The Chamber meeting to elect the President of the Republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion of any other act, to elect the Head of the State.
Lebanon, meet article 75 of the Lebanese Constitution. Article 75 of the Lebanese constitution, meet Lebanon. For this week, the parliament of Lebanon is answering the call of its speaker and is meeting – in the middle of a presidential vacancy – in order to legislate.
It is not the first time something like that happens. On the 5th of November 2014, the Lebanese parliament legislated and extended its own term. As if meeting to legislate wasn’t by itself contradictory to article 75 of the constitution (You really don’t have to be an expert to see that), the constitutional council considered that the extension law was unconstitutional. In other words, it’s like telling a little kid that he can’t eat pizza and that he can’t eat in his room, and the little kid proceeds to eat a pizza, in his room. And since the kid wasn’t grounded, he plans on eating the whole kitchen this week (38 draft laws are listed on the agenda of the Thursday and Friday sessions).
What is a priority?
For the past year, the Lebanese political system became a vicious circle. Most of the parties in power (except the FPM) are asking for the election of a president before early parliamentary elections. The FPM (as well as the protesters) have asked for early parliamentary elections before the presidential elections. For the FPM, it’s because they don’t have the majority necessary to elect Aoun, and for the Hirak (the Lebanese protests movement), it’s because the Lebanese parliament is a de facto unconstitutional non-elected one that doesn’t have the legitimacy to elect a president who will rule for 6 years. Now, once this debate is solved, and that all of Lebanon’s people and politicians agree on the identity of the priority (good luck), another problem arises: All of Lebanon’s politicians say that the current electoral law is bad, yet cannot agree on an alternative one. To make things even worse, internal struggles between different parties in the government have left Lebanon drowning in a garbage crisis since July. Even after four months of protests and outrage, there is still no solution in sight as the bickering in the cabinet continues.
To sum things up, Lebanon’s current political crisis is caused by the disagreement of the politicians on the timing of the parliamentary elections, the timing of the presidential elections, the electoral law, the name of the president, and on the way things work within the cabinet. That was until last week. This week, things become a bit more complicated: There’s a disagreement on a parliamentary session too. Is it a priority? What does the word “priority” mean in Lebanon anyway?
Muslim vs Christian
For the first time since the ice age, the biggest three Christian parties in the Lebanese parliament are sticking together. The Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb and the Free Patriotic Movement say that what Berri calls “legislation of necessity” isn’t the priority. The Christian parties consider the election of the president to be the first and foremost priority, and if the parliament should convene, it’s in order to elect a president (Ironically, the FPM are the ones denying quorum in the presidential elections). It’s for obvious reasons: The Christian parties want to keep the presidential elections alive, especially that the main candidates are current/former leaders of the FPM, LF and Kataeb. They consider that legislating in the absence of the president is considered to be unconstitutional, although all of those parties accepted ( = They still consider their MPs to be MPs) the results of a previous legislation in the absence of the president (the extension law of November 5, 2014) even if they boycotted the session. The FPM and the LF have said that they would participate in case the electoral law would be on the agenda. This more friendly approach than the Kataeb’s absolute boycott stance is probably due to the fact that the presidential front-runners of M8 and M14 are still Aoun and Geagea.
But forget about being friendly right now. Once the main three Christian parties in parliament – they account to approximately the two thirds of the Christian seats – boycott the session, a much bigger problem will arise: The Lebanese Muslim parties – planning on participating in the legislative sessions – will be (more or less) legislating in the absence of “Christian legitimacy”, which would permit the Christian parties to use March 8’s weapon of 2006: A vague constitutional principle from the preamble stipulating that There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the ‘pact of mutual existence. Hezbollah used it to combat the Siniora government (whose Shia ministers all resigned) almost a decade ago, and almost anyone who claims to represent a sect can use it to veto anything. Another thing that the Christians parties and their electorate fear the most about legislating in the absence of a president is the idea of passing laws without having the highest Christian civil servant in power. True, the president doesn’t have a lot of say in the post-Taef era, but he can still challenge laws via the constitutional council or maneuver via his cabinet share (or via other ways). For the Christians parties (and electorate), passing laws without the signature of the Christian president is very scary.
In other words, all the Christian parties – in a historic moment – are joining up together to play the Christian sectarian card against their Muslim allies. That is a huge precedent in the modern history of Lebanon. And what is even more dangerous is that their Muslim allies seem not to care about this move, which might eventually lead in the future to a Christian-Muslim clash transcending the M8-M14 rivalry. You know, because Lebanon needs even more problems.
Revenge is a dish best served cold
Among the 38 draft laws on the table this week is a proposal that is supposed to lure the Christian parties and push them to take part in the legislative sessions: A draft law that would grant citizenship to the descendants of Lebanese expatriates. For ages, that was one of the main requests of the Christian parties (they believe that most of the expatriates are Christians which would strengthen their position ahead of parliamentary elections). So why aren’t the Christian parties participating?
For the LF and the Kataeb, boycotting the legislative session means that they’re pissing off the leadership of the March 8 alliance and that they too – and not only the FPM – are ready to stand up for Christian rights (= the priority of electing a Christian president before legislating in this case).
For the FPM, their boycott of the session is probably a mini-retaliation on Berri for letting the extension of Kahwagi in the army command pass and for not standing with them on the Chamel Roukoz issue. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
So as Lebanon’s Christian parties boycott a legislative session and as the Muslim parties say that the boycott doesn’t make the session any less legitimate, here’s a little lovely reminder: We still don’t have a president (and if we had one, we wouldn’t be discussing the pros and cons of legislating in the absence of a president).
535 days sincwe the 25th of May. 371 days since the 5th of November. 81 days since the 22nd of August.