For the love of Lebanon, elect a president

26 May 2016 | 19:05

Lebanon "commemorates" today the two year anniversary since it last had a President.

Notre Dame University recently marked the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More's Utopia. Erasmus thought More's genius was "such as England never had and never again will have." But beyond his national importance to my country, I think Thomas More is relevant to modern-day Lebanon.

What is Lebanon's Utopia? Today's Presidential vacuum is an unwelcome reminder of the blockages in the sectarian system which can paralyze and weaken the state. Undoubtedly, Lebanon's Utopia must be based on co-existence. However the key thing is this: those who want to preserve a form of co-existence should want a strong state. Because a system that does not deliver jobs, public services or the rule of law is not, in the long run, viable. That means democratic accountability and legal checks and balances that go beyond the mathematical division of the state and its spoils on sectarian lines. It means a system that is not paralyzed by sectarian rivalry and works for the interests of the Lebanese.

Electing a President matters. Lebanon has stayed stable thanks to the resilience and flexibility of its people, the outstanding work of some key Lebanese institutions, and the growing international support it has received. But the vacuum is eroding the pillars of the state. It's harder for the government to take necessary decisions, especially on security and economic priorities. As a result, key economic reforms are drifting, and it is a challenge for Lebanon to seize the major opportunities after the London conference to develop large-scale infrastructure projects which can create jobs and boost the economy.

The current municipal elections are one welcome opportunity to refresh the democratic process. But they do not substitute for the election of a President, or for Parliamentary elections, with the widest possible participation (both of candidates and voters). It is not for me to say what kind of electoral law, what kind of institutional reforms are needed. But I sense throughout the country that the model of "plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose" is exhausted.

How to pursue the national Utopia is often a matter of fierce political debate and difficult change. Leaders have a responsibility to protect and strengthen the co-existence that Lebanon represents by coming together, through compromise, around an agreed way forward. It is time for the Lebanese to have a country that reflects the dynamism and creativity of its people, and that flourishes again as a model of successful co-existence and a unique gateway between the West and the Middle East.

It is time for Lebanon to have a President.

Hugo Shorter is the British Ambassador Designate to Lebanon.

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