President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian children during a visit to the Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, March 22, 2013. (ATEF SAFADI-POOL/GETTY IMAGES)
Lebanese Kurds wave the Kurdish flag and a flag picturing Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during Persian New Year, or Noruz, celebrations in Beirut, March 21, 2013. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lipid (c) with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned his position after being indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, at the Feb. 5 swearing in of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli soldiers take pictures of each other in front of Israel’s illegal apartheid wall near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah, March 30, 2013. Israeli troops earlier had clashed with Palestinian demonstrators commemorating the 37th anniversary of “Land Day.” (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Clay, Babylon, Mesopotamia, after 539 BCE D x H: 7.8-10 x 21.9-22.8 cm British Museum, London, ME 90920 Photo: ©The Trustees of the British Museum
Prosthetic legs for wounded American soldiers at the Center for Intrepid rehabilitation gym at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Aug. 7, 2012. (JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES)
July/August 1995, pgs. 14, 109
Lebanon Holding 1995 Elections in the Shadow of the Peace Process
By Carole Dagher
In the spring of 1995 Lebanon's presidential electoral process began, but without any presidential campaigning taking place. The paradox is typically Lebanese. What it boils down to is a constitutional issue.
President Elias Hrawi, whose six-year term of office ends in November, is credited with wanting to extend his mandate for another three years. In order for him to be able to do so, however, Article 49 of the Constitution, which for him forbids any extension of the presidential mandate, would have to be amended. The parliament, understandably, is reluctant to change the Constitution for the sake of private interests.
President Hrawi himself has been hesitant about opening the question of constitutional change, but for another reason: by making it possible to review Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution, he would open the door for the army commander-in-chief, General Emile Lahoud, to be elected president. This is because Article 49 also expressly forbids senior civil servants and high-ranking officers running for the presidency, unless they have resigned from their positions at least two years previously.
General Lahoud is not running for the presidency and says he does not intend to. But, since he has rebuilt the national army with the support of the U.S. government and technical assistance from the Pentagon, he is viewed by many political leaders and the public as the right leader now that peace is likely to be signed between Israel and Syria and Lebanon.
Furthermore, Lahoud's personal qualities of honesty and patriotism are publicly recognized and stand out clearly in the gloomy picture of clientalism and cupidity that characterize the current political class.
This is why, in the race for the presidency, President Hrawi fears that if Article 49 is amended, it could produce a stronger competitor.
The feeling is shared by other would-be candidates, who believe they would have no chance if the Constitution were revised to lift the ban on election of the commander-in-chief as president.
President Hrawi has advocated only the amendment of the second paragraph of the article, which is related to his own eligibility, and not the third paragraph, which concerns Lahoud's eligibility.
But parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri undertook a "survey" of all members of parliament as well as political and religious leaders to see whether he should call a special parliamentary session to amend Article 49. The results showed that a majority of the deputies favored an amendment of both the clauses in Article 49 which affect both President Hrawi and General Lahoud. This position is interpreted by most observers as favoring General Lahoud, since many deputies have expressed clear opposition to any extension of President Hrawi's mandate.
Monsignor Nasrallah Sfeir, the Patriarch of the Maronite Christian community, whose opinion is important since the president of the republic is traditionally Maronite,1 has linked amendment of Article 49 to the amendment of other articles of the constitution, as set forth at the Taif conference of 1989.
According to the Maronite Patriarch, the constitution of what became, after Taif, the Second Republic has destroyed the regime by weakening the president's prerogatives and encouraging the emergence of a troika consisting of the president, the prime minister, and the speaker, whose episodic differences paralyze the institutions of the state. The Maronite Patriarch therefore did not oppose the amendment of the Article 49.
Opening the Door of Power
Although Lahoud inspires respect among political leaders, questions have been raised about the sagacity of opening the door of power to the military establishment, especially since Lebanon is the only Western-style democracy in the Arab world.
Lahoud supporters argue that the assumption of a military man to the presidency doesn't mean he will bring the whole army with him. They cite General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the U.S. and General Charles De Gaulle in France as capable presidents who ruled their countries democratically.
After his consultations, Berri visited Damascus to share the results of his "survey" with President Hafez Al-Assad. As he told the Syrian leader of the opposition of a parliamentary majority to extending President Hrawi's mandate, he was surprised to discover that this option was favored by the Syrian president and, especially, by Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam.
This seemed to some Lebanese like a dual Syrian position. Suleiman Franjieh Jr., grandson of former Lebanese President Suleiman Franjieh, is a minister in the present government and a representative of northern Lebanon in parliament. He was also very close to Basil, the late son of President Assad, and is close to Bachir, Assad's other son. Since Franjieh strongly supports General Lahoud's candidacy, many had interpreted this support as a direct message from Bachir Assad, and thus from President Assad himself.
