The Lebanese Senate in WikiLeaks

Rival leaders meet for national dialogue at Speaker Nabih Berri's residence in Ain al-Tineh, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016

Rival leaders meet for national dialogue at Speaker Nabih Berri’s residence in Ain al-Tineh, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. (the Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

This is the 18th post in a series of monthly posts covering (forgotten/ignored) WikiLeaks cables about Lebanon.

When the Supreme Council of the Tribal Federation (in case you’re new to this blog, the SCTF = National dialogue session guys) met last month, Lebanon’s zuamas decided that solving a three year old presidential vacancy crisis as well as an electoral law were too mainstream, and took it upon themselves to find ways to establish a lebanese senate. According to the Taef constitution, Lebanon should have a non-sectarian lower house and an upper house (senate) that should be elected based on sectarian quotas (like the 50-50 parliament right now)- By the way, see what Elias Muhanna from Qifa Nabki has to say on the possibility of a bicameral Lebanese parliament.

So since the SCTF decided to finally bring up the senate debate, 26 years after the Taef agreement, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Lebanese politicians spoke about the creation of a senate behind closed doors. Turns out they didn’t really mention their plans about it, as I only found two relevant cables about the subject.

Plot twist: The cables aren’t actually that relevant, but hey, we’re talking about a major reform in the Lebanese political system, so it’s till worth seeing how politicians might use the senate card to their advantage. I only kept the important parts of the cables. Enjoy.

Cable 1

5. (C) In response to a question from the Secretary, Sleiman said that although Lebanese politicians are difficult to work BEIRUT 00000632 002 OF 002 with, the presidency was still an easier job than his previous position as commander of the LAF. He recalled each decision he made to send soldiers into harm’s way — from dealing with instances of sectarian street conflict to rooting out extremists in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp — and assessed that that responsibility was heavier than any he had taken on in the political realm in the past year. Nonetheless, he joked that at least soldiers followed orders, unlike Lebanon’s unruly political class. POST-ELECTION AGENDA: REFORM ———- 6. (C) Although Sleiman expected the process of government formation after the elections to be difficult and potentially long, he anticipated that tensions would decline afterwards. He thought this would offer an opportunity to reform the judicial system and the electoral law, moving toward a system of proportional representation, and potentially creating a second parliamentary chamber. Sleiman envisioned a Senate where each confessional community could elect its representatives, while all Lebanese would vote for representatives of all confessions in the lower chamber. Nonetheless, he did not necessarily think the existence of a Senate should mean elimination of the 50-50 Muslim-Christian quota in parliament. “We have a national understanding,” he said. “We are a country of both Christians and Muslims, and it is important to preserve that.”

– Link for the entire cable:

Cable 2

7. (C) Berri argued that the Taif agreement should be implemented in full, including the formation of a bicameral legislature and the establishment of a committee to discuss abolishing sectarianism. Berri supported the formation of a small senate with six or seven representatives from each of the key sects that would be charged with “big questions,” such as decisions of war and peace and issues of major concern for each sect. A larger lower house elected without regard to sect would handle day-to-day operations of government. 8. (C) Berri admitted that formation of a senate would be unpopular among current MPs, who would have to cede some authority to the new body. He also supported formulating a new electoral law based on proportional representation to elect parliamentarians, a step he argued needed to be in place before two legislative bodies were formed. 9. (C) (Note: Lebanon had both a senate and parliament 1923-27, under the French Mandate. The parliament was non-sectarian and continued that way until 1943. The National Pact of that year established a 6-5 Christian-Muslim split of the seats in parliament and allocated the presidency to the Christians, the prime minister to the Sunnis and Speaker of the parliament to the Shia. The Taif Accord in 1990 changed the Christian-Muslim division of parliament to 50-50 and shifted some powers from the president to the prime minister. End note.)

– Link for the entire cable: