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Aoun proposes direct presidential election

MP Michel Aoun speaks during a news conference in Rabieh, north of Beirut, Monday, June 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow the Lebanese people to directly elect the head of state.

"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 vote-getters then facing a vote by all of the Lebanese public.

Aoun said a direct election would prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future. Most importantly, Aoun explained, Parliament would need neither a two-thirds majority vote nor a two-thirds quorum with an absolute majority to elect a president.

The presidency, which has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman's term ended May 25, is reserved for a Maronite Christian under the National Pact of 1943 that governs Lebanon's political power-sharing.

Aoun also called for a new electoral law under which each religious group would elect its own members of Parliament, saying that under the current law, Christian MPs were being elected by Muslims.

Aoun said that his party lost in the last elections in many districts because Muslim voters "come in one bloc" and vote for the opposite party.

"This is not fair," he continued, "Christians are not well represented."

The March 8-aligned FPM head called on March 14’s Christian parties “to choose whether [they want] to represent Christians, or another sect.”

“Only 17 [Christian] MPs are elected by Christians ... while 24 MPs are selected by a Muslim weighting,” Aoun added, saying this was a breach of the National Pact and Christians’ right to parity with Muslims.

"The parity between Christians and Muslims is violated by the current law," he said. "But when every religious group elects its own officials, we are ensuring justice and fair representation."

"We are calling for our rights, not offending any other sect, just demanding the Christians' rights in front of the Parliament and the public opinion," he added.

Aoun’s proposal was put forward as the “Orthodox Gathering draft law” in the debates last year over a new electoral law. Many voices raged against the proposal at the time, saying it was unconstitutional and would lead to more sectarianism in Lebanon.

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.”

Former President Michel Sleiman had slammed the proposal as unconstitutional, saying that MPs should “represent the nation” as mentioned by the Constitution, not one religious community.

Separately, addressing “the media campaigns blaming [the FPM] for disrupting the presidential elections, Aoun said:

“You have lived for 24 years in presidential void, not just starting May 25. It is time to end this void, so we are trying to wake you up.”

The Reform and Change bloc’s leader cited a statistical study by Abdo Saad, according to which 86 percent of the Lebanese people support his initiative.

Last year, Parliament extended it term by 17 months after the rival parties failed to agree on a new electoral law and refused to hold the elections under the current 1960 election law.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for this fall, but with Parliament paralyzed by boycotts tied to the stalled presidential election, their fate remains unclear.

Aoun's proposal was panned by the March 14 Christian parties.

"Aoun is proposing a complete change to the entire [political] system, from Parliament to the presidency, both in form and content, during a vacancy in the presidency and an extraordinary session of Parliament," said LF MP Antoine Zahra, who called the proposal unconstitutional.

"Aoun is clearly saying: enjoy these long months of vacancy because I didn't become president," he continued, appealing to Aoun's allies not to put Aoun's personal ambitions before the welfare of the country.

The Kataeb party also responded with a statement following a meeting of its leadership, echoing Zahra's concern over introducing Constitutional amendments during an exceptional Parliamentary session.

"Exiting this crisis should not mean getting out by way of a crippling proposal, which would actually exacerbate the crisis and the [effects of] the vacancy [in the presidential palace]," the statement said.

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 Aoun's proposal was "illogical."

"Both the letter and spirit of the Constitution dictate that Parliament is the voting body that elects the president of the republic, and it cannot legislate except in exceptional cases, such as the salary scale," he told the Voice of Lebanon radio. "So how can we ignore all these Constitutional issues and hold parliamentary elections in this environment? And if a new Parliament is elected, 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 council of ministers immediately loses its mandate, he explained, and another caretaker government would only exacerbate the power vacuum in the government.

 

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Summary

Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun proposed that the Constitution be amended to allow the Lebanese people to directly elect the head of state.

Aoun suggested that Christians would vote in a first round, with the top two vote-getters then facing a vote by all of the Lebanese public.

Aoun said a direct election would prevent a presidential vacuum from occurring in the future. Most importantly, Aoun explained, Parliament would need neither a two-thirds majority vote nor a two-thirds quorum with an absolute majority to elect a president.

The presidency, which has been vacant since former President Michel Sleiman's term ended May 25, is reserved for a Maronite Christian under the National Pact of 1943 that governs Lebanon's political power-sharing.

Aoun also called for a new electoral law under which each religious group would elect its own members of Parliament, saying that under the current law, Christian MPs were being elected by Muslims.

Separately, addressing "the media campaigns blaming [the FPM] for disrupting the presidential elections, Aoun said:

Aoun's proposal was panned by the March 14 Christian parties.


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