* Illustrations by Sara El-Yafi
** Please make sure you VOTE below! Scroll down to the end of the article for the ballot form.
I am here to make a case for voting for our President through direct suffrage.
Today the Lebanese people cannot choose their heads of states. In fact, we are barely able to elect the 128 members of parliament who are meant to represent us (see barbaric electoral law + endless suspension of barbaric elections), and when not paralyzed by their ineffectiveness, those 128 members have the exclusive power to nominate a President and a Prime Minister. Why them? Because our system is based on the model of the French Third Republic founded on the French Constitutional Laws of 1875 that France generously passed on to us in the fresh years of the 1920s. The laws basically stipulate that the power to elect the President belongs to an electoral college (i.e. the Parliament), not the people… Today, the French have personally moved on from their Third Republic, –twice–, and are currently way into their Fifth Republic where the people have the power to directly vote for their President. The French President then has the jurisdiction to appoint his Prime Minister, as well as his mistress whom he must uniquely visit on a scooter for eco-friendly reasons.
I believe it is high time we too were able to elect our President. While it is true that some first world nations still opt for indirect elections to vote in heads of state, like the US and Germany who both still do it through an electoral college, it is not a beneficial choice for us in any way; in fact, it is detrimental. The electoral institutions of countries like the US and Germany function through the intuitive concept of policy responsiveness where geography and sociology adequately represent the impact of mass opinion on social policy output. We are not the US, nor are we Germany in any way. In our country, the very geographic sectarian division mirrored by the confessionally ridden system naturally produces cross-national variation in every model of electoral college voting. Sectarian geography necessarily results in sectarian votes, which in turn result in the election of sectarian Parliamentarians who control all powers. It is a vicious circle. Thus, the excessive and suffocating powers of the Parliament intensely disarticulate the voices of the people of Lebanon, who from the onset are imprisoned by their stifling geographic locations and religious affiliations. The Parliament’s power must be diluted, not towards religious representation, not towards geographic locations, but towards the people of Lebanon.
It is a dire necessity that we demand the right to directly vote for our President. We need it for the cohesion of our Lebanese nation. There is compelling evidence in the intellectual history of research on what electing their head of state does to the psyche of the people. It empowers them, it involves them and it responsibilizes them. This is the intuitive conception of how a democracy works. You pick your leaders, all of them, you pick the policies that govern you, you raise the stakes through democracy, and you hold them accountable for their promises; promises that they initially engaged in to win your blessing, not some foreign power. Nominees have to campaign for your votes. They have to win your hearts and minds because they work for you. Leaving the nomination of our head of state in the hands of 128 politicians perpetuating the sectarian system, incapacitated most of the time, elected on sectarian basis with a legislated preemptive disposal of occupying “religious seats” and perpetuating their own re-election by controlling and manipulating the election law, is far from being a compelling call for national development, or for the advancement of social cohesion that we so desperately need as a nation. As for solving the democratic problem through parliamentary electoral law reform, it is indeed necessary but it is an uphill battle that will take a long time to resolve due to the fact that the parliamentary electoral law is fundamentally in bed with sectarianism; and sectarianism is a social issue more than it is a political issue that will take more than a few legal reforms to get rid of. We must directly vote for our President. “One person–one vote” across the nation. No religions, no geographically restricted voices, just equal voices for all in one country.
Every political party can present their own candidate, but mostly, independents will freely run for elections without feeling the need to tie themselves to any political force. We must start having live debates on television between the nominees, where we get introduced to their platforms, actual policy plans and articulated visions from which we can choose.
Now you will say, “Doesn’t this need constitutional reform that must pass through the Parliament?” Yes, that’s true. We may not be actually voting for our President anytime soon, but all reforms start with movements, and we need to start that movement now. “Political stalemate” has become too familiar of a phrase, as has the ridiculously insane normality of inefficiency and corruption, not to mention the insufferable acceptance that our awful reality casually includes explosions as a part of our surreal ordinary way of living. That is because all the power rests in the hands of the Parliament, the incapacitated, injurious, and corruption-ridden parliament. Power must be divided, not amongst members of the parliament, not amongst religions, not amongst geographic belongings, but amongst the people. Today, we are waiting for the 128 members of Parliament and their respective “leaders” to come to a consensus about picking a President who actually represents us. You know the drill, the result is bound to be underwhelming.
