Let the people decide

The system is broken; it’s time for something new

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman reviews the honor guard as he leaves the presidential palace in Baabda on May 24, 2014
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman reviews the honor guard as he leaves the presidential palace on May 24, 2014

In 1811, French philosopher Joseph de Maistre wrote that “every nation gets the government it deserves.” Clearly, our nation deserves better than what it has at the moment. Parliament has yet again failed the Lebanese people by not electing a president before the expiration of Michel Sleiman’s term. One role of MPs is to deliberate, nominate proper candidates and vote for the right person to lead the country. They have to date had six sessions to elect the president, the majority of which were canceled for lack of quorum. They have proven once more that they favor their personal gains and cannot get over their political bickering to represent the people’s will.

This is the second presidential election in a row in which parliamentarians have proved incapable of electing a head of state. Indeed, it took the parliament no less than six months to find a replacement to Emile Lahoud — whose presidency ended on November 23, 2007 — because the two political blocs were unable to agree on a candidate. The vacuum only ended after violent armed clashes led the country’s leaders to finally compromise, finding an agreement in Doha at the end of May 2008 that paved the way for Michel Sleiman’s election.

And here we are, six years later, facing the same deadlock. The current system is clearly not working for the Lebanese people. However, it appears to work perfectly well for the politicians holding the country hostage. This is why choosing the president should no longer be left to them. The system requires a complete overhaul.

Direct presidential elections would be better for Lebanon for four reasons. First, potential candidates would have to make their candidacy official to the wider public. The contenders would need to convince the voters that they are the best candidate for the job — and answer tough questions in public fora. They would need to present legitimate platforms as well. Boasting about their family lineage and closeting wartime records would no longer be enough.

Second, one person would count for one vote. The president is the Lebanese people’s lead representative. Even though a Maronite currently fills this position, the president should not represent only their sect but the whole of the people.

Third, electing a president by direct suffrage would give more legitimacy to the person elected. And finally — and most importantly — the people could hold their president more accountable for his actions. Taking part in the election process will change people’s behavior by making them stakeholders in the process, hopefully more concerned with the head of state’s triumphs and blunders. The Lebanese people would finally be the masters of their own fate.

What would the worst case scenario be if Lebanon held popular presidential elections? Not having a president? Deadlock? Sectarianism? Violence? These are already reliable byproducts of the current system.

We can no longer accept national paralysis every six years. Temporary solutions through backroom deals do nothing to fix this dysfunctional system. It is time to end the system entirely. If not, we will still be facing the same problems in 2020.

Lebanon deserves better.