Alwaght- After a week of heavily chaotic developments that put Lebanon on top of the world media focus, the country’s Prime Minister Hasan Diab announced his resignation on Monday, pushing the country deeper into ongoing crisis.
Diab, who held the office in Lebanon only about 8 months, in a televised address announced his cabinet resignation. The resignation followed protestors’ seizure of buildings of some ministries and earlier stepping down by some cabinet ministers.
This raises some questions: Where would the Lebanese developments go after the resignation of the government? In the inevitable rivalry of the home and foreign actors in Lebanon which party can better than others manage the situation to its favor? What impacts would the Diab resignation leave on the nation’s political and economic outlook?
Conspiracy theory boosted
Over the past year, Lebanon has been grappling with critical economic conditions and corruption at the highest levels of administration. Lebanon is one of the world’s most indebted countries with a foreign debt of about $90 billion. Its economy lost its past boom over the past years as a result of constant crises, severance of foreign aids, neighboring Syrian war, the US sanctions, and occasional Israeli escalation of tensions.
In an effort to curb the crisis and get things right, the government, led at the time by Saad Hariri, last year took some economic measures including increasing the price of public services. The measures triggered public protests in October 2019. Since the beginning, PM Hariri of the Future Movement, whose March 14 Alliance lost the election to the opposite March 8 Alliance in 2018, resigned amid protests to take advantage of the situation and thus force Hezbollah to accept a technocratic new cabinet and quit its ministerial share in the government.
To the surprise of Hariri and all, Hezbollah agreed with other groups to gain the majority needed to hold parliamentary sessions. The outcome of the meetings of the lawmakers was a new cabinet led by Hassan Diab. According to Lebanon’s constitutionally-recognized quota system, the PM should be from the Sunnis. Hariri, who identified himself as the unchallenged representative of all of the Sunni groups in the country, never expected Hezbollah's success in the formation of a new government.
When Diab assumed the office, he outlined a plan to fight flagrant corruption in the administrative structure, setting off the alarm bell to the political elites and former power holders.
As Diab continued work and showed a determination to press ahead with reforms, he accused home and foreign opponents of putting the skids under his anti-corruption campaign. Examples were the “made-up” hard currency crisis, US imposition of sanctions on Beirut, and also fueling the gaps in the country under the cover of supporting protests.
Amid the failure of all efforts to topple the government came the huge explosion of Beirut port on August 4 that toppled the Diab government, playing into the hands of Hezbollah’s internal and external opponents. Although the results of a thorough investigation are yet to come, what is clear is the strong link between the devastating blast and the opposition’s anti-government measures.
Scenarios ahead of the government
With the resignation of PM Diab, return to the formation of a new government based on the sectarian mosaic once again will push the country into a dark abyss of ambiguity. It should be noted that over the past years, the formation of the government has been a greatly challenging issue for the political camps in Lebanon. Lebanon witnessed a two-year power vacuum before a general election in May 2018 was held.
The first scenario to deal with the current situation is that President Michel Aoun dissolves the parliament and calls for snap elections. Abandoning the sectarian quota system and writing a new constitution is a serious demand of the Lebanese people. But at the same time everybody knows that the current power system is an outcome of an agreement that followed 15 years of deadly civil conflict. The obvious point is that abolishing it will draw strong opposition from the benefiting minorities and groups.
According to media analyses, one of the main reasons Diab collapsed is the fury among the parliament factions’ heads caused by his call for a snap election. His call motivated them to remove from him the parliamentary cover. Reports suggest that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri sent a message to Diab through Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni, saying that he did not object to the resignation. Diab’s proposal and the parliament’s reaction seem to have been so strong that nobody could do anything to prevent the cabinet fall. So, certainly, the snap election is not the key scenario.
Another scenario is an agreement by the parliamentary factions on a new figure. March 8 Alliance already showed that it can form a government without the participation of the March 14 Alliance. Furthermore, after Diab stepped down, Hariri’s premiership chance is rising. March 14 Alliance last year seriously opposed Hariri's resignation and now wants him to retake the office. Under the current volatile situation, Hariri can be a subject of an agreement between the two main power players in Lebanon.
If this does not happen, Diab can go ahead with the job as a caretaker PM until new elections are held. Caretaker administration can last for months.
These scenarios taken into account, Hezbollah has not sustained a big damage with the PM resignation. Diab can pursue his job and reforms with less pressure and at the same time Hezbollah can put part of the responsibility for depressed economic conditions, which are an end result of decades of rival administration, on the opposite side without walking out of power as the opponents designed for it.