Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Internal Contradictions in the Lebanese Political Structure

Does secularism guarantee that its practitioners are democratic? The answer is obviously in the negative since the world is full of secular systems that are not democratic, Syria is a good example of a government that keeps trumpeting its secularism but yet it is arguably the most authoritarian regime in the Arab world. Iraq’s Saddam, especially prior to the Gulf war of 1991 was also proud of its secularity but yet was a very cruel dictatorship. Turkey is another country in the region that is a secular state but one whose democratic practices do not always shine. I shall refrain from using Cuba, North Korea or any other Communist state as examples of secular non democratic states since they are neither secular nor democratic. But I want to submit to you the proposition that it would not be possible to be a vibrant democracy unless the political structure is secular.
Does that imply that Lebanon is doomed to continue living in its current state of neverland unless it rejects its current system of political confessionalism? The answer to this question is not as simple as the previous one; it is both a yes and a no. Yes Lebanon has to adopt a fully operational secular political structure if its goal is to move as close as possible, in a world full of friction and static, to being a dynamic, functioning democracy. But obviously Lebanon can choose to retain its odd political confessionalism and yet attempt to become more of a functioning democracy for its citizens than it is currently. To improve on the current state of affairs should not prove to be very difficult since the nation is already on life support.
If Lebanon is to settle for the second best option of the above two it would still need to transform radically the structure of its political parties. The current party system in Lebanon is at odds with the clause in its constitution that demands that its cabinets be all inclusive. That clause is generally understood to imply that the composition of Lebanese cabinets should replicate the religious affiliations of the Lebanese population. Normally that should not pose a major problem. Good democratic governments usually form cabinets that are reflective of whatever criteria that the constitution seems to value provided that the political parties are truly national and diverse. The political party system, as it currently stands in Lebanon, cannot deliver on this promise and never would unless it is radically changed.
A simple example should illustrate the point. Assume that the electorate of a country is made up of 50% males and 50% females. Furthermore let us pretend that the constitution demands the formation of a cabinet that reflects the gender composition of its populace and let us assume that this Idealstan has only two political parties. So what is the problem you ask? If Idealstan is similar to Lebanon then one party will be for females and the other party for males. In that case no party will be able to form the cabinet on its own. It has to give 50% of the cabinet portfolios to the opposition that had already lost the national vote. The obvious question at this point is why have an election in this case? Each party is going to get half of the portfolios in any case and the PM is not the chief executive anyway. The executive power resides in the cabinet as a whole. This problem will not arise if each of the two political parties had waged a national campaign and had attracted a diverse, gender wise, following. As you can see this is the Lebanese problem. If the majority party is to form a government from its own cadres then it will not be representative of the population but if the constitutional edict is to be satisfied then the winners will have to form a cabinet in partnership with the losers and in this case elections become a charade. Short of putting in place a secular system in conjunction with diverse-membership then the Lebanese political needs ,as a minimum, to form national political parties if it’s second best alternative is to succeed. I guess that one out of two ain’t bad.

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