Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Amend This!

Nearly nine months after the first fabricated “constitutional crisis” the country finds itself in the throes of yet another fictional “crisis of words”. This one – relating to the Presidency, whereas the first was related to the Cabinet and the second to Parliament – is purportedly based on ambiguous interpretations of a clause of the constitution stipulating the terms under which the presidential election session of Parliament can be held.

While certain parties have attached themselves to the notion that there can be no election whatsoever unless a candidate is found meeting the pre-conditions of (no-less-than) two-thirds of parliamentarians, others have subscribed to the position that written into the constitutional text is a clause stipulating that should a two-thirds majority be unachievable (by election and not pre-condition), then it is a simple majority that will choose the country’s next President.

A fair alternative given that the “2/3 or else” interpretation would assign to the country’s final legal reference the ability to only provide a void in the country’s executive branch, should no compromise be reached. Hardly a sensible thing for a constitution to do, especially when another clause explicitly makes such a scenario (a void in the executive branch) impossible to maintain! But then again, I’m no constitutional expert.

Assuming that it did take a constitutional expert to suggest amendments to the hefty text, however, it would appear that the country is filled with them.

Take Nabih Berri, for example, who is rumored to be pursuing a “2-year" amendment in which the newly consented-upon (and not really elected) President would be tasked with organizing new parliamentary elections (presumably to gerrymander the anti-Syrian Parliamentary majority out of power and reverse or obstruct much of the work carried out by the current government).

Or Michel Aoun who included, among the numerous rants issued by him and his FPM this week, a call for a “one-time referendum" amendment taking the presidentials outside parliament and into the streets (thereby allowing him - in his own mind and not reality, of course - to bypass the Hizballah leadership on which he has banked for the past year, and appeal directly to their constituency).

And, of course, is there not a proposal being pushed by Syria and its allies in the country to amend the “Grade One” clause in the constitution in order to make way for yet another one of their vassals, groomed from military stock (read: Army Commander Michel Suleiman), to take the reigns? And speaking of Grade One civil servants, wasn’t another such servant of the state (read: Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh) rumored to be a contender for the seat?

Whatever the case may be, amendments are easier said than done. And while everyone talks of ‘salvation’, there is a growing sense that in order for there to be such a salvation a national catastrophe will need to emerge. One that will make January’s disruptions look like the coup rehearsals they really were.


  1. I think what matters here isn't necessarily the Consitution, but the trustworthiness of those with the power and ability to enforce its provisions. If Lebanese don't trust them 100%, they will be tempted, in true Lebanese fashion, to make deals that will clip away bits of the Constitution.

    But clipping the law is just like clipping coins: once you start, everybody loses faith in the currency that mediates deals between individuals and peoples. It is the road to anarchy and civil war.

    It is this low road that I think Lebanon will choose to take. Because too many Lebanese are too proud yet lack the gumption to do the right thing.

  2. a national catastrophe will need to emerge.

    The last 12 months are not enough for you, Black?

    I am scared to ask: What do you have in mind?

  3. i agree with BJ's points. To that end, I think all of the signs are pointing towards conflict. The two camps are diametrically opposed and I for one cannot see how they are going to agree on anything going forward, including allowing the Presidential election to take place.

    Does anybody see anything to be optimistic about?

  4. Assuming that it did take a constitutional expert to suggest amendments to the hefty text, however, it would appear that the country is filled with them.

    Just for the record thats a sarcastic comment :) ...

    ... that and the 'salvation' qualities of the candidate being pushed under that title (Suleiman).

  5. Think of it this way Josey, are the past 12 months enough to make you agree to Suleiman as president today?

    Solomon: I wish I didn't but I agree...for now.

  6. bj, if not now, when? Today, Hezbollah can't carry arms openly near the Israeli border. Eliminating Hezbollah's armed presence from the area in 2005 would have been beneficial then because Hezbollah would never have been able to kidnap Israeli soldiers and thus instigate the 2006 war.

    Must Lebanese always wait until it is too late before they do the right thing?

  7. Eliminating it in 2000 would have been beneficial...

    ...but back then we were still under Syrian tutelage...

    ...alright... the Cedar Revolution comes along and Hizballah's leadership proves that it is more interested in translating its armed presence into a projection of Iran's regional policy instead of peacefully and consensually securing for its constituency its in the future of Lebanon...


    So what now? Now we're at a position where we can sacrifice much of the progress achieved by the Syrian withdrawal (by amending the constitution, again, and/or giving in to the armed intimidation of Nasrallah's "surprises") or consolidating those gains by electing a president capable of carrying through an enforcement of the Taif Accords and the constitution which will strengthen the state and its institution.

    If we give in to intimidation, then we'll be taking the 'low road'. If we don't, then we'll be taking the high road. In either case, the stakes are high and risks (if one is to listen to the Hizballah statements) higher.

  8. So what now?

    It almost always helps to break a problem into its components.

    Starting from the beginning helps eliminate extraneous distractions. Before a blacksmith starts working at the anvil, he has a vision of what his final product should be. What do you want your future Lebanon to be?

  9. Sol2,

    I think its pretty clear what I want for the future...

