The chasm between Lebanese politicians and public

The chasm between Lebanese politicians and public
3 min read
03 Jul, 2015
Comment: The plan to hold a referendum among Christian-Maronites about their preferred presidential candidate shows that politicians are out of touch with the public, says Moe Chreif.
Lebanese Christians may vote in a referendum for a head of state [RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Image]

The leader of Lebanon's largest Christian party has proposed that Christians take part in a referendum to choose the country's next president.

The leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, Michel Aoun, says his plan presents a democratic solution to a political impasse in Lebanon which has left the country without a president for more than a year.

The plan is a departure from the norm. Under Lebanon's system of government, the president always comes from the Christian-Maronite community. However, the various factions in government, including Christian groups, have squabbled for more than a year over who should be nominated.

Any referendum would be non-binding and may be ignored by politicians. But it will at least show who is the preferred candidate among the Maronite community.

Auon's idea should not be undermined, but it is how the referendum will be conducted and what it reveals that are matters of concern here.

The Lebanese people want a strong state, the rule of law and the constitution, and functioning institutions, while the politicians place their own interests - and those of their parties - above those of the country.

Aoun's main rival among the presidential candidates, Samir Geagea, has backed the poll. That did not impress many of Geagea's allies in the March 14 coalition, the main rival to Aoun's FPM. Many in the camp view Aoun's proposal as a tactical move to further delay selection.

Amin Gemayel, a former president and another candidate, said that the poll was "a waste of time" and "does not adhere to constitutional norms".

Saad Hariri, a former prime minister, echoed Gemayel's sentiment through his Future parliamentary bloc, which issued a statement saying: "It is important to adhere to the constitution and not slide into any new novelties that aim at inventing new and twisted norms that obstruct the election of a president."

The main issue is not whether or not the referendum will lead to an agreement between the different Christian parties on the name of the next president. The referendum would merely satisfy or reflect some politicians' needs rather than national necessities and public interests.
Most Lebanese want a neutral president who does not belong to any of the feuding camps, who would unite people and bring back prestige and authority to the state.

A referendum that would only involve Lebanese Christians is undemocratic in that it doesn't involve all Lebanese and would reinforce the sectarian political system in Lebanon.

A referendum to choose between two or even four figures from the civil war - the two main rivals battles caused the death of so many people - speaks for itself.

A referendum may undermine the constitution, which states that a president should be elected by members of parliament who represent the whole nation. It may also serve as a precedent that would further paralyse the country each time a decision has to be made that is normally decided by parliament.

The plan shows that Lebanese politicians are out of touch with the public and their needs.

On a positive note, however, conducting a poll may see a healthy shift in politics whereby matters are put in the hands of the citizens, particularly if future referendums would involve the whole of the Lebanese population.