Friday, April 18, 2014

Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy and NOT a presidential one.

On October 22, 2014 Lebanon would celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Taif accords that ended the Lebanese civil war. That is obviously an occasion to celebrate and to be grateful that killings, destruction and divisiveness are no longer on the mind of every Lebanese.  But such developments do not take place in a vacuum. The solution arrived at a quarter of a century ago was predicated on a radical change of the Lebanese political system and I am not referencing the demand by Taif that Lebanon has to get rid of confessionalism and add a Senate.

What Taif demanded and what the Lebanese delivered from day one was a major transformation of the democratic system in Lebanon from being Presidential to becoming a parliamentarian. But unfortunately, although Lebanon delivered on its promise many of its citizens carry on as if there was no change.  The best proof of this willful act to refuse and acknowledge reality can best be seen in the current maneuvering regarding the constitutionally mandated Presidential elections in May of this year.  The Maronite’s act as if the forthcoming President has the power to shape the political agenda, promulgate laws and make a difference in governance.

How can Samir Geagea, a declared candidate for the Presidency, promise that if elected then he would promise to bring about a large number of fundamental changes in the way Lebanon is run? Doesn’t he realize that the Lebanese president does not have the constitutional power to deliver on any of his platform promises? Of course he does but neither he nor the mother perpetual candidate, Michel Aoun, nor Bkirki nor any of the Maronite leadership have the internal strength to admit the truth. I guess that this is a perfect example of what cognitive dissonance is all about.  It is the inability to admit the truth when it contradicts ones desires, just like the fox who claimed that the grapes were sour when he could not find a way of getting to them.

It is time, after 25 years, that the Lebanese in general and the Maronite’s in particular develop the  internal  courage to face reality and accept that Lebanon is no longer a Presidential democracy  and that there is nothing wrong with that.  Actually Lebanon will be in good company, if it can only admit that its President is meant to perform essentially ceremonial functions. That is exactly what the Presidents of Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and Israel do. They accept the diplomatic credentials from ambassadors, , act as ambassadors of good will and are a symbol of the state, a moral symbol with no power.

Once the Presidential powers are viewed accurately then it becomes clear that there is no need to wage acrimonious campaigns based around issues that are not based in reality and that are not constitutional. Of course the politicians are not speaking the truth to the Lebanese public when they keep the charade that the office of the Presidency in Lebanon can still influence policy in a major way. But even if some might chose to excuse politicians for this major gaffe there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can  excuse the press for its failure to discuss this idea and to enlighten the public about the truth. The press has a moral obligation to inform and it has not.

Decision making, in all fields, are not expected to be efficient and rational unless they are undertaken in an environment of as perfect of knowledge as possible. In this case the matter is not that difficult to decipher. The Lebanese President has no say in naming either the Prime Minister or any of the cabinet members; he does not have the power or the right to vote during any of the ministerial debates although he can chair such meetings. The Lebanese constitution does not give the Presidency any executive powers whatsoever neither does it allow the president to act in any capacity with the legislature. Under such circumstances should rational people have major disagreements on who is to be elected to fill such a highly visible but purely symbolic position? 

Samir Geagea, General Michel Aoun, Bkirki and all the other Lebanese politicians must put an end to this misinterpretation of what the constitutional presidential powers are. It is time that every Lebanese should read the constitution to learn the truth and put an end to this corrosive and unproductive ritual of pretending that Lebanon does not have a parliamentarian system that dictates a ceremonial role for the presidency. Maybe we should learn to speak the truth so that it can set us free.

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