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President plans reform and eyes amending constitution

President Michel Sleiman is poised to take a more aggressive legislative role in the next government and is particularly interested in amending the constitution. He wants to strengthen state institutions and expand some of the president’s powers but is likely to face stiff opposition.

Since taking office, Sleiman has repeatedly talked about reforming things like Lebanon’s crippled power sector, and sources close to him say he is also interested in finding legal ways to prevent parliament and the cabinet from being paralyzed every time the country’s politicians disagree. In a speech at August 1’s Army Day celebration, Sleiman said he wanted to close constitutional “gaps” that help impede democracy in Lebanon and suggested amending the constitution to “guarantee a balance of powers.”

Nazem Khoury, a close friend of the president and one of his advisors, told NOW that Sleiman will use whatever weight he has in the new government to push through reforms and constitutional amendments in an effort to “strengthen state institutions.”

One example of a constitutional change that would achieve the president’s aims is imposing a time limit on forming new governments, according to Rafik Khoury, editor of Al-Anwar newspaper. Lebanon’s politicians have been wrangling for over seven weeks to form a new cabinet, and the constitution currently has no mechanism to force them to hurry.

“The president wants to amend the constitution with consensus so that institutions function properly,” Khoury told NOW.

In fact, according to constitutional expert Antoine Saad, there are several other aspects of the constitution that allow for political disagreement to derail state work. Saad told NOW that he recently met with Sleiman to discuss several changes to the constitution that would decrease the opportunity for political deadlocks to paralyze the state and add to the president’s constitutionally-granted powers.

Saad published his proposals in An-Nahar, and they include allowing the president to call the Council of Ministers into session (a power now vested only in the prime minister), allowing the president to reject administrative decrees issued by individual ministers and giving him the right to dismiss underperforming ministers in coordination with the prime minister.

Of course, making any changes to the constitution is no easy task, especially if an amendment gives the head of state more power. With the 1989 Taif Agreement, which amended the constitution and ended the civil war, executive power was transferred from the president to the prime minister and cabinet. The amount of power held by Lebanon’s Christian community, which is guaranteed the presidency by the unwritten 1943 National Pact, has long been a contentious national issue, and the country’s non-Christian politicians are likely to view any attempt to increase presidential power quite skeptically. Sleiman would have to convince two-thirds of the 128-member parliament to go along with him on any constitutional change.

Opening up a debate about the “balance of powers” among the Maronite president, Sunni prime minister and Shia speaker of parliament would also renew debate between the Sunni and Shia about which powers those communities have. The Shia are thought to be the largest community in Lebanon numerically, and the Sunni may shun debate on amending the constitution for fear the conversation may turn to a more equal distribution of power between the prime minister and speaker.

Sleiman, according to Nazem Khoury, has the state’s interests at heart, but it cannot be denied that many Christians feel Taif stripped too much of their power. The president may be making a more political statement, positioning himself at the vanguard of defending the rights and power of Lebanon’s Christians. He certainly cannot be oblivious to the challenges he faces in trying to amend the constitution, even if he does present any change as an effort to strengthen the state as a whole. Lebanese politicians, according to Charles Chartouni, a professor of Sociology and Political Science at Lebanese University, have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo and are not likely to tackle something as contentious as constitutional change. Sleiman is a product of the army and is not necessarily used to or adept at playing the game of politics, Chartouni argued.

“These people will never tolerate anything they cannot control,” he said. “[Sleiman’s] going to try, but I don’t know to what extent his previous career and his earlier experience will allow him to beat these people on their own court.”

  • Miumiu

    Do you know the full meaning of the word 'substance Mr Sami ?...most of your comments are full of nothing of any quality to speak of..

    August 17, 2009

  • Sami

    If these words reflect your substance then I will stay with the quantity instead.

    August 17, 2009

  • essam

    Ok, don't be upset..SS (Sad Sami !!)

    August 16, 2009

  • Sami

    Oh,Einctein,I forgot the word "sad" too.