Let us help them. Let us tell them whom we want as President.
I have created a poll found below, a mock election ballot, to gauge your opinion on whom you believe should be our President. Would the results be representative? No, but this is the beginning of a necessary process. If this gains momentum, this could expand onto a national democracy exercise where the participating sample would be wider, and hopefully more representative. When this is done, we will report it to the news media.
Today there are eight possible Presidential candidates, I have included them below but I have added a ninth option (Other) where you can add your own since this is about you, not them. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor the best, but since these names are the ones currently being “debated” in political circles, let us show them our opinion. If you have any other suggestions, put it in the comment box below. For those who may be unfamiliar with some of the candidates, I have volunteered a short bio for each (found in the tabs below in alphabetical order). Though I fundamentally disagree with the ideology of most of them, I tried my best to fill them with common knowledge, their “positives” and “drawbacks”, the “hearsay” and of course, their zodiac signs. These are by no means complete.
Since I am starting this here, I will go ahead and declare my vote publicly. I vote for Ziyad Baroud; no questions asked. In my humble opinion, this man is wealth for this nation; to know why, kindly read what is written in his bio below.
I will be posting the results on this website. Let’s hear your voice. Vote. Good night, and good luck.[symple_clear_floats]
[symple_tabgroup][symple_tab title=”Bios →“]
Play along. Place your vote below. [/symple_tab]
[symple_tab title=”Michel Aoun”]Michel Aoun
Age: 80 years old
Party: Free Patriotic Movement (March 8)
Former commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army during the civil war, he served as interim Prime Minister of a divided nation from 1988-1990, which ended in his exile to Paris for 15 years. Upon his return after the Cedar Revolution, Aoun founded the Free Patriotic Movement in 2005, which currently constitutes the 2nd largest represented party in the parliament occupying 19 (of 64 possible “Christian seats”) in the 128-seat parliament.
- His positives? He is more secular than others, grew up in a mixed Muslim-Christian neighborhood, which is exemplary for this nation in many ways. He claims to want to fight corruption by bringing to justice all those who have pillaged Lebanon’s resources, which is attractive.
- His drawbacks? “Behavioral politics”, if you know what I mean. Also, he has been criticized for overindulging in the cult of his persona, which has some people questioning his authenticity for public service as opposed to “self service.” Aoun has also upset many with the way he got in bed with the Syrian regime after he struck a partnership with Hezbollah, the same regime that put him in exile. To his contenders, these controversies weaken his above-mentioned strengths because they potentially show that Aoun can forgo national principles for the sake of self-advancement.
- What his friends say about him? Honest, straightforward and a man of the people. His followers believe that his ‘turn-around’ behavior is commendable for it is the only way to surpass the corruption for the higher purpose of Lebanon.
- What his enemies say about him? Bully, delusional and desperate.
- Highlights of his career? His secularism. For some, it is also the Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah.
- Lows of his career? For some, it is the Memorandum of Understanding with Hezbollah. For others, it is “The War of Liberation” (حرب عون ), which resulted in much Lebanese blood on his hands and his exile.[/symple_tab]
Age: 43 years old
Considered one of the more accessible and popular politicians of Lebanon especially amongst the Lebanese youth, Ziyad Baroud served as Minister of Interior in two consecutive cabinets from 2008 to 2011 under both Prime Ministers Siniora and Hariri. A lawyer by formation and an expert on electoral law reform and decentralization, Baroud is a prominent activist in Lebanon’s civil society. Baroud holds a doctorate on the subject of “Decentralization in Lebanon after the Taif Agreement”, a topic that constitutes one of his main subjects of expertise as well as one of the major lobbying points of his political agenda.
