Monday, June 16, 2008

Can Lebanon Avopid The Current Grid Lock?

It should be obvious to any objective observer of the Lebanese political scene that something terribly wrong in governance has gone awry. There appears to be a major break down in how the process was designed to work, a total collapse in what to do and how to do it.
Lebanon is not unique in having two political groups vying for office based on diametrically opposite road maps of what is the most beneficial strategy of enhancing the common good. But Lebanon might be unique, or at best one of a handful of countries in the world where the parties have absolutely nothing in common, they differ not only on the means but they have different ends also. One group aims to bolster the state and its institutions while the other is guided by the principle of negating the state and what it stands for. It is obvious that the twain shall not meet and as a result the idea of being a member of the opposition and yet an integral part of the cabinet is preposterous. One cannot be an active constructive member of the cabinet and yet oppose it at the same time. Furthermore this whole idea of forming a cabinet that not only includes every parliamentary group but that gives the opposition a veto power is illogical, unworkable, and undemocratic and its implications not well thought out. Besides the irrationality of being simultaneously for and against an idea there is the added problem of at what point would the opposition lose the right to veto? Is it sufficient to get say, only 5% of the vote and yet be in a position to frustrate the plans of the other 95% of the public? Or is it an intrinsic right for an opposition irrespective of its ability to attract popular votes at the ballot box? And if the right of the opposition to veto any and all plans irrespective of its size then what is the logic of conducting electoral campaigns?
So what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to restore the integrity of the system? In short Lebanon needs to discover and hold on to the basic institutional structure of what it means to be a democracy, what are the responsibilities of various factions under the system and to learn that taking a stand against demagoguery is a requirement for a healthy civil society. Integrity needs to be restored to the process. It is the only way to avoid the current unhealthy grid-lock that has been detrimental to the development of Lebanon in all areas, political, social, environmental and economic.
If the Lebanese state is to be reinvigorated and if it is to have a meaningful chance of thriving then the following four steps are an absolute bare minimum:

1 There is no document in a state that is more sacred than its constitution. The constitution needs to be respected and glorified by all instead of being looked upon as a practically worthless piece of paper which is to be amended whenever it is expedient to do so. In a self respecting democracy the process and allegiance to an idea of statehood are sacrosanct, there is no room for an individual to be looked upon as indispensible and therefore the practice of constitutional change for the benefit of an individual must be banished.
2. No matter how well written it is to be expected that occasionally problems of constitutional interpretations will arise. The question of hermeneutics is best dealt with through the creation of an independent highly qualified judicial body whose only function is to respond to requests of providing the nation with an interpretation of whatever is deemed not to be clear at a particular point. That is the role of the Constitutional Council in Lebanon. This Council must always be ready and able to tackle the constitutional challenges as they arise. Any acts by any group of politicians that will obstruct the Council from being functional or that will create obstacles to prevent it from performing its function cannot be tolerated A constitutional government needs an independent on-political arbiter whose decisions are binding on all.

3. Parliament is the people’s house. As a result its doors must never be shut and no individual, definitely not the speaker, should be empowered to cripple it The Speakers’ main duty is to ascertain that the fair and just procedures are followed and that the peoples’ business is enacted. The speaker is not to obstruct the democratic process but to facilitate it irrespective of whether he/she agrees with the projected outcome.

4. Democracy cannot function without an opposition. But the right to dissent embodies within it obligations. Opposition parties have existed ever since Athens, the birth of Democracy, 3000 years ago. But the right to dissent implies the right of the majority to govern. Elections are held and their hallowed results determine the roles that are to be played by various groups. That is the way that it should be since elections are periodic. Their results enshrine the idea that government rules with the consent of the governed. Yes a group of the electorate speaks through the loyal opposition who are expected to act as a government in waiting. They will get their chance to govern once they convince enough of the electorate to lend their vision support at the ballot box.

As long as any country, Lebanon in this case, cannot muster enough support for the above principles in addition to dispensing with sectarianism then the country in question has no right to hope for a prosperous future.

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