Lebanon, Reform

The Lebanese Presidency, Twenty-Five Years after Ta’if

presidential-chairLebanon failed to elect a president this week, but the failure was rather dignified by recent standards. Unlike the 2008 election — preceded by twenty months of government paralysis, public demonstrations, a parliament building locked by its Speaker, and several high-profile assassinations —  it was a relief to watch 124 parliamentarians show up at the Chamber of Deputies last Wednesday and cast their votes.

Most commentary over the past couple of weeks has centered on the maneuverings of the likely candidates. Would Saad Hariri cut a deal with Michel Aoun? Has Samir Geagea successfully transformed himself from a convicted war criminal to a respectable presidential contender? Is there a ghost candidate waiting in the wings? One can dream

I have to admit that I’ve found these discussions unsatisfying. More relevant than the matter of who the next president will be is the question of whether Lebanon needs a president at all, a quarter century after the Ta’if Agreement.

Consider the President’s powers and duties (articles 49-63 of the Lebanese Constitution). Apart from serving as “the symbol of the nation’s unity” and safeguarding “the constitution and Lebanon’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity,” the President of the Republic does very little without the say-so of the Council of Ministers. He or she accredits ambassadors and promulgates laws, but doesn’t have a vote in cabinet, cannot select a Prime Minister without binding consultations with the Parliament, cannot dissolve Parliament without permission of the Council of Ministers, and cannot effectively block a law from being passed. 

Before Ta’if, the Presidency was far more powerful than it is today, at the expense of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister’s office. If there is one thing that unites Lebanon’s Christian parties, it is their revanchist attitude toward Ta’if and their demand that the President’s powers be restored. This seems very unlikely today, but I agree that some drastic reform of the position needs to be considered.

The presidential election process in Lebanon (courtesy of IFES). Click to enlarge.

The presidential election process in Lebanon (courtesy of IFES). Click to enlarge.

One problem is the way in which presidents are elected, which — like the process by which cabinets are put together — is far too vulnerable to spoilers masquerading as political consensualists. This is partly the fault of the constitutional language describing the process. In the first round of voting, a candidate needs an extraordinary majority (two-thirds, or 86 votes) to be elected. In subsequent rounds, an ordinary majority (51%, or 65 MPs) is sufficient. What happens, though, if no political bloc commands a majority in Parliament, as is often the case? And what if one bloc declines to participate in the session, denying a quorum? The Constitution provides no answer to these questions, and as we saw in 2007-08, this can be a problem. As a wise friend recently put it to me: “A constitutional vacuum is one thing; a vacuous constitution is another.”

On the other hand, it’s short-sighted to approach the question of presidential powers from an exclusively constitutional basis. The Speaker of Parliament’s powers are very limited as far as the Lebanese Constitution is concerned, and yet Nabih Berri has wielded them to great effect. Conversely, we’ve seen the powers of the Prime Minister (who is, textually speaking, primus inter pares) effectively eroded since 2005 with the introduction of the blocking third in the Council of Ministers and the ever-lengthening cabinet formation period.

From this perspective, President Michel Sleiman has similarly been able to do more with his limited powers than the Constitution suggests. Ziad Baroud’s nomination as Interior Minister in 2008 was apparently a Sleiman demand, and the work on a new electoral law for 2013 was carried out by another of his appointees, Marwan Charbel. However, whenever the Commander-in-Chief made the mistake of expressing his opinion on military matters, he was quickly put in his place.   

Twenty-five years after Ta’if inaugurated Lebanon’s Second Republic and nearly nine years after the Syrian departure gave us a new, mysterious set of protocols (what I like to think of as Lebanon 2.5), it is time to rethink the country’s principal institutions and symbols. The President today is responsible for safeguarding a Constitution that is consistently ignored, convening a national dialogue process that is ineffectual, and leading a Christian community that no longer thinks of itself as a single political unit. In this context, why should the identity of the President matter?

In other news, I’m happy to report that I’ve just wrapped up my teaching for the year, and I should have more time to devote to blogging again. Please forgive the long hiatus.