- His positives? A real civil servant, par excellence. Baroud is known for his conscientious work ethics, his approachability and his political impartiality. He is a renowned expert on issues of decentralization and electoral law reform, having won international awards spanning some of the highest institutions of the world (see here for the list). As a minister, he is one of the very few, if not the only one, to have pushed forward a culture of direct responsibility and accessibility where he made himself readily available to all Lebanese citizens eager to share complaints and/or opinions, and was extensively present in daily activities of his subordinates. During his tenure, the ministry of Interior achieved records with a large decrease in car accidents, as well as a 77% decrease in car thefts. He is secular, well-learned and very intelligent.
- His drawbacks? He is criticized for being too diplomatic and not voicing his opinion on his haters enough.
- What his friends say about him? That he is the only true honest, clean and national politician in the country. A man of the people, honest as an arrow, secular, diplomatic, astute, hardworking, charismatic, a listener. He is the perfect face for a new, secular, adaptive Lebanon.
- What his enemies say about him? That he always tries to please everybody, and cannot therefore be considered seriously as long as he refuses to take sides in the March 14/March 8 conflict.
- Highlights of his career? Baroud was credited with overseeing Lebanon’s best-managed round of elections to date in 2009, which he orchestrated in one day instead of the conventional four weekends, a record in Lebanese history. This has earned him the First Prize of the very prestigious United Nations Public Service Award where Lebanon was ranked FIRST among 400 government administrations from all over the world by the United Nations Public Administration Network (UNPAN). Furthermore, Baroud is the first government official to ever officially give freedom of choice to Lebanese citizens about revealing their religious affiliation on civil registry documents. Lebanese citizens are now free to cross out their religious identity from all official documents, and replace it with a slash sign (/) if they desire.
- Lows of his career? The dispute that originated after factions of the Internal Security Forces violated his authority and escalated into a 8 – 14 March diplomatic proxy war that was unlawfully fought on grounds belonging to Baroud’s jurisdiction. Baroud, having felt disrespected, immediately handed in his resignation.
Age: 48 years old
Party: Marada (March 8)
Sleiman Frangieh is the son of late politician and militia leader Tony Frangieh, who was assassinated in the ‘intra-Christian’ Ehden massacre in 1978, and grandson of namesake former president Sleiman Frangieh. Following the massacre, 13-year old Sleiman was sent to Syria for protection where he got close with the Assad family, especially Bassel Assad. Today Frangieh remains very close with Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Frangieh is a current member of Parliament, and has been for the past 23 years. He also previously served as a minister six different times during most pro-Syrian administrations, the first one being at the age of 25.
- His positives? His outspoken courage and … his looks? Also, he never sought revenge for his father recounting that “it is in the past and must be forgotten”, which is commendable.
- His drawbacks? Feudal politics, at its best. This is a man who undoubtedly suffered a terrible fate due to his political affiliation, but who is also a product of political affiliation par excellence, which is a thorn in Lebanon’s side; being born into a famous family should not be the main criterion to lead a country. In Frangieh’s specific case, his family affiliation is a national concern for many. Lebanon suffered under Syrian occupation for 30 years and Sleiman Frangieh embraced the Syrian occupation, albeit for personal reasons. Today, he outspokenly supports the Syrian Assad regime of the Syrian civil war, which is unacceptable for many. It is thus believed by his contenders that he cannot possibly lead from a clean slate and does not hold a sterile vision for Lebanon’s sovereignty.
- What his friends say about him? Straightforward, courageous, and apparently quite friendly.
- What his enemies say about him? Syrian minion with a compromised allegiance.
- Highlights of his career? Disbanded his armed militia for the purpose of becoming a political party after the civil war.
- Lows of his career? Not able to transcend feudal politics in order to level with the playing field of national politics.
[/symple_tab] [symple_tab title=”Samir Geagea”]
Age: 61 years old
Party: Lebanese Forces (March 14)
Samir Geagea was a prominent Lebanese militia leader of the civil war where he served as leader of the Lebanese Forces, the then military wing of the Christian Phalange political party. After the war, he served 11 years in jail for crimes he was accused of committing during the civil war; he was tried and sentenced for ordering four political assassinations, which he denied. Some of those crimes include the assassination of Tony Frangieh and his wife, which orphaned the above-mentioned Sleiman Frangieh.
