“The President of the Republic is the head of the state and the symbol of the nation’s unity. He shall safeguard the constitution and Lebanon’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity.”
-Article 49 of The Lebanese Constitution
For the last five months the presidential seat in Lebanon has remained vacant. On October 29, 2014 the Lebanese parliament failed for the fifteenth time in a row to elect a replacement for Michel Suleiman, whose term ended on May 25. I question how it is possible for such a divided nation to survive without its head of state.
Living in the United States, it is hard for me to fathom living in a country without the comfort of knowing someone is responsible for such an important position.
How does the political system in Lebanon work?
Because Lebanon is a divided nation, it abides by an unwritten power-sharing agreement known as al-Mithaq al-Watani, or National Pact. This means the office of President is allocated to the Maronite Christians, the office of Prime minister to the Sunni Muslims, and the office of Speaker of Parliament to the Shiite Muslims.
The general public does not get a say in the elections for the Lebanese President; The Chamber of Deputies votes him in for a six-year term. He may not succeed himself, but he may serve any number of nonconsecutive terms.
Thirty to sixty days before the current President steps down, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies calls a special session to elect a new President. Unlike parliamentary elections, candidates for President do not have to file any paper work. They do not have to make an official announcement stating they are running.
In theory, any person who meets the eligibility requirements for election to the Chamber of Deputies can be elected. However, according to Politics in Lebanon, no one can be elected President without the support of a wide spectrum of confessional blocs.
Because there is an absence of clarity designating the quorum needed to elect the President, the Lebanese Constitution is open to differing interpretations.
The first view of this issue relies on Article 34 to claim the quorum needed to elect a President is half plus one of the total members of Parliament. This argument supports that this Article applies whenever the Parliament meets, whether it be for legislative, investigative, or electoral business.
However, Article 49 states the President of the Republic will be elected by secret ballot and by two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. While this has caused controversy, political custom has it that parliament cannot legally meet to elect a president unless two-thirds of its members are present.
Why is Lebanon still without a president?
Even with time in advance to find a replacement for former President Michel Suleiman as well as 15 presidential elections, Lebanon is still without a President. Several of the elections needed to be postponed because of a lack of quorum, which I explained is a requirement of the Lebanese Constitution. With the amount of time that has passed and the number of willing candidates for presidency, I wondered why this position is still left vacant.
After reading multiple articles I came to the conclusion that the 2014 Lebanese presidential election is not solely about choosing a Christian Maronite representative. This election may bring about several ramifications, which includes its relationships with foreign allies.
According to The Arab Daily News, Syria plays an enormous part in Lebanon’s presidential elections. Before the civil war in Syria, Damascus had a great influence on the presidential electoral process in Lebanon. The Lebanese parliament had no choice, but to elect Pro-Syrian presidents.
Although Syria can no longer dictate Lebanon’s election, it remains capable of blocking political decisions in Lebanon. Pro-Hezbollah Lebanese parliamentarians have refused to attend the election sessions, affecting the quorum. This is because they do not wish to have a new president who would disapprove of Hezbollah’s military role in Syria. Without the pro-Syrian votes, no president can win the required two-third-majority vote.
As of now the presidential elections in Lebanon are deadlocked. Although this has happened in Lebanon’s past, I wonder if it will cause instability in their nation.