    August 16, 2009

  • essam

    Substance not quantity ya waste of space & time...words used are the very minimum to describe your ideology...get a life

    August 16, 2009

  • Sami

    Einstein,I am still waiting to read one comment from you that does not include in it the words "pathetic,"filthy","the respected Shiaa" or" divine victory".Is this the limit of your vocabulary?

    August 15, 2009

  • essam

    'Strong & Armed@..to use against other Sects ,so to marginalise them & be in Control, not share, Control...you sad pathetic creature..

    August 13, 2009

  • Sami

    Yes we seen your leftist "resistance" prior to 1983.They liberated nothing.They were defeated every time they faced Israel.They even went as far as claiming that the road to Jerusalem was through Jounieh.They were a total failure.Now that Hizeb is successful the same left joined anti mukawameh camps and chose Saudi Arabia to be their new paymaster.Shame on all traders of the Lebanese and palestinian blood.

    August 13, 2009

  • Miumiu

    The same old record again & again...as if your Party was the ONLY force behind such liberation, not surprise again, as your lot never acknowledge the inputs of others...before 1982 & the future, every single Lebanese have done their bits & if your 'Blessed' Party allow other Nationalist groups to have bases in the South then we will see where will you be, but then everybody knows thats not possible as your main goal isn't liberation only but defending your paymasters in Iran/Syria..you really can't be that thick to admit this...also, not you & nor your Party give me a lecture about liberation or defending our Land..a clearly defined Land, not in Egypt, nor Sudan or Yemen or Gaza...LEBANESE LAND ONLY..

    August 13, 2009

  • Sami

    ZZZZ ,if liberating our Lebanese land from the Israeli occupation is "filthy" in your eyes ,then we know whose side you are on.I never doubted your position but now you spelled it out.Shame on the fifth column.

    August 13, 2009

  • Sami

    My "party" was established in 1982.The sectarian system was established in 1922. What does my party have to do with this system and its attempts to "weaken"it as you claim?We came into this system as is and tried to save our community from its historical marginalization,once we became strong,armed and educated your "party" started to resent this system.When this system gave you imteyazat and worked for you to improve your areas,to grant you advantages over other sects it was good then but once other sects tried to get a piece of the cake then this system no longer is scared as you claimed before.Rest assured,there is no going back to the times of imteyazat for one sect over the others.

    August 12, 2009

  • Mounira

    now on the topic of reforms should not be taking one power from group and giving it away but basic reforms such as introducing MORE Lebanese history into our schools instead of being afraid of hurting the other arabs feelings. Civil marriage and Civil courts should be established since civil affairs (such as divorce,settlements,marriage etc) shouldnt necessary be involved the religious courts. This would make lebanon more "reformed" if we start with the little things first. Also learn to grow a backbone and stick up for ourselves openly when either the Palestinians or Syrians do something against Lebanese or Lebanon & keep out of the Arab world problems & not let terrorists train in Lebanon!. Rather than brush it off.But on the Political part i think the President seat should be reserved for a CHRISTIAN(not necessarily maronite) and Primeminster(not necessarily Sunni).

    August 12, 2009

  • essam

    Mr ... Sami ...'protection from the State'..the very State that you have been doing whatever to undermine & make it weaker, but run to it to claim its resources & blame it when your 'Holly Mistakes' turns sour.....you do make me sick to think such creature live amongst us...

    August 11, 2009

  • Miumiu

    never fail to amuse me with your Sectarian comment,Sami...if we have a strong non-sectarian State, then no need for wasta, but this what you & your party work hard NOT to achieve, as you thrive on a weak State to achieve your filthy goals,....dream on

    August 11, 2009

  • Sami

    FYI,the separation of power based on sects is not in the constitution nor was it confirmed in the Taif agreement.There was a man called Adnan Al Hakeem who headed the Najjadeh party who also ran for president EVERYTIME there was a presidential election.He only received his own vote.Even we nullify the sectarian system,this system will stay in the hearts and minds of the Lebanese.When we get in trouble or need khadamat we go to our sectarian representative.Imagine a Shiaa going to Jumeil to get a wasta for anything,never happens.A Shiaa will look for the Hizeb/Amal for protection from the state.

