After seven long months, during which the Lebanese went through a popular uprising, a COVID 19 pandemic, a worsening economic and financial crisis, currency devaluation, and a large explosion that destroyed parts of Beirut, the government of Hassan Diab has resigned. Although Lebanon’s political system might seem complicated, and archaic, there is a clear order for the next few steps, that will lead to the nomination of a new PM and the formation of the government. This article will try to clearly explain these steps and what they entail. For more information on the ongoing MPs’ resignation and its effect on the Lebanese parliament and political life please refer to the previous article.
Two days ago, following the resignation of PM Hassan Diab, President Aoun directed the outgoing PM and the council of ministers to form a caretaker government. This is a customary step, that is almost symbolic, as caretaker governments have minimal power, and the council of ministers can’t officially meet to issue decrees.
The next step will be for the president to call for binding consultations. It is an election disguised under another term. All the members of parliament (they number 128, but following Beirut’s explosion nine have officially resigned) will visit the President and cast their votes, naming a Sunni candidate as the next Prime Minister. The candidate with the most votes wins and becomes the Prime Minister-designate.
Usually, the MPs visit the President during one or two days, starting with the former presidents and prime ministers, then followed by the largest parliamentary blocks and coalitions, ending with the independent MPs. President Aoun has not yet called for these consultations, and he is not bound by any time frame. Nevertheless, it would probably occur within the next few weeks, after a clear candidate has been identified. However, it might take longer. Last time it took two months and a half, from 29 October 2019 the day PM Hariri resigned till the end of December 2019, for the Lebanese political elites to choose Hassan Diab, and for President Aoun to call for these consultations.
Indeed, the Lebanese elites abhor surprises and unforeseen changes, thus President Aoun will not call for these consultations until the next PM has been agreed upon by the main political actors (Berri, Jumblatt, Hariri, Aoun, Hezbollah, Geagea, and some of the smaller parties. The agreement of foreign powers might also be needed (France, the US, KSA, and Iran). Additionally, this time the popular anger following the large explosion is directed against the whole political class, and there are worries that any such deal might lead to an explosion of anger! Thus, we might have to wait for several long months till these consultations are announced, especially with the looming US elections in November.
In this step, the newly elected PM and the president would meet and decide on the composition of the next government, after the PM takes the non-binding input of the MPs and their political parties. This step is unfortunately also not bound by a time limit, in 2018 it took nine months, while PM Diab’s government took a relatively short 33 days.
This is horse-trading per excellence. Political parties, especially the largest ones (Amal, Hezbollah, Future Movement, Lebanese forces, FPM, PSP) represented by their leaders, meet, discuss, and trade political capital for different ministries and the patronage they award. This process embodies most of what is wrong in the Lebanese political system, in view of the demonstrations calling for a change, one can hope that the process will be different his time. It is also further complicated because the approval of both the President and the Prime Minister are needed, in addition to and the support of a majority of political forces in order to ensure a successful vote of confidence.
Usually, the formation phase takes several months, but with the election of PM Hassan Diab a new trend was introduced, where most of the negotiation on the government composition occurs while the PM is being chosen, thus PM Diab government was formed in a relatively fast 33 days.
Once the new government is formed, the political parties that compose it form a ministerial commission, tasked with writing the ministerial statement. This is a general blueprint of the government’s main policies and focuses. Then, the Prime Minister-elect will present the ministerial statement to the parliament, and the MPs will discuss it. The process is televised and takes a few days of rowdy discussions in the parliament, ending with a vote of confidence. Usually, most governments in Lebanon win these votes, as the political parties that hold the majority in parliament, are already represented in the government, undermining the significance of this step. Finally, after all these steps the government can be considered legitimate and fully functional, and it can start meeting the urgent economic, financial, and humanitarian needs of this country.
In conclusion, it is hard to estimate the time this process between the resignation and the formation of a new government, could take. Historically it ranged from two months to almost a year. However, with the current challenges facing Lebanon, and the popular anger and distrust directed against the political class this process might linger on, and we could be stuck with a caretaker government with limited powers till the end of the year at the latest.
 Article 53 of the Lebanese Constitution
- The President of the Republic presides over the Council of Ministers when he wishes without participating in voting.
- The President of the Republic shall designate the Prime Minister in consultation with the President of the Chamber of Deputies based on binding parliamentary consultations, the content of which he shall formally disclose to the latter.
- He alone shall issue the Decree which designates the Prime Minister.
- He shall issue, in agreement with the Prime Minister, the decree appointing the Cabinet and the decrees accepting the resignation of Ministers or their dismissal.
- He alone shall issue, the decrees accepting the resignation of the Cabinet or considering it resigned.
 Article 64 of the Lebanese Constitution
[the Prime Minister]
- He shall head the Council of Ministers and shall be ex officio Deputy Head of the Supreme Defense Council.
- He shall conduct the parliamentary consultations for forming the government. He shall sign, with the President of the Republic, the Decree of its formation. The government must present its general statement of policy to the Chamber to gain its confidence within thirty days of the date of issuance of the Decree in which the government was formed. The government shall not exercise its powers before it gains confidence nor after it has resigned or is considered resigned, except in the narrow sense of a care-taker government.
- He shall present the Government’s general policy before the Chamber of Deputies.