Presidential Election: Sfeir versus Safadi
In Lebanon everyone; no matter the specialty, experience, or education, is an expert on everything. Most recently the Lebanese are now all experts on constitutional law. Who can blame them when the supreme court/council is nowhere to be found (yes, there is one).
From the Patriarch to the Mufti to the Sheik, from Lahoud to Berri, from the wiser Abu Stef and Abu el-Abd, they all have judicial opinions on article 49, the key article about presidential election procedure. (I'll try to cover other views later, this note focuses on Sfeir and Safadi.)
Article 49 of the constitution (in translation):It’s not very complicated but the article is not explicit on the quorum question, i.e. the minimum number of MPs needed to proceed with the election. The quorum is usually a simple majority of the members or 65 MPs (128 seats total).
The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient.
Currently M14 has 68 MPs and therefore has over the minimum required to have both a quorum and to elect its own candidate, if there are no defections. (I’ve argued before that that is the correct interpretation of article 49).
The opposition Hezbo-Amal-Aoun says that 2/3 of the MPs are needed to hold an election. In other words they say 86 MPs need to be there or no election. The opposition controls over 1/3 votes and so (surprise!), according to their interpretation, no election could obtain without their presence.
The 2/3 election quorum has almost been mooted however, by Maronite Patriarch Sfeir (closer to M14) and by the Tripoli Safadi group (an M14 sub-group with 4 MPs). Sfeir (wrongly) pulled the moral carpet from under M14. Safadi has the 4 MPs needed to force a 2/3 quorum, at least for a while.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir said Monday that constitutional articles "clearly" specify that a two-thirds quorum is needed to elect the next president.Sfeir is wrong on the law but his opinion matters. I think Sfeir is wrong on the politics too, further opening the door to sabotage attempt by Hezbo-Aoun. I think Sfeir has been making one bad call after another recently.
In the aftermath of the St-Cloud meeting, Mohammed Safadi, an MP and minister in the Saniora cabinet, said he wouldn’t participate in the election without a 2/3 quorum. He and his group (4MPs) would however participate, even without 2/3 quorum, if there were no new president with 10 days to expiration of the term of the current clown. (L'Orient-Le Jour, July 19 2007, link good one day)
I don’t know much about Safadi and his bloc. However on the election issue, Safadi is not giving a legal opinion, which should be left to the high court, but he is stating what he will do. That is his prerogative and perfectly legal.
Furthermore Safadi's position is actually very defensible: trying to get a wide consensus while at the same time clearly refusing outright sabotage of the election.