Thursday, May 10, 2007

Talkin' About A Referendum, Son

Aoun jokes, Aoun kids!

That according to the man himself, who declared today that his previous call for a one-time Presidential referendum (which he presumes would go in his favour, of course) to be held in 6 months time – in complete defiance of the country’s constitutional norms.

But putting Aoun’s long-running penchant for comedy (and misinterpreting the country’s laws – lets not forget his “burning tires is legal” incident) aside, could a proposal to transform the country’s current Parliamentary-balloting system for electing a President warrant a more serious look?

For starters, it is important to see the system in place today for what it is, exactly. In a country in which legislative representation is contingent, not only on a person’s geographical location but also, on where that person identifies him/herself on the country’s spiritual planes (i.e., their religion), electoral issues are rarely a simple matter of one-man one-vote.

Constitutional Coexistence

By mandating that the election of a President pass through Parliament, the country’s current system essentially enforces a system of “confessional distribution” on electoral votes towards the presidency, thereby ensuring an adherence to a 50-50 division of these votes along Muslim-Christian lines. An imperfect system, to be sure, but one from which any deviation should be approached with caution and with national cohesion as the guiding principle, something “the General’s” delivery style (in the form of a rant), and his timing (only six months before the next presidential election) failed to accomplish.

But if the country’s current Presidential electoral system is an imperfect one, then it is a temporarily imperfect one, at best. Included in the very same Accord which birthed the current division of powers along sectarian lines is a set of rules and procedures on how to move away from such a sectarian system, to one in which sectarian influences are institutionalized in, and confined to, a second legislative house tasked with addressing only those “crucial issues” in which the country’s sectarian makeup should play a role. While this Senate would seek to provide those sectarian interests in the country with an isolated and regulated venue through which to air their grievances, the country’s now lower Chamber of Deputies (or National Assembly, or Parliament) would address the country’s representational needs on a purely secular basis.

What would this mean for Presidential elections? Well as far as I can tell the document (i.e., the Taef Accord) doesn’t say. One possibility is that, given the presence of a secular Parliament and sectarian Senate, other divisions of power in the country would be forced to take on those same characteristics. Where the Parliament would be tasked with approving a secular Prime Minister, the Presidency would become matter for the Senate foremost, matter in which compromise might be reached through the accordance of a rotation of the post amongst the sects*.

Manifold Manipulation

But where proposals such as these bring a ray of hope for the long-run, the country’s short-run political outlook remains bleak. Indeed, the use of the terms sectarian and secular betrays a political logic and driving variable in the country that will be hard to drown. For even if the officially sanctioned sectarianism which drives the country were to be unilaterally dropped, there is no guarantee that the general voting populace would not succumb to old habits and allegiances when faced with the ballot box.

It is this fact that renders any immediate rush at unilateral secularisation futile, and which dictates the need for a gradual weaning away from the current sectarian system towards a more balanced one. One in which sectarian influences are not allowed to run rampant through all of the country’s institutions but are isolated in one legislative house, the powers and responsibilities of which can be gradually leached over the coming decades.

And so we come back to “the General” and his disingenuous call for the next President to be elected directly by the people (for the people?). Taken alongside a previous call by his current ally-of-convenience, Hizballah, to hold a general referendum on its possession of heavy weapons outside the purview of the state, a pattern emerges. A pattern which will see Hizballah attempting to push through motions for popular suffrage, motions that will seek to play on Shiite demographic numbers while donning the guise of a premature secularism.

And while the General rushes to undercut any and every law and constitutional article that could stand between him and that ill-fated seat in Baabda, rumours continue to emerge on how far he is willing to go. Rumours that carry with them the ring of two wars, three thousand dead, and one General hiding in a trunk while the country falls to subjugation.


*This idea – secular PM, rotating Presidency – is one that I have been a strong supporter of in the past. For all intents and purposes it was hatched in the recesses of my mind but it is not inconceivable to think that the idea has been proposed by others in the past.


  1. If Aoun was truly sincere in his view, then sure, it's a great idea. However, there's always the suspicion that he just wants to ensure his own election and needs the Shiites to get into Baabda.

  2. Anonymous10:01 AM

    So let me get this straight, is Aaoun proposing that the president be elected by Lebanese Muslims while barking all day long about Christian "marginalization" ? How ludicrious. Did the guy ever take an IQ or pschychaitric test ? I mean the last I've heard of him in 1989 he wanted to liberate lebanon from Syrian occupation and ended up giving lebanon to the Syrians... This guy is a hopelessly losing card...

  3. Jimmy9:50 PM

    Good post BSJ. I wonder how come the FPMers have stayed away from commenting here. Maybe its because they can only argue in terms of slogans and memorized lines, not with real arguments.


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