- His positives? 11 years in jail allegedly softened him; he speaks of having brushed shoulders with enlightenment, which is honestly noteworthy.
- His drawbacks? He committed several crimes, which is not a casual point. Furthermore, Samir Geagea plays a heavily sectarian card. His political party is one of the most religiously driven parties, competing only with Hezbollah in terms of religious radicalism. That is not a positive point for all those who support a secular, all-embracing Lebanon.
- What his friends say about him? That he deserves credit for being the only one to have paid his dues for the war with a heavy 11 years in solitary confinement. He is also said to be strong-willed and quite professional in his dealings. He also has an interesting sense of humor.
- What his enemies say about him? “You killed my father, my son, my daughter, my mother, my husband, my wife” you know, stuff like that.
- Highlights of his career? Having come out of jail a reborn person, he admits it, he shows it, hopefully, he will teach about it through non-sectarian and non-political means.
- Lows of his career? The blood on his hands.
Age: 72 years old
Party: Phalange (March 14)
Amine Gemayel was president of Lebanon from 1982 to 1988, and is the current leader of the Christian Phalange party (Kataeb). He hails from one of the most traditional, politically known Maronite families of Lebanon. This is a man who suffered many difficult losses in his life including an assassinated brother, son, and niece. Often contrasted with his younger brother, late Bachir Gemayel, who was deemed the more radical militiaman, Amine was seen as more moderate. However, by many people’s standards, his moderation was still somewhat radical in terms of religious and political positioning. The Phalange party is subsequently criticized for not really having evolved from being a right-wing Christian party with narrow vision for Lebanon, into adopting a more embracing secular leaning.
- His positives? He is cultured and well traveled. He already served as president of Lebanon, so he will die a former president no matter what happens.
- His drawbacks? He plays a sectarian card that does not resound with the voice of a secular, all-embracing Lebanon that many people long for. He’s already been president once, many are not attracted to the idea of recycled presidents.
- What his friends say about him? He has been around long enough and knows the ropes enough that he can deal with Lebanese affairs. He is a proponent of democracy.
- What his enemies say about him? He is sectarian, outdated, not evolved and lackluster.
- Highlights of his career? He was president once and was able to rebalance the party from his brother’s more radical stance to assuage some Lebanese’s bitterness, which was creditable.
- Lows of his career? Out of the desire to stay loyal to his father’s original founded party, he did not evolve enough and adapt into a more secular, forward-looking and adaptive Lebanese party, which results in the dismissal of the Phalanges as being outdated and hardly representative of the modern globalist Lebanese.
Age: 59 years old
General Kahwaji has been the commander in chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces, i.e. the Lebanese military since 2008. The post originally went to Francois Hajj, but he was assassinated in 2007 giving way to Kahwaji’s appointment. Kahwaji is noted for having had extensive experience on the battlefield, having led some of the bloodiest battles of the civil war. This “strict military man” is said to hold the army in solid esteem of political neutrality. He is close with Minister Elias Murr, which could resound negatively to some. If he were elected, he would be the third president in a row to hail straight from the military.
- His positives? He is an industrious man who seems to have climbed the echelons of the army with hard work and perseverance, well, military style.
- His drawbacks? He is a military man. For many, that is not appealing since the political landscape operates differently from a military battlefield to the ignorance of many militaries. Imbued with military dogma, military personnel are more willing to use force to settle disputes than civilians, with authoritative, hierarchical mandates. And the military aura is the least needed in Lebanon.
- What his friends say about him? He is neutral and can manage political pressures well. He is a field soldier’s soldier, committed to the army with an illustrious career.
- What his enemies say about him? He only got the job because he got lucky. They question his qualifications and assert him not competent enough to lead a country. And some say, well, haven’t we had enough militaries?
- Highlights of his career? Uninterrupted upward climbing with a long service record.
- Lows of his career? Well, his job was to slay people in a landscape filled with different political allegiances.
