Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The election that won't happen

After mediation efforts collapsed on Monday, Lebanon's presidential election was again postponed until the end of the week.

France is intensifying its efforts to find a solution, with Sarkozy sending his top aide to Damascus and speaking to Assad by telephone.

I think the world is getting sick of waiting, as are the Lebanese people. This has dragged on for far too long. Lebanese politicians have a habit of embarrassing the country in front of the world's eyes, but this is simply beyond ridiculous. I urge all Lebanese parties to simply take a step back and view the situation through a different pair of goggles so as to see how pathetic you are all behaving.

The French are demonstrating an unusually high level of interest, perhaps because they feel guilty for the mess they created? After all, France was the country that installed our joke of a political system that gave way to the bunch of cronies now defiling the country.

Michel Aoun is adamant the post should be his. His contention seems to be along the lines that Lebanon's political system is divided into three centres of power, with the presidency ultimately being reserved for the Christians. As Aoun is the main Christian leader, he should have the main Christian post. Another argument his supporters have been concocting is that three major parliamentary blocs - March 14, the Resistance bloc (Hizballah/Amal), and the Reform & Change bloc (FPM) - should receive equal representation in power. FPM's argument is that the post of Prime Minister is representative of March 14, the Parliament Speaker represents the Resistance bloc, thus leaving the presidency to represent Lebanon's third largest bloc ... Michel Aoun's FPM and his allies. Of course, this seems rather dubious to March 14 as they don't really see any difference between the Resistance bloc and the Reform & Change bloc, as both camps have united to form an Opposition that still commands fewer seats than the March 14 coalition.

Nonetheless, the Opposition is fearful that a March 14 victory in the presidential race will sideline Hizballah and the FPM from the decision-making process. March 14 will have control of all the major power positions in the country, including the presidency, the prime minister's office, defense and internal security. The Opposition threats of forming a separate government are intended to limit March 14's influence to its constituencies if such a scenario unfolds.

The US sees the presidential chair as an urgent necessity to empower March 14 in order to pass through key decisions that have been blocked by Lahoud and the Opposition boycott of government. Rumours of an American military base in Kleiat, North Lebanon begin to come into play here. These rumours are starting to find some reasoning, and tie in well with military plans to strike Iran. A US base in Kleiat, on the Syrian border, and 40 kms from Russia's new naval base in Tartous is vital to station a rapid reactionary force in case of a Syrian or Hezballah reprisal, as well as keeping in check Russia's Middle Eastern movements, in light of an attack on Iran.

Another key factor is the US presidential elections, which are rapidly approaching. All fingers are pointing to a Democratic victory, which - one would hope - steer the US from the neocon approach of all-out conquer to that of diplomacy and restraint. If any move is to be made against Iran, Lebanon needs to be placed under control now, which may explain the US' unwavering stance on a presidential compromise. Bush won't have time to build a US base in Lebanon before the end of his term, which may quell fears of a base at Kleiat in conjunction with an Iranian attack. However, the US has sought this base for over 30 years and it is an essential step in its grander, geopolitical battle with Russia, so it still may be a pressing reason why the Americans so desperately want the presidential chair.

There appears to be a cemented feeling within Opposition ranks, and indeed their higher powers in Damascus and Tehran, that a change of hands in the White House will change the landscape in Lebanon and the greater region. All Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Opposition seem willing to do is block American attempts to control Lebanon until a more rational leadership acquires power in US, and for Syria, until a strong government forms in Israel that will have the public support and the will to enter into negotiations. Syria and Iran could have pushed the Opposition to topple Siniora's government last December when 1.5 million protesters holed the PM up in his residence. But they didn't, aware that any move would have drawn a vicious response from the US and the EU. The Syrians will just continue to frustrate US efforts to exert its influence in Lebanon until Bush's time is up.

A new president will be a sitting duck, in the midst of two determined forces in the country that will not yield ground. The direction of Lebanon's political crisis will be determined by who enters office in Washington, not in Beirut.

Please find below an AP article on French - Syrian efforts, and an email I received from an FPM supporter explaining why Michel Aoun should be president:

French presidential aide in Syria for talks on Lebanon's political deadlock

The Associated Press
November 20, 2007

French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent his top aide to Syria for talks aimed at defusing the crisis over Lebanon's presidential election, Sarkozy's office said Tuesday.

France is intensifying efforts toward a solution to the political crisis in Lebanon, a former French protectorate. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is currently in Beirut, where rival factions are struggling to reach a compromise over a presidential candidate before the incumbent's term expires Saturday.

A planned Wednesday parliament session to elect a president was postponed by two more days as intense mediation between rival factions struggled to reach a compromise candidate.

Sarkozy's chief of staff, Claude Gueant, was in Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday, the president's office said in a statement. Sarkozy also spoke by telephone with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"This development is aimed at encouraging all the countries of the region to play a positive role" in helping Lebanon choose a president, the statement said.

Gueant visited Damascus earlier this month in the first high-level visit by French officials in more than two years. French and Syrian relations have been cold since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which many have blamed on Syria. Syria, which dominated its smaller neighbor for nearly 30 years, denies the claim.


By Elie Khalil

As stipulated by its constitution, Lebanon is a consensual democracy. This simply translates to a 'power sharing' system of rule. It is therefore logical for the ruling troika to be elected/appointed according to the true representation of the country's political groupings. The current Lebanese parliamentary make-up is extremely skewed due to a gerrymandered election law that brought in a highly unrepresentative parliament. Therefore this should not be used as a measure of true representation. A much more accurate measure is the number of votes received by each political grouping during the last elections. These are approximated to be as follows:

February 14 Coalition: 25%-49%
Change & Reform Block: 25%-49%
Resistance Coalition: 25%-49%
Other: <25%

In a consensual democracy, proportional representation must be employed to determine the identity of each position in the troika. The quota for a position in terms of voter percentage can be calculated by the formula:

100/(number of positions in troika + 1) = 100/(3+1) = 100/4 = 25%

Therefore, each position in the troika must elicit a representation of >25% of the population. According to this formula, a position should be allocated to each of the three groups whose representation exceeds 25%. The February 14 coalition were given their position through the Prime Minister. The Resistance Coalition were given their position through the Speaker. If the Lebanese are truly to accept consensual democracy, the remaining troika position, President, must now be given to the Change & Reform Block. Had the February 14 Gathering achieved >50% of the popular vote, then its fair that they be given the Presidency. However their representation in a consensual democracy (<50%) does not also entitle them to the position of President.

Additionally, in a consensual democracy, what is required is a 'consensual troika' and not a 'consensual president'. The three positions of the troika must be treated as equal. If each of the three major groupings is to choose one position, then they must have no say over the other two positions. Either that, or the three groupings all agree on consensual candidates for the three positions. This directly implies that since the February 14 Coalition and the Resistance Coalition were already allocated their fair share of the troika positions, they should have completely no say on the Presidency, which should be solely the choice of the Change and Reform Block. If the Change and Reform Block choose General Michel Aoun to be president, then he should be accepted unopposed by all sides, in accordance with the spirit of consensual democracy and hence the constitution.

For all those people who dispute the popularity of the Change and Reform Block and insist it to be <25%, the only way to prove this is through new parliamentary elections under a fair election law. So either you accept Aoun as president, or you support new elections. The gerrymandered election law brought in an unrepresentative parliament in 2005 and hence delivered an unrepresentative government. Do we also want an unrepresentative president? Either you accept the results of the previous elections, or you call for new elections. How can it be any simpler? To impose an unrepresentative president is a heinous breach against democracy and ruins any chance of restoring justice to Lebanese society.

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