226 thoughts on “The Lebanese Presidency, Twenty-Five Years after Ta’if

  1. lol, whatever you say. Happy liberation day Mustap

    Posted by tamer k | May 26, 2014, 12:22 am
  2. Happy Liberation Day Mustap!

    Posted by tamer k | May 26, 2014, 12:25 am
  3. I don’t consider it liberation Tamer K.

    And I don’t celebrate it either.

    I’m NOT a traitor.

    In fact, I prefer having diplomatic relations with Israel and kicking out the Iranian and Syrian abmassadors out of Beirut.

    Having relations with Israel is beneficial to us. While relations with Iran and Syria under Assad are BIG liabilities. You see? I’m NOT a Jackass Phoenix!

    Posted by Mustap | May 26, 2014, 12:41 am
  4. Mustap,

    Thanks for pointing out this Hanin reporter to me. I found her on wiki and I think I understand the issue.

    Of course I side with any pro-democracy movement as a matter of principal. I don’t know NOW news enough to say they are racist. I sort of expect a little considering the years of tension and brainwashing.

    There are probably lots of Lebanese who believe HA is not traitorous. The Lebanese either need to vote HA out or the government has to do its duty. Remember the Haganah had to dismantle right wing militias who acted outside government control.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 26, 2014, 12:59 am
  5. Akbar Palace,

    You may have partially inderstood what the issues are. I’m not sure you fully understand them.

    The similarity you tried to make with Israel does not apply in Lebanon.

    Here’s the scenario you need to imagine which applies. Think of the days of the cold war. A pro USSR communist organization sets up shop in the US and starts recruiting followers to its ’cause’ using extortion, bribery, blackmail,, brainwashing, intimidation and whatever means available in order to take over the US government. Somehow it succeeds in attracting some constituency and starts dictating terms as in the case of Nazi Germany prior to second world war using the well known tactics of take whatever is offered and then ask for more, exactly as Hitler did with Europe before he unleashed his dogs.

    This is what we have in Lebanon.

    The only way to defeat it is to stigmatize on the social grass roots level any association with such organization which is clearly serving foreign entities, and by definition is treasonous. The government is helpless, can do nothing and is in fact part of the problem.

    Posted by Mustap | May 26, 2014, 1:31 am
  6. At last someone is showing some spine, and it’s neither Obama nor Erdogan.

    Jordan expels the Syrian ambassador,


    About time Lebanon follows suit.

    Posted by Mustap | May 26, 2014, 7:54 am
  7. Mustap,

    I definitely have little feel for the way HA is perceived in Lebanon. That is why I participate here.

    I used to think HA was a foreign militia that took control of southern Lebanon by force. Then I discovered many Lebanese Shia joined with them. Then they became a political party with a certain amount of voting constituency.

    Something this insidious could not happen in the US. But it happened in Lebanon. Another Lebanese civil war seems like a bad idea. The best one can hope for is that HA fissiles out with the help of Bashar and Asthma and their De – nuked Iranian friends.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 26, 2014, 10:10 am
  8. Akbar Palace,

    Again your supposed solution is a non-solution.

    You’re asking the arsonist(s) to put off its own fire.

    End result: make more fires in order to be asked to put it off again and again and again…..
    What else would an arsonist want?
    The mullahs and Assad would LOVE you for saying that. It is as if no one learns from history. This is going back to 1939.

    Posted by Mustap | May 26, 2014, 11:13 am
  9. Editor’s note: This piece has been amended to remove a comment that contradicts NOW’s editorial policy. NOW regrets any offense the original statement may have caused.

    Author’s note: I used a bad joke at the beginning of this blog post on purpose. Were it not there, I would have been accused of being a Zionist. I have been accused of it in the past. Therefore I decided to include in this piece an anti-Jewish comment. Now, surprisingly, the same people who have accused me of being a Zionist or even a Mossad agent are accusing me of anti-Semitism. I am neither a Zionist nor an anti-Semite. I just hate occupation forces of all kinds.

