How President Aoun can increase his powers

Another, more dangerous option that the President has is to resign.
by Bassem Ajami

27 January 2019 | 12:14

Source: by Annahar

  • by Bassem Ajami
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 27 January 2019 | 12:14

Michel Aoun speaks to journalists on October 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: It is apparent that President Michel Aoun is not too happy with the Taif accord. Since the agreement that put an end to the 15-year civil war was approved, he never concealed his disapproval of it. Now, as president, he is exerting all the pressure possible to restore at least some of the powers that the accord stripped from the presidency.

To that end, the president is trying to impose new precedents in the formation of a government, some of which may contradict the constitution. He is aided in this by the designated prime minister, Saad Hariri, who seems passive toward the determination of the president to have his way.

But both men are wrong. Ignoring the constitution and ruling by precedent only confuses the political process, which adds to the divisions in the country.

Conversely, the president has an important option.

The option is to propose a constitutional amendment that reflects his vision. While this is a complicated process, since it demands the endorsement of two-thirds of the members of parliament, it remains the most secure way to enact change.

The challenge for such a move, since it is proposed by the president, will be to avoid brandishing it with a sectarian sense, such as seeking to "restore the rights of the Christians," which is what the foreign minister, Gibran Basil, seems to champion.

Instead, it must create the framework for a healthy debate in the country. Such debate will allow new parameters for the expression of fresh ideas that were not available when the Taif accord was being considered.

Of course, it will be difficult to carry out such a debate in the shadow of an armed group, Hezbollah, and the threat of creating chaos in the streets, as we recently witnessed in the case of the Arab summit.

Yet such a disadvantage may be countered by the moral authority of the president. The president may address the Lebanese people directly, calling upon them, not to agree or disagree with his views, but to engage in a civilized manner in a national debate that could open new horizons for a better future.

Moreover, there are limits to how much military might Hezbollah can deploy to hinder political progress in Lebanon. It may flex its muscles for a week or two, but the Iranian backed party cannot afford to alienate the majority of Lebanese of all sects in order to maintain its imposed hegemony on the country. After an arrogant show of force, its efforts will run out of steam, and the party will be obliged to join a civilized debate with other political actors.

Another, more dangerous option that the President has is to resign. He can declare that he is unable to govern according to the existing constitution and that he is unable to enact plans that are intended to fulfill the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

The disadvantage of such option is that it will create a void in the government and the presidency, and thus leave the country vulnerable to the unknown.

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