Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lebanon Holding 1995 Elections in the Shadow of the Peace Process

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Lebanon Holding 1995 Elections in the Shadow of the Peace Process

Article excerpt

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 Westernstyle 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. …

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