BEIRUT: MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement Friday defended its draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote, saying it was aimed at restoring democracy and ensuring proper Christian representation in the country’s top Maronite post.
“We have presented a draft proposal to elect the president by the people based on our right and our belief that the people have the right to elect their president and we want to restore this right to them,” MP Ibrahim Kanaan, a member of Aoun’s parliamentary Change and Reform bloc, told a news conference in Parliament.
“The proposal is democratic and national. It is not a political or individual proposal. Let Parliament assume its responsibility,” he said.
However, the FPM’s draft proposal drew fire from Aoun’s Christian rivals, the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces.
Former President Amine Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, dismissed the proposal as “destructive.”
“With regard to strange and weird proposals made by some for the election of the president by the people, I had made such a proposal 25 years ago and we are today 25 years late on it,” Gemayel said after meeting Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai in Bkirki, north of Beirut. “At that time, the proposal could have been implemented, but today its results are destructive for the Lebanese and for the Christians who need the election of a president.”
Kanaan said the draft proposal provided a permanent solution to the presidential deadlock after Parliament failed for the 10th time in four months to elect a successor to former President Michel Sleiman over a lack of quorum.
“A permanent solution that ensures a proper selection of a president who can fulfill the conditions of representing his sect and ensuring a genuine partnership is by the election of the president directly by the people in two stages,” he said.
Kanaan, flanked by other bloc members, spoke a day after 10 MPs from Aoun’s bloc submitted to Parliament a draft proposal to amend the Constitution to allow the president to be elected directly by the people instead of by lawmakers as stipulated by the Constitution.
He explained that the proposed amendment would be limited to the second clause of Article 49 of the Constitution and did not entail a change of Lebanon’s political system from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.
“The election of the president by the people will not lead to transforming the parliamentary system into a presidential system because this matter requires several constitutional amendments,” Kanaan said.
“For those who claim that amending Article 49 leads to undermining the National Reconciliation Pact, we remind them that this clause has been amended several times over the past 25 years and in a negative way, twice for extending presidential mandates and twice to hold the presidential polls at the last minute,” he added.
Under the proposed amendment, the president would be elected in two rounds of direct voting by the electorate. In the first round, only Christians would vote. But in the second round the whole electorate, both Muslims and Christians, would choose among the two candidates who scored the highest in the first round.
“With these [two rounds of voting], the president’s sectarian and national representation can be secured, thus providing a permanent solution to the problem of Christian participation in power according to the rules of the National Reconciliation Pact,” Kanaan said.
He rejected the argument that the draft proposal was floated after Aoun’s chances to be elected president declined.
“The proposal emanated from an initiative announced two months ago and is not only linked to the election of the president, but also to rectifying democracy and its practice in a sound manner,” Kanaan said.
The proposal, initially put forth by Aoun on June 30, does not stand any chance to be passed in Parliament, after it has been rejected outright by March 14 coalition parties which dismissed it as an attempt to meddle with the Constitution to serve the interest of one person.
Any constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority of the 128-member legislature, which cannot be secured by Aoun’s bloc and his allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 coalition.
Lebanese Forces MP Fadi Karam likened Aoun’s bloc to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), saying that they are “two sides of the same coin.”
“ISIS is causing the exodus of Mosul’s Christians while the Change and Reform bloc is emptying the presidency from a Christian political presence,” Karam said, in response to the bloc’s proposal to allow the president to be elected via a popular vote.
The Change and Reform bloc was trying to “exaggerate threats,” not to benefit Christians or other minorities, but to reinforce their alignment with “dictatorships,” Karam told a news conference in Maarab. “The party exaggerates threats without offering solutions,” he said, arguing that the bloc is at the forefront of blocking solutions.
Karam argued that Aoun’s bloc utilizes the existential threat ISIS poses to Christians as to show that “only the regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon could protect them.”
Future MP Assem Araji said the FPM’s proposal for a constitutional amendment was untimely and would deal a blow the Constitution and the Taif Accord which ended the 1975-90 Civil War.
“Aoun might think that his proposal for direct election of the president by the people would increase his chances, but the Constitution should not be amended for the sake of a single person,” Araji told the Voice of Lebanon Radio station.