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Lebanon Without a President: A ‘State of No-Urgency’

PJM Beirut: The bad news is that Lebanese parliament has once again failed to elect a president and the country is in limbo after the incumbent president has quit. The good news, according to Jeha, is that the chaos is still limited to the political realm and no shots have been fired. Lebanon's fragile democracy is hanging on - for now.

by
Jeha

Bio

November 25, 2007 - 12:00 am

On the news Friday night, we had an interesting demonstration of the rules of evolution; Lambs can’t spontaneously turn into lions.

As expected, the election was postponed, again. This time past what was supposed to be the deadline. Who said the Lebanese aren’t a resourceful bunch?

As expected, Lahoud, the (last?) Syrian-elected Lebanese President could do nothing more than walk away, back to his favorite swimming pool. Who knew Syria would blink?

By virtue of this last “postponement” the Lebanese parliament has been turned into an electoral assembly, and as such, it can be considered to be always in session until a president is elected, regardless of quorum.

If Hezbo’ and Aoun did not like this group as a parliament, they will hate it as a electoral assembly.

Even if their ally Berri, the speaker of the house, did not admit it, this fact remains – the system still works.

For all its flaws, our system of democracy remains the best in the Arab world… For all our divisions, our diversity imposes a stability of sorts, with no single community being able to durably impose its will on the others. Where else in this Arab would you see a President leave office when his term is up, without imposing the charade of a 99.99 % re-election, or pushing one of his descendants to the throne?

Yes, the system still has some glaring deficiencies, many of our own making. Still, in spite of all the spanners thrown in its workings, some shreds of a system remain.

But it certainly does not help that the might of our neighbours keeps interfering with our little democracy.

Why did they “stay their hand” this time? After all, they appeared to be readying for something, and their minions were scurrying around the place. Hezbo’s Al-Manar TV had been running a little timer that ends November 24th on its propaganda jingles. The night before, during Hezbo’s MP’s farewell visit to Lahoud, they even announced that they considered that the end of his mandate meant the “end of constitutional activity” in Lebanon…

On his way out, Syria’s local Polichinelle could have easily caused some damage. The current Lebanese constitution, improvised as Syria’s grip tightened over us, has enough vagueness to allow many interpretations.

It is based on this vagueness that this past President had considered the current Siniora government to be illegal, after the resignation of its Shiite ministers. This served as a pretext for the (so far) fruitless sit-in organized by Hezbo’, Aoun, and Amal, Berri’s party.

Lahoud, the now ex-president, could have easily made use of this confusion, and appointed an interim Prime Minster. Time will tell why his Syrian masters did not pull that string. The time between now and the Annapolis conference.

What we got instead was a couple of damp squibs. First, we witnessed one last performance of Lahoud’s Pep√© Le Pew imitation, describing the great “accomplishments” of his reign in his falsetto voice. Lahoud’s reign was indeed memorable in that he made the past Syrian-elected incumbent look good, thus making true ex-President Hrawi’s predictions.

Second, we got an announcement of a “state of emergency”, ordering the army to handle security.

The announcement was nothing new; the army has been in a state of emergency for a while. It was reinforced after the events of Nahr El-Bared, with troops and tanks positioned at key junctions. One little thing was added to the mix last Friday; for a short while, I noticed that more personnel was deployed, with units from the Ministry of Interior positioned themselves alongside the army in some key areas.

Many of the Ministry’s troops are “private contractors”, hired mostly from the Sunni community. This was done to avoid the Lebanese system of hiring equally among Sunnis, Christians, and Shiites, and thus sidestep Hezbo’s hold over his community. Their presence may have been here to prevent a repeat of last January, when the army stood aside when demonstrators roamed the streets. This time, there were no demonstrators.

And the street are back to normal, with the same troops milling around the same key posts, and the same oblivious people going about their daily lives.

However, something may still be burning under the cinders.

The Lebanese system’s inertia is such that, if Hezbo’ and his masters did not like the Siniora government, they will hate it even more now.

The one thing clear about the Lebanese constitution is that, in the absence of a president, its powers will transfer to the incumbent government. This means that hundreds of decrees that were blocked by Lahoud can be easily and quietly pushed though by Prime Minister Siniora and his government.

Hezbo’ still has a formidable fighting force, and a large mobilization power. But without presidential cover, will it be able to face the might of Lebanese Bureaucracy?

Jeha lives in Beirut and blogs at Jeha’s Nail

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