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In Support Of A Wave Of Optimism In Lebanon


The Daily Star 11/12/2016

In April of this year 2016, ALF saw a “potentially unifying feature in the March 14 sacrificing their right to try to elect one of their own and deferring to March 8 to take the Presidency of Lebanon”. We called on the dialogue leaders to pressure and convince members of Parliament to respond to the Speaker’s call for an election session and vote democratically to choose one of the two March 8 candidates: M. Aoun or S. Frangieh. Six months later something better happened. PM Saad Hariri, realizing that his support to Frangieh could not help attain the desired goal of insuring a reasonable timing to end the vacuum, shifted his support to Aoun after reaching an agreement with him on a potentially unifying plan. An election took place on October 31, 2016 and more than 80 members of Parliament voted for General Aoun, while around 40 voted with blank ballots. If we analyze the whole process, it may not represent the perfect Jeffersonian democracy, but it was still democracy nevertheless, superior to almost any other one currently available in the Arab World. Further, it helped perpetuate the peace and stability in the “Oasis we earlier called for its preservation”. We are gratified that the newly elected President, Michel Aoun, spoke of “safeguarding the country as an Oasis of Peace, Stability and Encounter” before reaching the midway point of his uplifting inaugural address! 

ALF is now wishing strong success for the new opportunity in Lebanon’s history. It may be naïve to have such optimistic hope, considering all the present divisions and difficulties both internally and externally. However, it looked naïve to focus earlier on the Oasis nature of Lebanon at a time the neighborhood looked more and more explosive. It may also have been naïve to call and hope for a democratic presidential election, after two years of vacuum, about three dozen failed election attempts, and in the absence of any internal or external new element to facilitate or bring the “secret message” that will make it happen. 

The election has now happened and brought to the position a strong, experienced and proven leader. Although for a good stretch, he was a key player in the March 8 alliance, in his quest for the presidency, he insisted that: he wanted to be elected as a consensus or unity candidate. He made several attempts to reach agreement with previous prime minister and head of the future movement Saad Hariri and key spokesman for the March 14 alliance. Finally, this October, after two and half years of vacuum, a credible agreement was reached and Lebanon now has a high caliber president. On the way to this great victory, President Aoun was miraculously able to keep his alliances with Hizballah and the Lebanese Forces and preserve their support, despite the divergence of their political philosophy. We feel that all Lebanese and friends of Lebanon, in or outside the country should now all do, what each one can, to help their new President and Prime Minister be a symbol of Lebanese unity and facilitate for them to start addressing and solving the difficult problems that Lebanon is confronting. 

The first thing to achieve is the prompt formation of a cohesive, competent and clean government that could start addressing, limiting and diminishing corruption in a fair approach, while avoiding to antagonize or challenge any special sect or political group. The desire for speed in the formation of the new government should not overshadow the importance of quality, credibility, cohesiveness and the ability to reassure and satisfy the divergent supporters, while preserving an image of national unity. The possibility of a so called “government of technocrats” should not be ruled out. The new president should attempt to implement some of his old established principles such as the separation between parliamentary and ministerial positions. The respect of such principles may facilitate the formation of a government which will satisfy divergent groups, while limiting tension and antagonism. 

After formation of the new government, corruption should still be an early target to attack. There is enough corruption that it should not be difficult to carefully and properly address problems without any discrimination or even appearance of such. This matter will take time, but any smart and delicate start will increase people’s confidence in the new presidential term and will make it easier for a new government to successfully address the more sensitive and divisive issues. If it is needed to choose a subject as a starter of the anticorruption initiative, we would say the solution of the garbage problem may be an ideal target. A consensus between Aoun and Hariri with the tacit knowledge of Speaker Berry will make it easy for any government to find a credible and successful solution based on the known science applicable to the small country, and the available financial resources. 

As to the more challenging issues that need urgent attention, the Syrian Refugee problem should have very high priority. The task should be assigned to an intelligent, tactful and independent minister who needs to be authorized to talk to any government or agency that may have a say or influence. He or she should be given a reasonable time limit to present a plan acceptable to the President and the Prime Minister, that could be then presented to the Parliament. Any reasonable solution or plan may take time to implement, but any acceptable start will invigorate and launch the new Lebanese era with much credibility and enthusiasm. 

A new electoral law needs also to be urgently agreed upon. Our ALF board believes that the single district principle may be the best pathway to a fair and representative parliament. We realize however that the current Lebanese leadership may not be ready for that yet. They do not believe that such districting is possible, although two credible plans have been proposed in the past. We therefore suggest that whatever law may be considered, the focus should be on favoring the smallest possible districts, so that the citizen may know the person on the ballot. We know that there is polarization between those who want the proportionality principle and those who insist on the majoritarian choice. Since it may not be possible to reach an acceptable choice between the two principles before the dead line for the new elections, we suggest that the new government takes another look at the law recommended by the Fouad Boutros Committee, which combines the two principles. Some adjustments or amendments may need to be done to make it acceptable to all concerned. 

Another issue that needs relatively urgent attention is the legislation and arrangements for the development and extraction of the Lebanese maritime energy resources. The responsibility should be entrusted to the most competent and most knowledgeable talent available in Lebanon, disregarding sect or political allegiance. These resources belong to all Lebanese and should be developed promptly before enemies find a way to siphon and steal significant proportion. Faster extraction will help Lebanon pay its debts and expand and invigorate its economy. 

We have no desire to intrude or meddle in so much more that needs to be done in many areas. However, we believe that a good start will launch the new alliance towards a great future. We want however to remind all leaders and citizens that a lot of patience, sacrifice and patriotism will still be very much needed, to secure the success and full potential of this new term in Lebanon’s history.


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