Reflections On the Up-coming Lebanese Presidential Elections

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In a discussion with an eminent constitutionalist lawyer, he pointed out to me that a law cannot be introduced to alter the constitution, however, you can elaborate on existing constitutional laws to refine their interpretation. In other words, the constitution is sacrosanct.

However there is this strange matter in Lebanon of historical precedents. In common law, a precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous case that is either binding on or persuasive for a tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues.

In the short history of Lebanon there have been constitutional precedents that have become “tradition”. One could say that these traditions have come to resemble the allegory of Plato’s cave, as described in his opus “The Republic”. In other words, the unwritten traditions of Lebanese constitutional practice have become the shadows that most of us perceive as real.

These precedents include the extension of official mandates, and the naming of the head of the army as head of government in times of national distress. Both these matters are not permitted in the Taef version of the constitution, but they both represent constitutional practices that have precedent and therefore have reality. Especially, since the matter of mandate extensions has already been applied in violation of the written constitution.

In the spring of 2014 there is a presidential election scheduled. The question is therefore, will the application of the written law dictate our future, or will tradition prevail.

In the first instance of constitutional application, we are confronted with two choices:

1-    A weak president who would be a figurehead and not more. This would play into the theory of keeping Lebanon on the back-burner until the Syrian crisis is over.

2-    A strong president who could usher in parameters of safeguard for the nation and be a figurehead for the Christian community, which has become threatened by the radical presence of the jihadist wave in the region. However, a strong president would also activate all the areas of concern and reform that most politicians dread.

In the second instance of traditional precedence, we are also confronted with 2 choices:

1-    The extension of the mandate of the existing President which from all appearances, is not displeasing to the International community who would like to maintain the “Status Quo” in Lebanon regardless of the violation of the constitution. The excuse for this suspension of affairs in Lebanon is the need to distance Lebanon from “The Syria Effect”, and it also freezes the matter of the apportioning of the natural oil and gas resources, which has not yet been concluded.

2-    The naming of the Head of the Army as interim Prime Minister and head of the executive government, as happened in Egypt recently. In this case, the army is pushed forward as the guarantor of security in increasingly alarming conditions, until the business of running the country can resume favorably.

All in all, we are entering an interesting phase. The only thing I am sure of is that we do not have sovereignty over this quintessential matter. How the game will be played out regionally will determine the “a la carte” choice for the outcome of the presidential elections. My favorite option is of course, a strong nationalist president.

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