NEWS: Lebanon’s presidential election deadline looms

As presidential vote nears, Beirut’s residents sense they won’t be the winners

Mireille Adas took part in a march through downtown Beirut this week, demanding that Hezbollah end its yearlong occupation of the city’s commercial center. Her jewelry shop, steps away from the organization’s tent camp, has suffered major losses as a result of the power struggle between Hezbollah and the government, which has paralyzed the capital and brought Lebanese politics to a standstill for nearly a year.

Like most Lebanese, Ms. Adas has felt new heights of anxiety as the clock counted down to next Friday’s deadline for the country to choose a new president. Hezbollah and the pro-Western governing coalition have faced off in a game of brinkmanship over the selection of a president, the head of state, making no visible progress during two months of crisis negotiations that began when Parliament met to elect a president on Sept. 25 and promptly disbanded for lack of a quorum of two-thirds of its members.

Echoing many politicians and analysts here, Ms. Adas worries that the Friday deadline is likely to bring one of two outcomes, either of them bad: a deal that prolongs the current standoff, extending a long period of stagnation and malaise, or a catastrophic head-on clash between the governing coalition and the opposition led by Hezbollah, the Islamist Shiite faction. [complete article]

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3 thoughts on “NEWS: Lebanon’s presidential election deadline looms

  1. Blacksmith Jade

    Not a bad article, overall, but terrible in one sense: Woodward confuses between two politicians with the same name.

    Woodward mentions the possibility of a constitutional amendment to extend the term of Emile Lahoud, the current President of the Republic and staunch pro-Syrian and Hizballah ally:

    Negotiators could craft a constitutional dodge that would extend the term of Mr. Lahoud, who is an ally of Hezbollah, and of the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

    Unfortunately, Woodward goes on to claim that this Lahoud – who’s head of the Presidential Guard is currently in prison in suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Rafik el Hariri and others – is in fact allied with the anti-Syrian government. A nonsensical claim.

    Woodward has most likely confused between Emile Lahoud and Nassib Lahoud. Along with Butros Harb, Nassib Lahoud is the leading presidential candidate of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority. He enjoys the backing of the government, and not Emile Lahoud.

    In any case, if any constitutional amendment is to take place it would have to obtain a two-thirds parliamentary vote (i.e. requiring the votes of the anti-Syrian majority), and Emile Lahoud stands no chance of winning that.

    The most like “amendment scenario” is the one being pushed by Syria, Hizballah, and the rest of the pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon and which involves the precipitation of civil strife and chaos in Lebanon in order to lay the ground for a possible takeover of the Presidency by Army Commander Michel Suleiman as a “salvation President”.

    Suleiman is known to be a staunch pro-Syrian (of the same military breeding as Emile Lahoud) who would be capable of hindering of the implementation of UNSC Resolutions calling for the disarmament of Hizballah.

    A call by the way, not peculiar just to the international resolutions – as the Woodward article might have you believe – but also echoed by a majority of Lebanese who would like to see Hizballah integrated into the Army and their weapons brought under the control of national democratically accountable institutions (like the gov’t and the state).

  2. Peter H

    Blacksmith Jade,

    When you talk about the “amendment scenario”, are you referring to Nabih Berri’s initiative in which the opposition would drop its demand for a unity government in return for an agreement between the opposition and majority on a new President? If that is your argument (and I apologize if i am misnterpreting you) I would make a few points in response:

    (1) Although the argument is undeniably self-serving on the part of the opposition, there seems to be at least a case that, under the Constitution, a quorum of 2/3 is required to elect a President.

    (2) Arguably, you could also make the case that a 2/3 vote is a better fit with the principle of consensus inherent in Lebanon’s constitution and consociational democracy.

    (3) Even if you prefer majority rule to consensus, the current Parliament was elected under a skewed electoral law. Also, if I recall correctly, in order to get Hezbollah’s support in the 2005 elections, the anti-Syrian camp explicitly promised not to disarm Hizbollah.

    On the other hand, given the two factions’ antipathy for each other, it is difficult to envision an acceptable compromise candidate emerging. Certainly, Hizbollah’s refusal to disarm under any circumstances makes it harder to reach any kind of consensus.

    If majority rule is preferable to consensus, wouldn’t it better to have a President selecting by direct popular election? I think a direct vote is more likely to lead to a transparent & accountable government than a presidential selection by corrupt & self-interested politicans.

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