    So if those same people already accuse you of being a Zionist, why would you include a “bad joke” to placate the people who already thinks you are a Zionist.

    Posted by tamer k | May 26, 2014, 1:12 pm
  10. Mustap,

    I offer no solution to HA. This is something the Lebanese have to figure out.

    Naturally I would like to see a stable lebanon. Right now, the wesistance has been fairly peaceful against the evil zionists. Seems as the the wesistance is more interested in killing fellow arabs.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 26, 2014, 3:29 pm
  11. I see Iran is really “moderating” with rag – a – muffin Rouhani…


    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 26, 2014, 4:48 pm
  12. “Editor’s note: This piece has been amended to remove a comment that contradicts NOW’s editorial policy.”

    What is NOW’s editorial policy? Let’s see it. Maybe this comes close?

    “About us

    NOW is the online source for news, features, analysis and much more, covering Lebanon, the Lebanese diaspora and the Middle East. We deliver content with fresh ideas and bold expressions. Words are not enough. We use all mediums without inhibitions, with the following in mind:

    – Our readers’ trust is essential. We do the utmost to deliver with objectivity, professionalism and the highest standards of accuracy and quality. Insight, balance and creativity are at the center of all our endeavors.

    – We are independent and nonpartisan, but definitely not neutral: We do not tolerate violations of human rights, integrity, or the sovereignty of individuals and states. We speak out, and we do so loudly.

    – Our guidelines are clear-cut: There are no taboos in politics, social or cultural issues. Our goal is to break them all – professionally, responsibly and with style. Our only enemy is censorship, and we strive to avoid lame, dull and mind-numbing ideas. We seek inspiration, and we try our best to provide it.

    – We’re not talking to; we’re talking with our audience. Most of our content is interactive, and readers are encouraged to communicate with us at all and any times. New media is not about the few imposing ideas and opinions on others. It’s a global interaction where the end-goal is understanding and inspiration.

    We look forward to this kind of communication. Welcome to NOW.”

    Ya’ll are in collective breach of this contract. Who wrote it? Reads like a think tank branding piece from the R2P crowd rather than a statement of purpose from a professional journalistic endeavor. Rah rah.

    The comments on the article in question are quite acerbic, knowledgeable and don’t bode well for the credibility of the NOWnews product such as it is. The target audience of Lebanese elites is rebelling against the narrative loudly enough to make even unsuspecting Westerners listen up. Some, a few?, of the contributors to NOW should be ashamed to provide cover for this funhouse mirror facsimile of journalistic rectitude.


    Posted by lally | May 27, 2014, 1:10 am
  13. Anna Maria must be applauded for her latest outstanding article even though she didn’t go far enough in denouncing so-called resistance and the zombie-like generation of terrorist mercenaries it has been responsible for bringing into this world. At the same time, we recommend that she and NowLebanon tackle the issue of so-called resistance from now on from the point of view of invalidity and expose the highly undesired end result of reducing Lebanon to the role of a vassal serving foreign entities contrary to the higher interests of its people. The mantra of so-called liberation has proven to be sham, a tool for brainwashing, an instrument of blackmail, and a means for extortion and as such must be put in proper perspective. Lebanon is now more enslaved to foreign entities than it has ever been enslaved in its entire history.

    Posted by Mustap | May 27, 2014, 1:43 am
  14. Akbar Palace,

    You may find it interesting to know that, in Syria, the last few days brought to an ignominous end the fate of several terrorists from HA wanted by both the FBI and the Mossad. Also, a high ranking commander of the so-called revolutionary guard was captured and eliminated by a young Syrian fighter.

    Despite the lack of real support, the Syrian revolution is credited with HUGE achievements that the US, Israel and the world owe to it.

    Also, you may want to be apprised by the Kingdom’s active fight against terrorism by taking punitive actions against sleeper HA cells in the Kingdom. Several HA connected businesses were confiscated in the last few days by the ministry of the interior, and its owners deported at a moment’s notice.

