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Power Relations in a Cabinet of Minorities


The political composition of the new Cabinet lineup once again gives Walid Joumblatt the power to tip the scales in one way or another.

While the new Cabinet includes an overwhelming majority of the country’s political groupings, it still lacks a clear majority, per se. Overall, it represents a gathering of political minorities; the only majorities that could emerge within the Cabinet will be what could be called “ad hoc” majorities, on a case-by-case basis, that may change depending on the issue in question.

This precarious political balance is the result of the fragmentation of the Lebanese political landscape, triggered first by the presidential compromise reached in 2016, which blew up the March 8/14 political divide, and then exacerbated by the new electoral law. That being said, it is worth noting that, as part of the possible combinations of various alliances, and as was already the case in the previous Cabinet and has been proven on many occasions (appointments, electricity, etc.), the partnership between the Future Movement and the Free Patriotic Movement will continue to dominate the Council of Ministers. In some cases, this partnership will also benefit from the absolute majority (depending on the decisions of the two “jokers” included in the presidential share, namely the Druze minister and the Sunni minister, represented respectively by Talal Arslane and March 8).

This ad hoc majority is in fact composed of the nine ministers revolving around the Head of State and the party he founded, plus the two “jokers”, as well as the six ministers of the Future Movement.

Blocking Third

Except for some strategic issues, other combinations could be possible, hence the importance of the veto, when it comes to blocking or even overthrowing the government, by those who can exercise it. Equally important is the role that can be played, once again, by the Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Joumblatt in tipping the scales in one way or another. Thus, despite any possible convergence between the Future Movement (6 ministers) and the Lebanese Forces (4), these two parties can only muster the “blocking third” if the PSP (2) joins them, to raise the total number of ministers in this potential bloc to 12.

Similarly, the forces rotating in the orbit of the March 8 camp can reach the “blocking third”… only with Walid Joumblatt’s ministers, even if the two Sunni and Druze presidential “jokers” join them under pressure from Hezbollah. The ministers in this camp are as follows: six representing the Amal-Hezbollah duo, one for the Marada, to which could be added the two Sunni and Druze ministers theoretically reporting to the Head of State. Clearly, only with their colleagues in the PSP party will they be able to use the veto power (with 11 ministers). It goes without saying that it is more likely that, statistically, Moukhtara would stand with Meerab and the Center House, rather than Ghobeiri.

But on the other side, it cannot be overlooked that the Aounist camp may be tempted to occasionally join the March 8 camp on some issues, despite the real tensions between the two parties, which came to light in the party’s relations with the Amal and Marada movements, but remained in the dark regarding dealings with Hezbollah. In light of the above, it would be premature to conclude, as of now, that this or that party would impose its hegemony on the new Cabinet. Only in the next few weeks, or even months, will we be able to gauge the development of the political balance inside the government with more certainty.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 1rst of February)

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