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.