Monday, October 22, 2007

Electing a Lebanese President 101

News services in Lebanon are reporting rumors that Tuesday's Presidential Election - Parliamentary session - might be postponed until November (6th or 13th) in order to "give consensus a chance".

Whatever the case may be, and barring any late developments, several things need to be kept in mind. According to the Constitution:

1) For an "ordinary" [and not necessarily "presidential"] parliamentary session to be convened, only a majority of the MPs must be present - and not a 2/3 majority (given all the blabber it surprised me too, but here is the text, check it yourself). As shown below, constitutionally, an ordinary session of Parliament should be called this Tuesday;
Article 32[Ordinary Sessions]
The Chamber meets each year in two ordinary sessions. The first session opens on the first Tuesday following 15 March and continues until the end of May. The second session begins on the first Tuesday following 15 Oct; its meetings is reserved for the discussion of and voting on the budget before any other work. This session lasts until the end of the year.

Article 33 [Extraordinary Sessions]
The ordinary sessions begin and end automatically on the dates fixed in Article 32. The President of the Republic in consultation with the Prime Minister may summon the Chamber to extraordinary sessions by a Decree specifying the dates of the opening and closing of the extraordinary sessions as well as the agenda. The President of the Republic is required to convoke the Chamber if an absolute majority of the total membership so requests.

Article 34 [Quorum]
The Chamber is not validly constituted unless the majority of the total membership is present. Decisions are to be taken by a majority vote. Should the votes be equal, the question under consideration is deemed rejected.
2) The Parliamentary session called for the election of a new President must take place at least one month before the expiration of the current President's term - that is to say, it must take place before [and up to] October 23rd (check it here).

Any failure, by the Speaker of Parliament, to convene a session before [and up to] that date opens the route up for a meeting - at a venue outside of Parliament (think Pheonecia Hotel) - by the simple majority and the election of a President according to that simple majority. This should take place anytime starting ten days before the term of the current President expires [i.e., starting Nov. 12th].

Now this is all in the Constitution - and it is there in order to provide for an absence of a void in the executive branch if no consensus is reached.

With respect to the quorum needed to open the "presidential session" (and I'm no constitutional expert), there is nothing explicit about the number of MPs needed to be present for the session to be in order. That is to say that it could very well be the case that only a simple majority of MPs are needed to open the session, but the first round election of the President is contingent on a two-thirds vote. Or, it could be the case of there being a need for a 2/3 quorum in order to even open the session.

The interpretation of the clause, and the precedent it would set, should [in theory] not rely on the intentions and/or judicial knowledge of politicians interested in securing short/long-term political aims [as it stands today] but rather on a Constitutional Council dedicated to the study of such matters. As the constitution stands today [and due to a 1990 amendment to Article 19 of the Constitution], however, it is Parliament that is tasked with interpreting the constitution.

So why doesn't Parliament convene? The blame for that anomaly rests on the shoulders of the Hizballah-allied pro-Syrian Speaker of the Parliament, who broke the constitutional law by failing to convene the year's first Parliamentary session [that move led to the establishment of UNSC 1757 under a Chapter 7 mandate]; and on the pro-Syrian President of the Republic, who continues to refuse to call an "extraordinary" session of the Parliament for - well - anything!

As November 22nd nears, one thing should be kept in mind: consensus is all nice and good, but if it is not reached - no matter the cause - it is everyone's national duty [as citizens adhering to the constitution] to abide by its letter without recourse to violence. And as that letter stands, if November 12th is reached without "consensus", whether that failure comes in the form of failed 2/3 votes or a lack of a session at all, we are all morally/legally/patriotically bound to live with a simple majority President - no matter how uncomfortable the thought of that may be.


  1. Post Title changed from:

    Constitutional Constraints on Presidential Procedure

  2. Oh, and don't forget to check out our presidency poll (right sidebar) and presidency questionnaire/debate (post right under this one - or click here)

  3. Electing a President in Lebanon 102 coming soon :)

  4. If you're interested in a debate on this subject, then check out the comments section of this post's Good Neighbors version.



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