BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun proposed Monday that the Constitution be amended to allow the Lebanese people to vote for their head of state, drawing criticism from his political rivals as his allies continue their reticence on his presidential bid.
“I suggest a limited constitutional amendment that allows the presidential election to be decided by the people directly over two rounds,” Aoun said Monday at a news conference.
Aoun suggested that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two candidates then facing a public poll open to voters of all sects.
Aoun said a direct election would prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future by eliminating the need for a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament or a two-thirds quorum with an absolute majority.
The presidency, which has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman’s term ended on May 25, is reserved for a Maronite Christian under the National Pact of 1943 that governs Lebanon’s political power-sharing.
Aoun resurrected his previous proposal for a new parliamentary electoral law under which each religious group would elect its own members of Parliament.
Aoun complained that under the current law, Christian MPs were being elected by Muslims, leading to losses by his party in the last round of elections because Muslim voters “come in one bloc.”
“This is not fair,” he continued, adding that “Christians are not well represented” and this violated the National Pact and Christians’ right to parity with Muslims.
“When every religious group elects its own officials, we are ensuring justice and fair representation,” he said.
Aoun’s proposal, dubbed the “Orthodox Gathering draft law” when he first proposed it last year, drew criticism at the time from those who derided it as unconstitutional and feared it would lead Lebanon to become more sectarian.
Aoun denied such claims at Monday’s conference, saying “confessionalism is the basis of the Lebanese [political] system ... and implementing justice inside the system prevents any sect’s domination over another.”
Aoun also addressed claims the FPM was disrupting the presidential election, telling the public: “You have lived for 24 years in a presidential void ... It is time to end this void. We are trying to wake you up.”
The FPM leader cited a statistical study by Abdo Saad, according to which 86 percent of the Lebanese people support his initiative.
The stalemate over the electoral law last year caused elections to be postponed until this fall, with Parliament extending its own mandate by 17 months.
Aoun’s proposal drew a flurry of negative reactions from the March 14 movement, as his allies in Hezbollah and the Amal Movement remained tight-lipped, voicing neither support nor opposition to the proposition.
Future Movement MP Ahmad Fatfat called Aoun’s proposal “strange” as well as “un-serious and impractical.”
“This is not an exit from the crisis, it is a complication,” he told The Daily Star, adding that no amendments can be made to the Constitution while Parliament’s mandate has been extended. He said now was not the time to question the entire Lebanese political system.
Regarding Aoun’s proposal for a new parliamentary law, Fatfat said the draft law has “already been rejected.” He went on to question why Aoun would support direct election for the presidency only, and not the other top positions such as the speaker and the prime minister.
Fatfat also dismissed the theory, put forth by some analysts, that Aoun is demanding the impossible in order to push his rivals to “compromise” by backing his presidential bid.
“He knows [direct election] is impossible, and he also knows it is impossible for him to become president,” Fatfat said.
Separately, Future Movement MP Ammar Houri told Future Television that the Constitution cannot be amended at this time, emphasizing that the priority should be on electing a new president.
Future’s Christian allies also made clear their opposition to the proposal, with most echoing Fatfat’s concern over making Constitutional amendments during an extraordinary Parliamentary term.
“Aoun is clearly saying: enjoy these long months of vacancy because I didn’t become president,” said Lebanese Forces MP Antoine Zahra, appealing to Aoun’s allies not to put the former general’s ambitions above the welfare of the country.
The Kataeb party responded with a statement in which it said the proposal would “exacerbate the crisis and the [effects of] the vacancy [in the presidential palace].”
It also added, sarcastically, “out of concern for the rights of all sects and ensuring equality, the Kataeb party asks: why not use General Aoun’s mechanism for electing a president to also choose the speaker and prime minister?”
The party called the “obstruction” of the presidential election a blow to national security, and called for dialogue and cooperation among the Lebanese factions.
Information Minister Ramzi Joreige, for his part, who is considered close to the Kataeb, said it was “illogical” to hold parliamentary elections before the presidential poll, as suggested by Aoun.
“How can we ignore all these constitutional issues and hold parliamentary elections in this environment?” he told the Voice of Lebanon radio. “And if a new Parliament is elected [before a president], who will hold the necessary parliamentary consultations on behalf of the president, the current council of ministers? I don’t think this is possible.”
If a new Parliament is elected, the Cabinet immediately loses its mandate, the minister explained, and another caretaker government would only exacerbate the power vacuum in the government.
Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb accused Aoun of threatening to paralyze the government if he is not elected president, likening him to a lovestruck youth who threatens to kill the girl he loves if he is not allowed to wed her.
“If the aim is to strike down the Taif Accord and return to a majority rule in our decisions and institutions, I do not think anyone will agree to this step, neither Christians nor Muslims, and not the political parties which are aware of the sacrifices made for us to reach the Taif,” Harb said.