In view of the complexities that were unveiled by the parliamentary consultations in Lebanon, President Assad decided to postpone any decision regarding the Lebanese presidential elections.
The constitutional deadline for the Lebanese parliament to meet and change Article 49 was the end of May. Speaker Berri and President Assad agreed instead that the question could be raised next October, at the opening of parliament's fall session. So Berri returned to Beirut with no definite settlement of the fate of Article 49. At the same time, the race is open to all other Maronite candidates.
In the wake of the Assad-Berri meeting, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri rushed to Damascus to explain to the Syrian president that his government needed reshaping in order to boost his efforts to stabilize the Lebanese economy. The political uncertainty accompanying the presidential controversy had had a negative financial effect, and the Bank of Lebanon was intervening on the exchange market, injecting up to $40 million per day to defend the value of the national currency. Hariri, who favored presidential elections, said he needed a reinforced ministerial team to hold the line until October, when the elections would take place.
Because he was given a green light by President Assad, he resigned and was designated again to head a new government, composed mostly of his direct political and economic associates. Nonetheless, there is a general feeling that because the new "Hariri government" is only a transitional one, it will make little difference.
Given the ongoing peace negotiations between Syria and Israel, and Hezbollah attacks against the Israeli "security zone" in southern Lebanon, most Lebanese want a decisive, credible and honest man as the head of state.
According to one high-level source at the U.S. State Department, what is needed for the next era is "a man with one word and authority, who can commit himself and who can extend the central government's authority to all Lebanese territory and maintain security." Added the U.S. official, on condition of anonymity, "The army is the key instrument for the restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty and independence."
Other candidates besides Hrawi and Lahoud are viewed as "candidates of compromise," says one official. He adds, "Lebanon has suffered from too much compromising."
Many political observers also think that President Hrawi's chances of extending his mandate will increase in case there is no breakthrough in the Syrian-Israeli negotiations in 1995. In that case, Syrian President Assad will need to rely on his faithful ally, Hrawi, to stabilize and control Lebanon's political scene and to prevent any major regional setback from affecting Syria's gains in Lebanon.
In any case, one of the main questions raised by the presidential issue in Lebanon is the extent of U.S. involvement this time. The last American involvement in Lebanese presidential elections dates back to 1988. Richard Murphy, who was then assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, initiated a mediation between Lebanon's main leaders and Syria in order to find a "candidate of compromise," who would be accepted by all parties. The resulting "Murphy-Assad agreement," summarized by the phrase "Either Mikhael Daher or Chaos,"2 was viewed by the Christians as a Syrian-American diktat and thus rejected. Chaos it brought, as Murphy predicted, since no elections took place and General Michel Aoun, the commander-in-chief of the army, was designated to head a military cabinet of transition, whose mission was to pave the way for a presidential election as soon as possible.
Instead, General Aoun launched a "war of liberation" aimed at ejecting Syrian forces from Lebanon, despite U.S. cautions. General Aoun didn't have the means to win that war, and the Taif conference was the result of it. It was at the Taif conference that the constitution was completely revised by the assembled deputies and the Second Republic was born.
In 1995, U.S. officials are unwilling to go out on a limb in Lebanese politics. They prefer to delegate this task to the Syrians, whose cooperation is vital to the peace process. Said one U.S. National Security Council official, "I don't think we will intervene this time. We will not repeat our failed 1988 experience. But we will make it clear to all the parties that we would like to see an electoral process take place and a president elected with the approval of the majority of the people." So if Syria is the Big Elector in Lebanon, the U.S. administration reserves for itself a right of veto on the choice of the next Lebanese president.
The Lebanese are aware that their elections, and especially the profile of the future president, are directly linked to the peace process in the Middle East, more particularly to the Syrian-Israeli negotiations. The next president of Lebanon will be required to sign a peace with Israel, if Syria and Israel reach an agreement, and to disarm the Hezbollah militiamen after the Israelis have committed themselves to a total withdrawal from southern Lebanon. He should also be able to control the situation in case the Syrian army redeploys to the Bekaa valley, in accordance with the Taif agreement, and prevent any disturbances or military activities that would threaten Syria's interests and destabilize the region.
In other words, the upcoming president will have to enjoy a certain credibility on the international level, so as to reassure Americans, Syrians and Israelis in a forthcoming era of peace that Lebanon will not be a safe haven for agitators and will present no threat to any vital interest of the outside powers that today hold Lebanon's fate in their hands.
1According to the unwritten national covenant of 1943, the year of Lebanon's independence, the president of the republic is Maronite, the prime minister is Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament is Shi'i Muslim.
2Mikhael Daher was the candidate agreed upon by Syria and the U.S.
Carole Dagher, a Lebanese journalist, is the author of a book, published in Arabic and French editions, on the Mideast peace process.