    August 11, 2009

  • essam

    Reforms,filling Constitutional gaps,fighting corruptions,improving the Security,implementing Law & Order,getting rid of Sectarianism,making Government Ministers & Official & Public Sector Employees accountable,reforming Civil law,respecting Human Rights,protecting our Environments...etc are the things that the Political Clans don't like to hear nor will truly work with you to help achieve & they will unite (discreetly) to stop you, as such an achievement will reduce their Clan & Corrupt Powers....But the majority of true Lebanese want you to go for it, next election isn't that long to show them to results...

    August 11, 2009

  • Mounira

    depends what they mean by "reform" if just like taef "reform" is just a cheap cover for marginalizing& stripping more power from Lebanon's Christian community and distrubuting that to the sunni and shias and inforcing more the "arab" identidy onto lebanon and the arabization in Lebanon's culture.Even our music and tv stations is being overrun by owners from the gulf or KSA who replaced good lebanese programs like studio el fan with the pan-arab propaganda music show "Star academY" Aoun himself said he supports "secularising" lebanon by reducing christian rep in the gov to 30% this is how the christian leaders in lebanon are willing to sell them out literally for money & positions from Syria,KSA&Iran. im not christian but poor christians this is why i choose not to folow any religion.

    August 10, 2009

  • Pat

    It is very important for President Sleiman, as the effective leader of the Maronite Christian community and as a product of the loyal to Lebanon LAF, to take a leadership role and bring ALL the Lebanese to work together to make again Lebanon prosper. This definitely is not an easy task as every politician in Lebanon wishes to run the country, each all on his own. For these efforts to be successful, our Arab bretheren must be helped to recognize the benefits of a peaceful Lebanon (Arab vacation spot, investment opportunities, best banking system, etc...). In addition, it is also important for ALL the Lebanese communities to see and feel the fruits of a successful Lebanon. WE the Lebanese sould not let politicians use National Unity as a SLOAGAN and a GAME. Mr. President, the task is difficult. But Lebanon cannot survive if you do not attempt it. All the best to you and to ALL the Lebanese that dream of a successful Lebanon.

    August 10, 2009

  • ELie

    Fakhani. If you recall 1943 and the pact the 'fathers of Independence" forged to get Lebanon free from being a protectorat, it was important then as it is still important now to give every denomination in Lebanon a PEACE OF MIND. Lebanon does not exist in a sea of democracy, as it is surrounded by nations that like to dominate it. I fully agree that, once Lebanon is surrounded by free and democratic nations, the need for denomination protection will not be called for. Having said that, this does not mean that the President, the Speaker, and the Prime Minister should not serve ALL THE DENOMINATIONS and the country. Any democratic system must be based on "Checks and Balances"; in Lebanon's case, the milieu we are in force upon us this flawed system.

    August 10, 2009

  • foreigner

    Bravo Fakhani !!!! you r thinking as a civilized man but preaching to a stone age society!!!! Christians will object - we r minority !!!!!!!!!!!! Sunni - we r minority tooooooooooo !!!!!!Shia - we will not be ruled by Christians and Sunni... and here goes you civilize approach ...well ..."Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." but no one of them practice what they preach...Lebanon is in desperate need of'' French revolution''...tho i am against any violence but patient will die without radical surgery...oh, Lebanon, oh...love you but must go back home...i will miss you,Great Stone Age country !!!!

    August 10, 2009

  • Fakhani

    "it cannot be denied that many Christians feel Taif stripped too much of their power" " Shia are the largest community in Lebanon numerically, and the Sunni may shun debate on amending the constitution for fear the conversation may turn to a more equal distribution of power between the prime minister and speaker" "country’s non-Christian politicians are likely to view any attempt to increase presidential power quite skeptically" When will this crazyness end?? Why can't we accept the best person for the job, regardless of his/her religion? Chritians this, Muslims that... Lebanon is the example of a failed state. The country sickens me

    August 10, 2009