Year in Review: Few Gains for March 8 in 2012

Leading figures in March 8 also criticize the government’s economic performance. (Photo: Haytham al-Moussawi)

By: Firas Choufi

Published Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In light of March 14’s bleak performance on the political scene in 2012, has March 8 fared much better? Al-Akhbar looks at the missteps and successes of the current governing coalition.

The members of Lebanon’s governing March 8 coalition excel at whining. Visit any of their offices or political gatherings and you will hear them express their disappointment to anyone who will listen. Sometimes their feelings are strangely mixed: dejection about the abysmal domestic political performance of the so-called Resistance Front, then expressions of absolute faith in their inevitable triumph.

Leaving aside the Resistance’s military accomplishments in 2012 – notably the Ayoub reconnaissance drone – the internationally embattled coalition has little to show in terms of achievements at home.

It is not certain whether March 8 plans to conduct a formal stock-taking of its successes and failures over the course of the past year. But the criticisms its members have levied against its performance this year – whether in politics, security, or public services – would suggest that such an appraisal is necessary.

By any measure, March 8 cannot notch up any political successes in isolation from the government, two-thirds of whose portfolios it holds. This is a “forced” partnership with what has effectively become the country’s third political bloc – consisting of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, President Michel Suleiman, and MP Walid Jumblatt – and which has routinely engaged in extortion against the March 8 parties.

The government has done nothing to bring about a badly needed shake-up in the state administration and, in particular, the security forces. March 8 had long suffered from March 14’s control of security agencies. Even after it assumed power, portraits of International Security Forces commander Ashraf Rifi continued to adorn rooftops in Tripoli, the influence of Wissam al-Hassan grew further (up until his assassination), and Attorney General Said Mirza became increasingly high-handed – only to be rewarded by Mikati with a new office in the Grand Serail as legal advisor to the prime minister. Even the funding for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was approved more smoothly than when March 14 was in power.

Leading figures in March 8 also criticize the government’s economic performance. They appreciate that the economic and financial crisis of the past year is not March 8’s making, but instead an inheritance from successive governments controlled by the Hariri family. Years would be needed to overcome the legacy bequeathed by the governments of Rafik al-Hariri, Fouad Siniora, and Saad al-Hariri, but supporters complain that the coalition has not even started trying. No serious plans have been drawn up to purge the administration or the financial system of Hariri’s “tools,” they say, or to formulate alternative national economic policies.

Despite all this criticism, some March 8 supporters maintain that the government has accomplished some things in specific areas, albeit not enough. They cite as examples the electricity plan which the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) fought for and the drafting of a new election law based on proportional representation. Never mind that there’s no chance of it being used in the next elections. “The important thing is that someone dared propose a proportional representation-based law,” explains one.

March 8 is also berated for the heated row between Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the FPM over the Électricité Du Liban day-workers, which crippled the coalition for more than two months as the two sides quarrelled. But members of both Berri’s Amal Movement and the FPM now claim that the experience had a positive effect in the long run. They now appreciate each other’s views better and coordinate more closely.

Several groups in March 8 that are not represented in the government say it would have made little difference to them if March 14 had remained in power. They complain of being ignored, are critical of the performance of many ministers, and protest that there is no real coordination between the big parties in the coalition and their smaller and more localized junior partners, particularly with regard to the provision of public services and investment in their districts.

While conceding its many faults, the March 8 camp gives itself credit for successfully employing what one MP describes as “the policy of the sponge” to absorb Lebanon’s domestic tensions. It thus managed to prevent the country from exploding in the wake of numerous incidents: the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Abdul-Wahed, the Lebanese hostages in Aleppo, the Michel Samaha affair, and the assassination of Wisam al-Hassan, not to mention the attempted storming of the Grand Serail.

One insider said that the coalition managed “to preserve Lebanon to the minimum extent, and to dissociate it from the Syrian crisis to the minimum extent too.” This, the source said, was in spite of the free-for-all on Lebanon’s borders, the battles between Linked wordJabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, and the blocking of roads.

He advised skeptics who do not appreciate what March 8 has done to try to maintain stability in Lebanon to imagine that the current government were led by Saad al-Hariri’s March 14. “Let them tell us where they think Lebanon would have been today,” he said.

March 8’s self-criticism is tempered by the consideration that the country has a president who, in the words of one March 8 supporter, “had his heart in Washington, his mind in Syria, and nowadays has abandoned his mind to listen to his heart.”

Other than that, members of this camp wryly concede that if they have scored any political victories at all this year, they were “negative victories,” ones that would’ve never have come their way had it not been for the disastrous blunders of March 14.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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