Thursday, August 23, 2007

The presidential race – Part 98…give or take a few

Many things seem to have happened during the last week regarding the presidential election. It’s hard to keep up with all the statements, meetings and press conferences made/organized/given by the various parties, but let's give it a try nonetheless.

First, there was the interview given by the patriarch. As mentioned in my previous blog, he was willing to adapt the Constitution in order to allow army commander Michel Suleiman to be appointed. Many see his candidacy as backed by Syria.

It could even be a covert attempt to weaken the Lebanese army through ‘corrupting’ the army leader by getting him politically involved. A neutral army is a strong army whereas a politicized army would be weakened from within. This would serve Syria well since the Nahr al Bared fight, which is a proxy conflict between Syria and Lebanon, surely didn’t go as planned.

The nestor of journalism in Lebanon, Ghassan Tueni, picked up on this and responded sharply to the patriarch’s statement and wrote that the army general can give orders, but not rule. This was a play of words on the slogan used by the army “The order is yours to give”. Michael Young added to this that the best way for Michel Suleiman to serve the country is to stay on as army commander and to reinforce the army after the heavy losses at Nahr al Bared.

Then, we had a meeting of the Christians of March 14, partly rebuking the patriarch by focusing on the fact that any candidate must be “made in Lebanon”. Suleiman, the reasoning goes, has made most of his career under Syrian tutelage and is thus partly if not all “made in Syria”.

This meeting was criticized by former premier Salim Hoss for being Christian-only and it was considered by some as another sign of a possible breakup of March 14 for leaving out the Muslims to decide on the next president. This impression was already fueled by the recent dispute over the Declaration of Children’s Rights, signed by Siniora’s government. Since this declaration only applies to Muslim children, the patriarch and others around him accused the Muslim Siniora of islamization of Lebanon.

An initial response by the camp of Michel Aoun was in support of the patriarch’s acceptance of a Constitutional change. This was surprising since Aoun is running for the presidency himself, so why help facilitate your opponent? However, in a later statement, Aoun himself distanced himself from the patriarch saying that the Constitution should not be changed and thus reaffirming his candidacy.

A few hours after the Christians of March 14 had their meeting, the Christians of March 8 organized their own get-together. According to the March 8 spokesman, this was not, I repeat not, in response to the March 14 meeting, it just happened to be so closely together. [As a side note: Is it me or do others also crack up when seeing people making statements like this? The way people have a tendency to waste energy and time on non-issues never ceases to amaze me in this country.]

During this meeting Aoun claimed that he is the true leader of the Christians, a claim that can be easily disputed: despite his victory of the Metn seat a few weeks ago, a closer study of the results show that Aoun did not get the majority of the Christian votes but got elected because of the non-Christian voters.

Still, Michel Aoun had a point when he said that any president of Lebanon should have the support of all Lebanese. How can March 14 elect someone who will alienate one third of the population, namely the Shiites? In that sense, Aoun is the only Christian candidate so far who openly reaches out to the Shiites, or at least those represented by Hezbollah.

Parallel to these events, the USA stated that they would not accept a change of the Constitution and added that any candidate should not have ties with terrorist organizations. This was a clear hint that they would not support Aoun because he signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah and thus has ties with what the USA call a terrorist organization.

In response to the USA’s interference in local politics, Hezbollah lashed out and stated that they would not accept any president who is part of the American security. Hezbollah went on to warn that the Lebanese people will soon “lose their patience and jump out to attack the government”. This statement, made by Sheikh Nabil Kawook, leader of Hezbollah in South Lebanon, didn’t get much attention, but it was threatening nonetheless.

The latest development is a statement made by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt who suggests waiting with electing a new president until after October 14. According to him, the Constitution allows the Lebanese parliament to elect the president with a simple majority if by that date no candidate has been agreed upon.

This is yet another reading of the Lebanese Constitution, which by now closely resembles the Bible or Quran: every reader can find his own truth in them.

The mostly heard interpretation is that Parliament should meet with a two-third quorum of the MPs. The voting itself requires only a simply majority. If no candidate gets the majority of the votes after one round, a next round will be held with the quorum requirement lowered to 51% of all MPs being present.

The Opposition states that the requirement of the two-third quorum is not only applicable to the presence of the MPs, but applies to the actual voting as well. That is, a candidate will only win if he secures two-third of the votes and two-third of all MPs are present in Parliament to cast their votes.

Yet another interpretation is that the two-third quorum applies to the voting but not to the attendance, which is ruled by the 51% rule. Thus, a Parliament session can be organized as long as 51% of its members are present. Then, a new president can be elected if two-third of the currently present MPs reach an agreement on a single candidate.

Confused? You shouldn’t be. Rest assured that the final outcome could easily be completely different than anyone expected. All you have to do is go ‘aaahhh’ when the rabbit is pulled out of the magician’s hat.


Jeha said...

Your statement that "Aoun did not get the majority of the Christian votes but got elected because of the non-Christian voters", while accurate, could be misleading.

Some may consider that it harks back to Gemayel's (Freudian?) slip. I am sure that you actually meant to say that Aoun got a plurality of the Christian vote, and then mostly thanks to shaky alliances.

Riemer Brouwer said...


Oops, I stand corrected. Armenians are Christians too, of course. Thanks for pointing it out