Lebanese citizens should have the right to directly elect their president.
On February 15, I published an article on my website making a case for the people of Lebanon to directly vote for our president, instead of the parliament. In the same article, I ran a poll asking my readers to vote for their preferred candidate. Hundreds cast their votes. Shortly after, whether by trailing example or sheer coincidence, it seems the media took a liking to this mock democracy exercise and made their own polls too. Tens of thousands more participated.
Our democratic experience in the media calls for optimism, because it has illustrated an overwhelming desire among many citizens to have the president of the republic elected directly by them and not via parliament. Those very few people who objected did so for disappointing sectarian reasons by saying: “I disagree because this would mean the Muslims would vote in the president.” I respond to them by denouncing their argument as illogical and categorically inconsistent with our Lebanese reality, and present to you three issues:
1) “Muslims” in Lebanon are deeply divided, as are the other communities. So how can those who are deeply divided among themselves possibly agree on a president? Let us come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as a “Muslim entity” or “Christian entity.” The best proof that validates this is the history of Lebanon, both ancient and modern, consistently interrupted by brutal wars and everlasting disputes, dividing members of the same community on the one hand and dividing all different communities on the other.
2) There are constitutional controls that can be adopted in the mechanism of direct elections, which can prevent a majority from having a numerical predominance. This could involve conducting the voting process over two rounds, or holding primary elections within the same community.
3) Doesn’t this disapproving minority realize that the current system, which leaves the power of presidential elections in the hands of parliament, has forever kept the door wide open for regional and international powers to intervene and meddle in an election? This would render the whole electoral process clay in the hands of people who are not concerned with our country’s public interest, but are focused on their own selfish issues. Doesn’t this disapproving minority realize the current system has put us all equally in the most dismal political, economic and security state, and affects us all equally because the lack of security and stability, the high cost of living, and the high rates of unemployment do not differentiate between religions and that is perhaps fortunate? So would you rather have the power of electing your head of state in your own hands and the hands of your equal compatriots, or in those of corrupt foreign entities summoning their Lebanese Caligulas on orders?
Muslims in Lebanon are deeply divided, as are the other communities. So how can those who are deeply divided among themselves possibly agree on a president?
The Need for Change in Lebanon
The 128 members of parliament in Lebanon have a firm grip on all powers, and this needs to change. They have the power to elect the president of the republic, to designate the prime minister, to elect the speaker of the house, to issue laws, and to extend their own term according to their own rules. The worst is that if they disagree on any issue, no matter how nationally unimportant, they have no problem with paralyzing Lebanon.
Furthermore, parliament is constitutionally unrepresentative due to defects of the electoral law; a law that prevents the real representatives of Lebanese citizens to gain access to seats. The embodiment of this reality is reflected in our current political state, whereby parliament overwhelmingly chimed to unconstitutionally extend its term, and then returned to their quarrels and further violated their last strands of legitimacy. Oh the irony! A parliament that is neither representative, nor effective, nor credible, is able to illegally extend its mandate due to its own ineffectiveness. Yet it still holds the absolute power to make all crucial decisions for Lebanon, including the ability to elect our head of state. Is this acceptable?
Enough! We must change this situation, for it is no longer bearable. Let the current system attend to the desires of its citizens — those same desires that we witnessed in the polls. You, leaders, are unable to come to an agreement and your differences are endless. So free us from your selfish quarrels and let us elect our own president.
What I suggest is for the presidential candidates to come together and hold televised debates and discussions at various levels to show us their own political, economic and developmental policy plans, and their national visions. The media will subsequently poll their viewers on our stances vis-à-vis the candidates. Then, let us take the matter to the parliament and vote in the new law.
I hope that you — dear leaders, ministers and members of parliament — will respond to my call, as well as that of my compatriots, united across all ages, genders and faces on this premise: that we may all collectively revolt against this system that we inherited and which has become obsolete long ago. We want to issue a law that imposes the direct election of our president by the people. One vote per citizen, without any religious, geographic or regional limitation. An election conducted on the basis of egalitarian votes distributed equally among all citizens inhabiting a country that shall become imbued with the understanding, stability and coexistence that was long sung by our ancestors. One person, one vote.
So will you heed our call? Or will you, as usual, ignore the complaints of your people, and not bother to remedy your ignorance from your aloof steeple?
*[This article was originally published in Arabic by Annahar.]
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