Double Standards And A ‘Limited’ Constitutional Amendment

Article 49 Lebanese Constitution

“I suggest a limited constitutional amendment that allows the presidential election to be decided by the people directly over two rounds,” Aoun said Monday at a news conference.

Aoun suggested that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two vote-getters then facing a vote by all of the Lebanese public.

Aoun said a direct election would prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future. Most importantly, Aoun explained, Parliament would need neither a two-thirds majority vote nor a two-thirds quorum with an absolute majority to elect a president.

[…]

Aoun also called for a new electoral law under which each religious group would elect its own members of Parliament, saying that under the current law, Christian MPs were being elected by Muslims.

(Link)

New Month, New Maneuver

For the past 10 months, FPM leader Michel Aoun was negotiating with Hariri. The deal – as shocking as it might seem – probably consisted of electing Michel Aoun as president in exchange for naming Saad Hariri as the new Prime Minister. The result would have been the collapse of the March 8 and March 14 alliances and the creation of a new coalition that includes the FM, the FPM, and the Shiite duo. Walid Jumblatt would become as influential as Wiam Wahab, and the M14 Christians wouldn’t dream of entering the parliament again with the current electoral law.

The deal might be logical, but as I said earlier, It’s highly controversial. Hariri would have to abandon his Christian allies after a decade of struggling, he would have to risk losing certain members of his bloc to the opposition, and more importantly, he wouldn’t be the coalition’s new leader. He would only be its Prime Minister – something that might even change after the parliamentary elections. Hariri would have looked like the man that would risk anything and everything in order to sit on a chair in the Grand Serail. Not a brilliant idea after all.

Michel Aoun’s plan of negotiating with the FM was smart enough to form a government, but it won’t lead to his election as a president – At least that’s what it seems after 10 months of talks. For a man who spent half a year trying to prove that he is a consensual figure, his proposal to elect the president by universal suffrage – making it impossible to have consensual winners – indicates a 180° change of policy.

Double Standards?

The problem with Michel Aoun’s suggestion is that it contradicts itself: Aoun is embracing at the same time the Orthodox Gathering electoral law and a constitutional amendment that permits the president to be elected by universal suffrage. In other words, Aoun wants maximum Christian representation in the parliament (Only the Christians would be entitled to elect the Christian MPs), while abandoning the country’s top Christian post to an electorate that is 62% Muslim – Currently the electorate is the parliament, that is 50% Christian 50% Muslim. True, the Christians in the first round would narrow down the candidates (and hence prevent a surprising arrival of a Muslim Candidate to the last round) but the final decision in the second round would be within the hands of an electorate that is predominantly Muslim.

Michel Aoun knew what he was saying. The March 8 alliance got 55% of the votes in the 2009 elections, that’s why universal suffrage would most probably lead to his election. And since the electorate is mainly a Muslim one, he had to give the impression – at least to the Christian audience – that he wasn’t planning on “giving up” the top Christian post. That’s why, in his “plan to salvage the presidential elections”, he spoke of something completely irrelevant to the presidential elections: The only parliamentary electoral law that allows the Christians to elect 50% of the deputies.

Limited Amendment?  

Imagine for a moment that the Sunnis ask for two parliamentary consultations in order to name the Prime Minister:  The first round of consultations is exclusively with the Sunni MPs, the second with all the others. Imagine changing the rules of electing the speaker of the parliament: In the first round, the voting is exclusively a Shia one. In the second round, all the MPs would vote and choose the new speaker from the list of the remaining candidates. What I’m trying to say here is that Aoun’s constitutional amendment will open a Pandora box of amendments, and will eventually complicate the system even more. And there’s nothing limited about that constitutional amendment: When you elect the president with universal suffrage, you have to change the article related to the presidential elections. Such a move also compromises the whole Taif system since the parliament loses its ability to elect the president and hence becomes weaker and less legitimate, which means that the parliament would have to give up some of its powers to the president too . But the president is not elected by a 50-50 assembly anymore, and he isn’t consensual, while still being a Christian. So how do you solve this riddle without starting a civil war? And there’s also the part where every sect elects its own MPs. And the part where a constitutional amendment needs to be signed by the president. (Reminder: We still don’t have one)

This is not a limited constitutional amendment. This is a change of regime.

41 days since the 25th of May.

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