef Agreement and have the Shiaa be represented politically as constituting the third of the population (this sect is actually 50% of the population).

Hassa Nasr Allah said in his recent speech that it was the French who suggested this reform a few years ago, but Hezbollah has no intention of demanding such kind of power sharing.


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