    If the US would do one tenth what the Kingdom is doing in this war, instead of cozying up to the ‘cute’ (see note below) minister of Iran, we would be rid of these HA terrorists in the blink of an eye.

    Note: Zarif means cute in English.

    Posted by Mustap | May 28, 2014, 8:12 am
  15. Mustap,

    Glad HA is being confronted. If they weren’t confronted they would threaten more people than they do now.

    But I don’t think “these HA terrorists” would disappear “in the blink of an eye” unless EVERYONE was on-board.

    Just think what would happen if the US, Europe, Israel, KSA, Jordan and Egypt got together to oust HA from Syria and Lebanon. On paper, such a force COULD accomplish this in “the blink of an eye”.

    So the question is, why couldn’t such a coalition ever take place?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 28, 2014, 12:56 pm
  16. Akbar Palace,

    Such coalition can only come into being if the US led the effort and openly called for it as the Bush(es) did in the last two cases it happened. Theoretically, the remaining powers have the means to achieve the desired outcome, because France and Israel have nukes and the KSA has access to them when it chooses to do so. But what about Russia and China? How would they react in this case? They probably would weigh the cost if they realize the nuke powers are resolved to achieve the goal. They would also weigh in the fact the US may get drawn into the conflict, a scenario they would like to avoid.

    So, you need a credible vocal voice to rally enough nations into the table. Who would it be in this case? I’m thinking France and other Europeans (Britain) should make the call and forget about the US.

    Regarding Saudi targeting of HA sleeping cells, there is a HUGE public support for the measures inside the Kingdom. Saudis are asking the government to do more and uncover other potential Lebanese expatriates and not limiting the investigations to Lebanese Shia as the Saudis realize now other Lebs, such as those of Aoun, are sympathetic to HA and may act as front covers for HA operations. I believe Lebanon will pay dearly for allowing itself to be hijacked by such traitors like the HA’s. The HA has had free rides for quite sometime. Now everything will change. Lebanon relies heavily on income from the Gulf. A Lebanese will wake up ONLY when he gets hurt in the pocket. Time to pay back is NOW.

    Posted by Mustap | May 28, 2014, 2:32 pm
  17. Really?

    Posted by 3issa | May 28, 2014, 5:31 pm
  18. Testing testing,
    MUSTRAP, FACK Yah! Yer rightabout the mercs but yer a hipacret leprechaun

    Posted by Vulcan | May 28, 2014, 6:54 pm
  19. Akbar Palace,

    I think you may find this article interesting,


    This is a first of its kind direct meeting.

    Despite the currently unofficial status of the two persons involved, they both have tremendous clout in their respective countries.

    Posted by Mustap | May 28, 2014, 6:55 pm


    Posted by Vulcan | May 28, 2014, 6:59 pm
  21. Long live the Prince of Arabia

    Posted by Vulcan | May 28, 2014, 7:10 pm
  22. Mustap,

    Your ideas aren’t very popular here. Your supposed to whine and complain and look helpless OR support the wesistance axis against the zionist enema and their jihadist puppets.

    That being said, I would say nothing is going to happen with Obama in office. He doesn’t know how to go on the offensive.

    I appreciate the article. I found it eye-opening. It seems the the Saudi are feeling more uneasy about the current situation than anyone else in the wegion

    Posted by Akbar Palace | May 28, 2014, 9:32 pm
  23. Akbar Palace,

    Popularity among jackass phoenix is not a worthy objective one would care to accomplish.

    Posted by Mustap | May 29, 2014, 12:31 am
  24. When it comes to arming Syrian rebels, I have no doubt who is having the last word.

    Syrian Rebels Describe U.S.-Backed Training in Qatar

    The weapons are believed to have come from Saudi Arabia, but experts on international arms transfers have told McClatchy that they could not have been given to the rebels without the approval of the Obama administration.

    Posted by Badr | May 29, 2014, 1:12 am
  25. Posted by tamer k | May 29, 2014, 8:29 pm

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