LEBANONESQUE

Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Prez Election: Shocker and Scandal



President Lahoud’s term expires November 22, 2007. In a twist of irony, it's also Lebanese Independence Day.

As we head into the contentious election, people have been at loggerheads interpreting article 49 of the constitution. Do we need a 2/3 quorum to hold the election, or not?

In good Lebanese tradition the Supreme Court is an invisible ghost, while the different sides twist the facts and the law to fit their own agenda. Hezbo-Amal-Aoun being the most egregious “distorters” of the law. M14 says we need a plain quorum, and 2/3 votes to elect on the first round (correct in my view, see here and here).

M8 says: no election without 2/3 present. In other words, no election if they boycott, since they have 1/3 of the MPs. Maronite Patriarch Sfeir, no constitutional scholar, saw it fit to undermine his own side (and not for the first time) by saying that 2/3 were needed.

Article 49 of the constitution (in translation):

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.

Now while one side says 2/3 are needed and the other says no, the Parliamentary Committee for the Modernization of Laws, headed by MP Robert Ghanem says (L’Orient-Le Jour July 17, 2007, behind pay-wall, my translation):

...the text of the Constitution, when it evokes an election in the majority of two thirds at the first ballot, that means, ipso facto, that the quorum of this same meeting is fixed at two thirds of the deputies
Shocker number one: the parliament that is unfit to meet to conduct urgent business according to its Speaker Nabih Berri, is fit to elect a new President and fit to have its committees meet and conduct other business, as long as it's approved by King Nabih.

Shocker number two: Legal reasoning. Genius Robert Ghanem (and committee) added:

The rule is simple. An election with the majority of two thirds requires a quorum of two thirds and an election in the absolute majority requires the presence of half of the deputies plus one.
The rule is simple all right, and Ghanem is a simpleton. The rule requires more votes to be elected the first round of voting (2/3), period. Nothing uncommon there. Yes it’s an attempt at a wider consensus at first, but also a way to avoid having 20 candidates and one guy elected by 12 votes in the first round.

The committee and Ghanem want us to believe that the constitution has TWO quorums in mind, for 2 consecutive votes that usually take place in the same afternoon?

Why is Ghanem a sometime March 14 MP saying this? Because he wants to be nice to the M8-2/3 side and can’t even argue it smartly?

Well as a Maronite he is eligible to be president. And as a bland incompetent weasel, he’s automatically on the short list. I suppose that given the Patriarch's position, and with St-Cloud compromise in the air, Roro Ghanem knows where his butter is.

In my mind, there is a bigger scandal than the various quorum interpretations. The patriarch and others already got us in to the 2/3 danger zone and anyone (legally) elected without a 2/3 quorum will be tainted. However, there’s another scandal in my mind. The vote should be by SECRET ballot and I’ll bet you anything that, come the election, it won’t be secret.

The ballot was not secret in the past nor will it be secret this time around if history is any guide. People who have watched the process before know that when the votes are counted and X is one of the candidates we get:

Mr. X, X the Great, X, President X, Next President X, X Bey, Dear X….


No two ballots are the same so each can be tracked back to an MP. And that’s how our MPs, their allies, those who bought them, and those who threatened them know who voted for whom.

Secret ballot? Freedom of conscience and opinion when voting? Protection thanks to an anonymous process? No way.

Try to interpret that "secret ballot" out of the Article 49. But even that matters little. Our politicians may make the effort to twist the law, but when they can’t, and still don’t like the law, they will do as they please and we will get another flawed election, if any.

5 Comments:

  • At 7/20/07, 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No need to get yourself worked up over this Josey, we already know that the next president of lebanon is going to be hen in a fox lair. There is no real contitution in lebanon...what exists is a piece of paper not the "living law".

    The test will come after the election. We need to get a true democracy and that will only happen when the concept of sect politics dies. Who amongst the current crop of lying thieving cowardly pols has the buydot?

     
  • At 7/22/07, 6:41 AM, Anonymous Abi Lama said…

    Aoun wants to be next President

    Uh-Oh TV
    Lebanese opposition leader Michel Aoun launched his own news channel, OTV. Ya Libnan writes:

    Many analysts expect this channel to be used by General Aoun to promote his presidential aspirations and his political party. It is expected to be a biased source of information for the opposition like Al Manar (Hezbollah channel) and NBN (Nabih Berri news channel).

     
  • At 7/22/07, 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hello Mr. Wales,
    could you please explain me in simple words what is M8's and M14's interpretation of article 49.2? the whole quorum thing has to do with the number of MPs that must be present during the election and not for the number of votes itself?

    is there some sort of a rule regarding the needed number of votes? lets say all 128 MPs would vote, why is the M14 candiddate is likely to win?
    what good will come out for M8 of boycotting the first ballot if M14 will only need an absolute majority in the second round?

    please help me, i'm confused :)

     
  • At 7/22/07, 1:31 PM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    Last Anon,

    Your confusion is understandable given all the distortions and spin.

    The confusion emanates from one's reading of Art 49:

    "The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies."

    The ambiguity comes from: 2/3 majority of what?

    a-2/3 of cast votes.

    b-2/3 of members present at election.

    c-2/3 of the actual total number of deputies making up the Chamber, present or not.

    M14 favors a or b, and claims for electoral college quorum one needs the normal quorum of 50%+1.

    M8 favors c, i.e. to elect in the first round you need 2/3 of the 128 MPs (126 if no partial elections to fill empty seats). In M8 logic to be elected in the first round, you need 86 votes and therefore you have to have 86 or more present.


    IMO, M8 is stretching it by saying you CANNOT have an election without 2/3. Even buying their interpretation: why can't you have an election without 2/3 present, and no one will get 86 votes, and then on to the second round?

    As I said in other pieces, the history of the article argues against the 2/3 quorum, as do articles 73 and 74.

    The latter two articles are meant to automatically call the electoral college 10 days before expiration, and in case of any vacancy of the presidency.

    Those articles are meant as emergency election measures and none of them mentions 2/3 quorum.

    Hope this clears things a bit

     
  • At 7/22/07, 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks you Josey. Much clearer indeed.

     

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