Hezbollah has managed to consolidate its position in Lebanese politics and in the process encroached in Hariri's stronghold of Beirut. A sign that Hariri's lack of political acumen is putting his base in jeopardy.
The party’s over and Lebanon’s political elite have to clear up the mess and pay for the damages. For Hariri, a tribute song of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ still plays on though.
Regrets? He’s had a few.
There is an old Woody Allen joke about two old women in a sanatorium. One complains to the other about how poor the food is and the other replies ‘yes...and such small portions’.
Lebanon’s elections have established a few principles and set the foundations for a new government, which, with some luck its donors will welcome. It’s also busted a few myths.
Hezbollah has held its majority share of seats (with its allies) in the parliament and gained a few others, importantly in Beirut. But for pundits to claim that Hezbollah has won them, would not be quite correct. In reality, it is that Saad Hariri’s ‘Future’ movement which lost them and handed them over on a silver platter.
The two seats in Beirut are a significant game changer for the Shia group which can certainly look back on its earlier worries of a low voter turnout and laugh now that this card was actually played by Hariri’s hardcore support base.
Coupled with a high voter turnout for the anti-Hezbollah Christian group ‘Lebanese Forces’ run by former warlord, Samir Geagea who some now say will run for President - Hariri is the ultimate loser in these elections.
Even other Sunni figures in Lebanon did better than him and one – rumoured to be Lebanon’s richest man and a former PM himself, Najib Mikati – may well even eye Hariri’s PM chair.
Ultimately, Hariri emboldened the Woody Allen joke in so many ways and managed to jettison all of the popular support that the fiasco in November with the Saudis generated. On the day, his own followers decided to send the ultimate message and just not show up.
But it wasn’t really about policy. Indeed, the one thing that the elections bypassed altogether was anything which smacked of manifestos.
The Lebanese democratic experiment has not reached such giddy heights yet, still very much on the tarmac. What nailed Hariri’s fate was undoubtedly his own performance both when engaging with the public and the press.
Lacklustre might be the kindest word. It’s almost as though he believed that the aggregate charisma of his father and his own would hurl him onto the fecund ground of the winners’ paddock.
In fact, his own efforts to do media and engage in public discussions in the end made him a non runner, although his own people will no doubt blame the lack of money that was available to him this time around.
Hariri badly needs high calibre media training from a PR giant who can at least show him that he needs to rely less on himself and his own ideas and work more with his team.
Many Lebanese found it embarrassing that Hariri decided to do a filmed interaction with schoolchildren weeks before the election. He came across as a pusillanimous figure who can’t cope with awkward questions from adult voters.
And then there is the hide and seek game he plays with all media – both international and local. He rarely does interviews unless they are strictly within limits of his own choosing; a recent TV interview with Russia Today while on a Moscow visit looked painfully scripted; another one with the Wall Street Journal smacked of complicity in a region where it is common for politicians to completely control the questions and the copy of the journalist interviewing him.
Hariri really doesn’t do unscripted media. And it shows.
For so long now the Lebanese have defended him against the jibes of western journalists who have mocked him on this subject as he appears to either have media advisors who don’t have the skills to guide him – or he believes that his own way of handling the media and the public is a winning formula.
It clearly isn’t though and the most recent photo which circulated on social media days before the election – of him sitting cross-legged on top of a car creeping through a neighbourhood – backfired badly on him.
His own supporters spliced it against a picture of Mr. Bean sitting on top of his Mini and sent it via social media. His obsession with taking selfies also makes people believe that all his entire manifesto is based on his own narcissistic snap shots of himself. And nothing more.
This itinerant policy of ignoring media requests for interviews, hiding from the public’s engagement and believing that you can wing an election based on your father’s legacy is a triumph of both delusion and cavorting arrogance. It’s also contributed towards Hezbollah’s gains which no doubt will induce new levels of pressure on him.
The Saudis may well consider courting the attention of other Sunni figures, like Mikati, even though it is still believed that Hariri will take the PM’s seat.
But just scraping in on the Prime Minister’s position won't be enough. Hariri will have to really work now on his act, get some real media advisors and start taking advice from smarter people. Someone has to tell the emperor that he still has no clothes.
The Hezbollah block is even stronger now in parliament and naturally no one is expecting him to take any blame for that. But losing seats in his own key constituencies should be a message that he would be wise to heed.
Almost half the Lebanese people failed to show up to the elections, signally that while some don’t have faith in the Hezbollah coalition (made up also of Michel Aoun’s Christian FPM movement), more have no faith whatsoever in its nemesis, the anti Hezbollah Sunni-Christian block which Hariri was supposed to champion.
There has never been a time when Hariri needs to shape up and lead a debate as a new government forms, cabinet posts are about to be carved up and seismic decisions like Hezbollah’s regional intervention will be thrashed out by an Iranian-backed government which just grabbed more power in Lebanon.
And how much longer will the patience of the opposition – let alone its backers in Riyadh - hold out for a Prime Minister whose contribution to politics is so feeble and so lugubriously delivered in such small portions?
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