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Nadine Elali

Lebanese democracy on hold

Following the extension of parliament’s mandate, both advocates and detractors maintain what appear to be valid arguments for resolving Lebanon’s presidential stalemate

Lebanese demonstrators block a street leading to the parliament building in an attempt to prevent MPs from voting for the law to extend their mandates, in Beirut on November 05, 2014 (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

Lebanese parliamentarians on Wednesday extended their legislative mandate to 27 June 2017.

 

The move, says Lebanese politician Antoine Haddad, deals a severe blow to the country’s political accountability and its economic outlook. Haddad, founding member and secretary general of the Democratic Renewal Movement, told NOW that by extending their own mandates, officials have deprived their own people of their right to elect and be represented. Suspending the democratic process, he added, is bound to harm Lebanon’s image as a democratic nation and will undermine international confidence in it. “The ramifications are beyond political,” said Haddad. “No party would be interested in investing in a country where there is no accountability and no regular elections.”

 

But politicians like Haddad believe that the extension was a necessary measure to avoid a political vacuum. The country is suffering from a stalemate over the election of a new president and with the legislature’s mandate set to expire on November 20, they feared another constitutional crisis.

 

While both advocates and detractors of the extension continue to trade political jabs over the extension debate, both also maintain what appear to be valid arguments for resolving the presidential crisis.  Advocates say the extension guarantees the election of a president, while detractors say holding immediate parliamentary elections is the only guarantee.

 

Out of a total 97 MPs, 95 voted in favor of the extension, the second such since the 17-month extension in May 2013. The session was boycotted by the 8 March coalition’s Free Patriotic Movement and the 14 March alliance’s Kataeb Party. NOW spoke with Kataeb Party member and former minister Salim Sayegh, who fears the extension will likely prolong the current presidential vacuum unless parliamentary elections are held.

 

Legally speaking, says Sayegh, when its mandate is extended, the parliament will become a de facto constituency assembly whose task is simply to discuss matters not related to the constitution. This parliament, he explains, has no authority to enact laws and any decision it makes on its own behalf would be considered unconstitutional. As such, it would elect a president the legitimacy could easily be called into question. In order to avoid an impasse of this kind, Sayegh feels that as soon as a president is elected general elections should be held, such that the president the president can give his real and final oath to a newly-legitimate parliament.

 

“So far, the parliament is working with the formal aspects of democracy without taking the substantial conditions of it,” said Sayegh. “That idea may seem a little strange, but it’s a reasoning to consider in order to preserve whatever remains of this Lebanese democracy.”

 

Advocates of the extension argue that it’s aimed at preventing a power vacuum. NOW spoke to legal expert Marwan Sakr, who says the extension is in fact meant to resolve the presidency vacancy. Sakr explained that once the parliament is elected, the cabinet is expected to resign and act as a caretaker cabinet until a new government is formed. The president of the republic — according to the Taif Accord — has to sign the decree naming the cabinet members and the designated prime minister after mandatory consultations with the new parliament body.

 

“In the absence of a president of the republic,” Saker said, “who will sign this decree?”  

 

In a bid to avert the undemocratic move, MP and constitutional expert Boutros Harb, along with MP Dori Chamoun, head of National Liberal Party, requested that a provisional clause be included in the extension bill guaranteeing the immediate election of a president followed by a parliamentary vote, which would shorten the parliamentary term set out in the extension.

 

In addition to preventing a power vacuum, advocates argue that elections would constitute a major security risk given the fragile situation in the country. Although there are no formal reports as to what these risks are, the interior minister has stated that the security situation “does not allow us to have elections.”

 

Sayegh thinks the justification is a slippery one and that there’s much more to the extension than lack of security. He says, for instance, that the situation in Tripoli has been calmed, as well as in the northern Beqaa region, with some exceptions on the border. Security remains a problem, he said, in Arsal and in the suburb of Dahiyeh, where the state, he believes, is likely to face problems monitoring elections.

 

“But there are solutions available,” he said. “People can vote in areas outside the conflict zone like it used to happen in southern Lebanon before 2000, when it was under Israeli occupation.”

 

Sayegh went on to say that the Future Movement position is that no parliamentary elections are to be held before electing a president so as to not normalize the absence of a president in Lebanon.

 

Hezbollah, on the other hand, is adopting a neutral posture. “We can only imagine, though,” said Sayegh, “how sensitive these elections would be for the party, as they’re involved in the war in Syria. They would rather avert the domestic political tension and focus more on the big game, which is Syria.”

 

“But we should not deny democracy in the name of security — only dictatorships resort to that.” 

Advocates of the extension argue that it’s aimed at preventing a power vacuum. (AFP Photo/Joseph Eid)

We should not deny democracy in the name of security — only dictatorships resort to that.”

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Lebanon is not a democracy. Stop repeating this lie. In Lebanon, the veneer of democracy is caused not by a WILLFUL and REASONED liberalism that underlies a functioning democracy, but by the MUTUAL NEUTRALIZATION and DETERRENCE of each sects' real intentions to annihilate or dominate the others. This is why Lebanon oscillates between periods of pseudo-peaceful dysfunctionality (like now, when nothing works) and sectarian barbarian wars ( when the sects massacre one another). We are forced by our intolerable diversity to appear like a liberal democracy, when in fact we are primitive barbarians, just like everyone around us. In a dictatorship, the lid holding the boiling caldron is the dictator (Kings, monarchs, emirs, generals and such). In Lebanon, we have no one dictator, we have a multitude of little dictators (several per sect), and the lid that keeps things from boiling over (most of the time) are the convergent interests of the little dictators who fear losing their power. Someone said about Lebanon that "two negations do not make a nation". We think we have a nation, but we know we don't, and we go on from massacre to massacre, from one dysfunctional period to another, pretending and wishfully believing that we do. Imagine if, for example, one sect were to take over. Ca you imagine a Lebanese democracy run by Hezbollah? by the Lebanese Forces? by the Kataeb? by Jumblatt? Impossible to imagine. The only reason we appear to have a democracy is because all these centrifugal forces neutralize one another. The missing piece for us to be a democracy is a centripetal force that pulls all of them together. Liberal democracies have this centripetal force engrained in the brain of every citizen. They teach them, individually, what it takes to make a democracy. What do WE teach our children? Hate and sectarian barbarism from the day they are born.

    November 9, 2014