    ...its what I've been blogging about for just over a year now!

    (And it would take a bit too long to formalize right now, but feel free to start at the beginning)

    In any case, the issue at present (and with implications for the future) is the Presidency.

    My last post on the issue highlighted the importance of avoiding an amendment of the constitution (in the part about Salameh). Its going to be risky (as my next post will highlight if I get enough time to finish it...before it becomes irrelevant/redundant) but if we are setting precedents for a new era then it is important that we safeguard the institutions of our state and adhere to the rule of law in this country....

    ...otherwise, whats the point?

  10. Yes, I've been doing exactly what you suggested, going back to the beginning. But you should try to sum up what you feel is most important and say it in a single paragraph of two to four sentences.

  11. Why not give it a shot, BJ?

  12. The first and greatest thing I would want for the country is for Hizballah to say:

    Look, we will give our weapons to the army because right now there are elements in this movement who receive their orders from Iran and have nothing to do with Lebanon. They are using these weapons to implement a foreign agenda which is hurting Lebanon and bleeding its people.

    That would be the we can work our way back from that to the real.

  13. BJ, I suggested stating your vision for Lebanon. What I read is your vision for Hezbollah. Is that what you really meant to answer, or are you jumping ahead?

    One thing at a time. Lebanon has been beset by civil war, subversion, invasion, bombing, corruption, and the threat of more of these things to come. Surely asking what your desired vision is of Lebanon isn't out-of-bounds under such circumstances.

  14. Hey Solomon,

    Its not out of bounds, and its a decent question. The problem is that its a question that draws an answer that can't and shouldn't be limited to a couple of paragraphs in a comments section (I guess I'm stubborn that way).

    If you want, we can discuss something specific out of the number of different areas a question as that addresses. Otherwise, I will be updating my Presidential Debate post with questions related to Foreign and Defense policies etc... So at least in that way we can have a better structured way to address the question.

  15. As you wish. Yet, until you know clearly the direction you want to go, how can you be comfortable with the direction you are going? And if you can't state it in a few short paragraphs, how can you hope to swing others to your point of view? Or is that where sectarian loyalty comes in?

  16. Haha.

    Ah Solomon2, sometimes I don't know whether you are being condescending on purpose or whether its just out of habit :)

    In very broad terms (which is the only thing a short paragraph is good for) it should be understood that for Lebanon to be a country wholly confortable with its regional surroundings it has to have strong internal institutions which can withstand waves of regional power swings and the changing and yet incessant interference in our domestic affairs those swings bring.

    For Lebanon to be comfortable with its internal composition, we need to have strong institutions which can withstand the temporary power-ambitions of the different sects (or interest groups, as it were) that feel empowered by the various rolling waves of regional power balances.

    The question of policy once those institutions are (re)established and empowered is one for the Lebanese people to decide and in those decisions sectarian loyalty might play a certain role - in the short run at the very least. But that role will always be limited to the confines of the state and its institutions by the strength of those institutions.

    I highlighted Hizballah's weapons and operations because that is the single biggest obstacle to a strong state and the greatest single transgression against the monopoly and legitimacy of the rule of law in the state. And so, thats where we should start if we want to build something better.

  17. You're not there yet, not quite. Policy is a course of action. Vision directs policy.

    If you want to assemble a strong state with strong institutions, there must be a vision as a guide. The must pursue a common purpose. Otherwise, how can you convince institutions to cooperate rather than oppose one another?

    Indeed, how can you convince people to support or join such institutions at all? Without a common vision, can "strong institutions" be viewed as anything other than sectarian vehicles for power or wealth?

    That doesn't encourage the development of a civil society, but a divisive one. If I was a Shia, I could see why, in such a vacuum, I might as well stick with Hezbollah. And if I was a Christian, why I might want to see my old militia re-established, and if I was a Sunni seek more armaments to stash in my mosques...

    Do you now see that a vision for Lebanon may be required before deciding what to do about Hezbollah? If so, then for this moment, don't think of what to do. Think instead of what to be.

  18. I disagree and I'll tell you why.

    Vision does dictate policy, yes. But acknowledging that there exists a Ministry of Agriculture doesn't require vision. What you do with that Ministry depends on your vision and the policy you set in conjuction with that vision.

    The logic extends to the other institutions of the country. The strenghts of the different institutions relative to each other is something that needs to be worked out, yes. But that they are the sole exercisers of the state's monopoly, or that they have ultimate power over non-state institutions is, again, something that should be guaranteed simply by Lebanon's existence as a country and a state.

    Thats how every regular country functions and thats how we want our country to function.

  19. A blacksmith can fashion his creation as finely as he desires and his skills permit. But for others to employ it, they must have the desire to do so.

    Let's make it really basic. Why should people be loyal to Lebanon's institutions?

  20. Sol2,

    Are you familiar with the expression: Akh!

    It usually accompanies some wincing, some pain, some grave annoyance, etc...

    ...if you're trying to get to a point please go ahead and say it yourself instead of trying to draw it out of me. My position is pretty clear and I don't think needs any further elaboration. So again, if there is a point you're trying to make, for the love of God just type it out.


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