Michel Aoun, president of the Change and Reform bloc in the Lebanese parliament, took a great step by launching a rescue initiative that includes a proposal for a constitutional amendment to have the people directly vote for a Lebanese president.
This would happen through two rounds: First, a qualification round, where only Christian citizens would vote; and second, at a national level, where voters choose from the winner and first runner-up of the qualifying round. This initiative is not just connected to the current political deadlock in the country — prompted by the failure of parliament to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman, whose mandate ended May 25 — it's a qualitative step forward in the course of political reform and the reinforcement of Lebanese democracy. Further, it does not ruin the nature of the political order or the requirements of the pacts with regard to the following:
1. The people directly electing the president is a true and actual interpretation of Clause (D) of the preamble of the constitution, which stipulates: “The people are the source of authority.” This grants the rightful ones their integrity and reaches the highest levels of practicing democracy, respecting the people’s will and the citizens’ rights to participate in national decision-making, designing the future and creating the authority.
2. The proposal makes the president a symbol of the nation’s unity, as described in Article 49 of the constitution, since he will become president as a result of a voting process in which all Lebanese voters would get the chance to participate. It will be an expression of the people and the nation’s will.
3. Having the parliament elect the president, as has been done since before Lebanese independence, is appointing rather than electing. The voting committee includes a limited number of people who are loyal to the leaders of their blocs, whose number can be counted on one hand. Thus, naming the president is simply the result of an agreement between a combination of four or five individuals and their foreign relations. What kind of election is this?
4. Having the people directly elect the president removes the election process from the local outbidding game, regional bargains and international deals, and places it in the midst of true democracy. In reviewing the presidential elections since independence until the last elections on May 25, 2008, it proves that choosing presidents has always been the result of previous regional and international agreements, except maybe with the elections of 1970.
5. Resorting to the people for the presidential elections cancels the possibility of disabling the constitutional quorum needed for the parliamentary sessions to elect a president, which is two-thirds of the MPs. It also prevents the possibility of any candidate being unable to get the majority of the MPs’ votes, even if the quorum is present. This would happen without the risks of lowering the quorum or making it imperative for the members to attend the sessions of election or even lowering the number of majority needed to win. It is also without the risk of repercussions on the national and pact-related legitimacy of the president and the religious balance. The current presidential vacuum is not the first in Lebanon: The first one started on Sept. 22, 1988, and lasted over a year. The second started on Nov. 24, 2007, and lasted for more than six months. Both vacuums were the result of the parliamentary blocs not being able to agree on one candidate and thus disabling the constitutional quorum needed for the parliamentary sessions of presidential elections.
6. Having the people directly elect the president involves non-presidential systems, like parliamentary systems and semi-presidential ones. The only condition is that the president must have serious powers within the authorities, and in our system, since it is a parliamentary system but filled with presidential features. The Lebanese president is the president of the state, the head of the executive power, a ruling partner and still has all the essential constitutional powers. The most important ones are signing over the formation of the government decree, restoring the laws, asking to reconsider the cabinet’s resolutions, presiding over the cabinet’s sessions, sending letters to the parliament, negotiating international pacts and signing them in agreement with the prime minister and referring challenged laws to the Constitutional Council. Very few are the nations that still elect a president through the parliament, where the president lacks all sorts of constitutional powers and his role is limited to handling a protocol and honorary presidency.
7. The proposal does not ruin the current religious balance and the essence of the National Pact, since it does not include demands to increase the president’s powers or decrease the powers of other constitutional positions, nor does it cancel the existing sectarian constitutional quota.
8. The purpose of the qualifications stage on the level of Christian voters is to cancel the obsession of leaving the presidential elections in the hands of the Islamic majority in Lebanon. Such obsession is less present now, and it is rather pointless since the political divisions that started to form between the Muslims and the Islamic bloc means they are no longer united for a sole purpose. This seems like a firmly fixed long-term situation, noting that the Islamic influence on the elections through the parliament is much more significant than the Christian one, for calculations related to how parliament is composed.
It is noteworthy to point out that the legislation, whether ordinary or constitutional, is probable in light of the presidential vacuum as long as it is linked to reforming the authority.
Moreover, we will not be exaggerating if we say that whoever rejects having the people directly elect the president through two stages knows exactly where the Christian majority and the national majority lay and is afraid of being exposed.
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