Exercise in democracy

Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri casts his vote to elect the new Lebanese president in the parliament building in downtown Beirut April 23, 2014. (REUTERS/Joseph Eid/Pool)

The democratic process in Lebanon was respected Wednesday as 124 out of 128 MPs in the legislature showed up for the presidential polls, although no winner emerged.

The biggest “vote getter” was the blank ballot, as no candidate proved able to command the two-thirds majority needed to become the next president. This was natural, and widely expected, as the various factions engaged in a process of testing the waters and seeing how many votes could be secured by Samir Geagea, the candidate of most March 14 MPs, and Henri Helou, the candidate of centrist figure Walid Jumblatt.

But a handful of MPs opted to cast their ballots for Civil War victims, and only ended up blemishing the session. They ignored the fact that a blanket amnesty for the war was approved by Parliament long ago, and the fact that no side in Lebanon has a clean record when it comes to that long, divisive conflict.

There are many other forums in which objections to certain candidates may be put forward, and a presidential election, broadcast live on satellite television, is not one of them. Moreover, the public might have something to say about a spectacle in which one MP asked for a list of the candidates prior to the vote, in a move – consciously or unconsciously – that highlighted the ad hoc, unstructured process of electing a Lebanese president.

But until needed reform moves materialize, MPs should build on the positive aspects of Wednesday’s vote as they prepare for next week’s follow-up session. Most importantly, they should allow the political considerations of Lebanon’s present and future to prevail, and not dredge up only one side of the country’s problematic past.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2014, on page 7.




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