[/symple_tab] [symple_tab title=”Jean Obeid”]
Age: 74 years old
Jean Obeid served as a minister in different cabinets, namely as Minister of State in 1993, Minister of National Education, Youth and Sports in 1996-1998, and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants in late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s last cabinet in 2003. He was also a member of parliament for 16 years. He had a close relationship with late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as the Syrian regime in the 90’s and early 2000’s. He also served as a close advisor to Presidents Elias Sarkis and Amine Gemayel during the civil war. In the past three presidential elections, Obeid was always nominated and even came close to winning the ballot, but consistently lost to the military men.
- His positives? He is seen as a moderate by many and thus, was able to maintain good relations with various political factions in Lebanon.
- His negatives? He served in administrations that were staunchly pro-Syrian regime, which sets him at odds with many in the country. His contenders believe that if he had no problem serving under occupation abiding by Syrian rules, then he hasn’t earned the right to be promoted to the presidency of a country that is struggling to be free.
- What his friends say about him? Very intelligent, tactical and a good friend to many. He refused to show up in Parliament when they had announced President Lahoud’s term extension, which is a strong stance he took against the regime since he was the Foreign Minister at the time. It is said that Obeid has not visited the President of Syria since then.
- What his enemies say about him? A former Syrian ally.
- Highlights of his career? Understands well the basics of diplomacy and thus was able to navigate the rough waters of the divided political tides unscathed. To some, it’s because he compromised sovereignty values, to others he is quite intelligent and chooses wisely when to speak. He also won 34,000 votes in Tripoli when he ran as an independent in the general elections in 2009, which is an impactful deal.
- Lows of his career? He was kidnapped in 1987 during the civil war for 4 days, but was unharmed. On another note, it is said that his former pro-Syrian regime stance may have cost him in popularity. Also, he keeps being considered for the presidency and loses to military men.
Age: 63 years old
Riad Salamé is the governor of Lebanon’s central bank. He was appointed in 1993 for a 6-year term and reappointed for three consecutive terms after that. Today, Riad Salamé is credited with having saved Lebanon from economic recession and monetary explosion. Salamé was late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s private banker. He is known to be a private man, hardly seen in social outings, very intelligent, and helpful to the people.
- His positives? His astute brain. In 2004, he set up a dictate prohibiting banks in Lebanon from engaging in subprime lending and investments, as well as exotic derivatives purchases requiring a minimum 30% cash reserve in each institution. This earned him the valued credit of having spared the Lebanese banking system from the whirlwind of world recession in the greatest credit bubble burst that our world has ever seen, brought about by the upshots of the downfall of Lehman Brothers. He is also credited with having stabilized the Lebanese Lira despite the heavy political turmoil endlessly endured by the nation from the assassinations to the 2006 Israel war and the 2007 North Lebanon war. Salamé’s cautious monetary policies also contributed to a significant increase in Lebanese bank deposits.
- His negatives? Not too well versed in politics. Since he was Rafik Hariri’s private banker, several allegations have been made against him concerning illicit private banking behavior. Granted these allegations are unverified.
- What his friends say about him? That he is one of the smartest men living in Lebanon today.
- What his enemies say about him? That he turned a blind eye on money laundering and sold his soul to certain politicians.
- Highlights of his career? He was voted “Best Central Bank Governor” about ten times within the Middle East and was on a world list as well, with one foreign author went to the extent of calling him “the greatest central banker of our time.” He holds notable world recognition for his economic work, having been acknowledged by Global Finance, Banker Magazine, the New York Stock Exchange, World Union of Arab Bankers, Euromoney, and the French President.
- Lows of his career? Being accused of facilitating money laundering, corruption, dual books of audit/accountancy and money racketeering. As far as he is concerned, these are still unwarranted allegations.
Age: Over 21
Party: All night long
If you don’t agree with any of the eight candidates, you can submit the name of any other person, hopefully a woman, that you believe deserves to be considered as a Presidential nominee. Just pick “Other” in the ballot below and write the name of your choice. You only get one vote though; so if it’s going to your grandmother, she’d better be ready to party all night long.