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Stalled elections a lesson for Lebanon

Frustrated with the deadlocked election process, perhaps the Lebanese will finally turn from the sectarian politics that caused the problem.
Lebanese Member of Parliament Sethrida Geagea (bottom), wife of presidential candidate Samir Geagea, casts her vote to elect the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut April 23, 2014. Lebanese parliamentarians failed to elect a new president in a first round of voting on Wednesday, with leading candidate Samir Geagea falling well short of the required two-thirds majority. REUTERS/Joseph Eid/Pool    (LEBANON - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS) - RTR3MB3Q

Three parliamentary sessions in Lebanon were expected to elect a president. By the third and last session, the presidency was still a prisoner of parliamentary indecision. If by May 25 no president is elected — a real possibility — then the Cabinet of Prime Minister Tammam Salam will assume the functions and mandate of the presidency.

As we observe this procrastination (or is it prevarication?), we are reminded that sectarian politics carries within it the seeds of political paralysis.

Yet the political establishment in Lebanon is instinctively averse to changing the sectarian system to make serious and required constitutional reforms feasible, respond to the demands of the young generations of Lebanon and bring about the open political society that has eluded Lebanon for many decades.

While it is presumed that the president will be a Maronite, the selection from among the Maronite leaders is complicated by the polarization between the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri and the March 8 coalition led by Gen. Michel Aoun.

Now, there is a deadlock between two candidates, Aoun and Samir Geagea. Unfortunately, at this moment no woman candidate is surfacing. Neither of the men is able to win a parliamentary majority. Therefore, two options emerge. A consensus Maronite leader could be chosen from outside the two blocs, such as civil society activist Ziad Baroud or Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon's central bank. There is also Gen. Jean Kahwaji. If any of these men can achieve a consensus, then perhaps Lebanon will find a new president by May 25.

It seems to me that the traditional political establishment of Lebanon has not learned any lessons from the tragic experiences brought about by sectarian regimes. The damage that such a system has on the concept and identity of citizenship renders Lebanon a jumble of multiple sects rather than a republic of citizens.

While a major transformation is not presently feasible, a new, independent, secularly oriented Maronite president could begin the transformation of Lebanon into a country of citizens.

Perhaps in the next few weeks we will see a firm will emerge in the disfranchised secularists to end the polarization and promote an enlightened presidential candidate (Maronite, of course) who can facilitate the building of a democratic and enlightened Lebanon.

Otherwise, a growing number of Lebanese, especially among the young generations, women, civil society and those abroad, would continue to be marginalized. Their empowerment would heal the wounds that sectarianism has inflicted on the Lebanese body politic.

I realize some will think that this is unrealistic, but I worry deeply when I read a prominent Lebanese commentator blithely describe the “peoples of Lebanon,” implying that every religious sect is a separate people from the others. This way of thinking has led to interminable civil wars in Lebanon, and continues to render Lebanon vulnerable.

Lebanon deserves an enlightened future. Let the deadlock that the Lebanese are now experiencing form the impetus to ask why they have suffered in the prison of the sectarian system.

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