President of Lebanon

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President of the
Lebanese Republic
رئيس الجمهورية اللبنانية (Arabic)
Incumbent
Vacant
since 31 October 2022
StyleHis Excellency
TypeHead of State
ResidenceBaabda Palace
AppointerParliament
Term length6 years,
non-renewable immediately but renewable non-consecutively
Constituting instrumentConstitution of Lebanon
Formation1 September 1926
First holderCharles Debbas
Salary£L225,000,000 annually
WebsiteOfficial website

The president of the Lebanese Republic (Arabic: رئيس الجمهورية اللبنانية, romanizedRa’īs al-Jumhūriyyah al-Lubnāniyyah) is the head of state of Lebanon. The president is elected by the parliament for a term of six years, which cannot be renewed immediately because they can only be renewed non-consecutively. By convention, the president is always a Maronite Christian who fulfills the same requirements as a candidate for the house of representatives, as per article 49 of the Lebanese constitution.[1]

History[edit]

French mandate[edit]

The first Lebanese constitution was promulgated on 23 May 1926, and subsequently amended several times. Modeled after that of the French Third Republic, it provided for a bicameral parliament with Chamber of Deputies and a Senate (although the latter was eventually dropped), a president, and a Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The president was to be elected by the Chamber of Deputies for one six-year term and could not be reelected until a six-year period had elapsed; deputies were to be popularly elected along confessional lines.

A custom of selecting major political officers, as well as top ranks within the public administration, according to the proportion of the principal sects in the population was strengthened during this period. Thus, for example, the president ought to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. A Greek Orthodox and a Druze would always be present in the cabinet. This practice increased sectarian tension by providing excessive power to the Maronite president (such as the ability to choose the prime minister), and hindered the formation of a Lebanese national identity.[2] Under the Constitution, the French high commissioner still exercised supreme power, an arrangement that initially brought objections from the Lebanese nationalists. Nevertheless, Charles Debbas, a Greek Orthodox, was elected the first president of Lebanon three days after the adoption of the Constitution.

At the end of Debbas's first term in 1932, Bishara al-Khuri and Émile Eddé competed for the office of president, thus dividing the Chamber of Deputies. To break the deadlock, some deputies suggested Shaykh Muhammad al Jisr, who was chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Muslim leader of Tripoli, as a compromise candidate. However, French high commissioner Henri Ponsot suspended the constitution on 9 May 1932, and extended the term of Debbas for one year; in this way he prevented the election of a Muslim as president. Dissatisfied with Ponsot's conduct, the French authorities replaced him with Count Damien de Martel, who, on 30 January 1934, appointed Habib Pacha Es-Saad as president for a one-year term (later extended for an additional year).

Émile Eddé was elected president on 30 January 1936. A year later, he partially reestablished the Constitution of 1926 and proceeded to hold elections for the Chamber of Deputies. However, the Constitution was again suspended by the French high commissioner in September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II.

During World War II when the Vichy government assumed power over French territory in 1940, General Henri Fernand Dentz was appointed as high commissioner of Lebanon. This new turning point led to the resignation of Lebanese president Émile Eddé on 4 April 1941. After five days, Dentz appointed Alfred Naqqache for a presidency period that lasted only three months. The Vichy authorities allowed Nazi Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. Britain, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon.[3]

After the fighting ended in Lebanon, General Charles de Gaulle visited the area. Under various political pressures from both inside and outside Lebanon, de Gaulle decided to recognize the independence of Lebanon. On 26 November 1941, General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government.[4]

Elections were held in 1943 and on 8 November 1943, the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by throwing the new government into prison. The High Commissioner installed Eddé as president. Ten days later, however, under pressure from France's other Allies in World War II, the French removed Eddé from office and restored the government of Bechara El Khoury on 21 November. Parliamentary elections were held on May 1947 but many protested claiming that it was rigged deeming the parliament as illegitimated. However El Khoury was then also re-elected in 1948.[5] El-Khoury faced significant opposition from traditional Za’im leaders on whose powers his policies were beginning to impinge. In 1951 an alliance was formed between Camille Chamoun, Pierre Gemayel, Raymond Eddé, Kamal Jumblatt, Phalange and Syrian National Party. On 18 September 1952, amidst widespread demonstrations, El Khoury was forced into resigning.[6]

Post-Independence[edit]

In 1952, Fouad Chehab refused to allow the army to interfere in the uprising that forced Lebanese President Bechara El Khoury to resign. Chehab became the prime minister of Lebanon in September 1952, and hold the additional portfolio of defense minister.[7] Chehab was then appointed president with the duty to ensure an emergency democratic presidential election. Four days later, Camille Chamoun was elected to succeed El Khoury. During Chamoun's presidency, Lebanon experienced an economic boom, in particular in the construction, banking and tourism sectors.[8] He implemented a 1954 law on the creation of joint-stock companies and a 1956 law on banking secrecy.[8] According to Fawwaz Traboulsi, Chamoun concentrated power into his hands, blurring the limits of democracy and autocracy.[8]

In 1958, President Camille Chamoun was forced to resign after he attempted to amend the constitution to allow for his reelection. Pan-Arabists and other groups backed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, with considerable support in Lebanon's Muslim (particularly Sunni) community attempted to overthrow Chamoun's government in June 1958. Clashes then ensued between Sunni Arab Nationalists and pro-government Christians. This led to American intervention with Operation Blue Bat on 15 July 1958 by president Dwight D. Eisenhower in the first application of the Eisenhower Doctrine in which the US announced that it would intervene to protect regimes that it considered to be threatened by international communism.

The president of Lebanon is elected by the Parliament of Lebanon.[9] In the lead up to the election, parliament was divided into factions, namely those who supported western nations and Chamoun and those favoring Nasser and the United Arab Republic. Chehab was viewed as a compromise candidate;[10] he was not interested in the presidency until "it became clear that he was the only candidate who had any hope of wide acceptance." As a result, he consented to be nominated on 28 July, only three days before the election.[9] Following a path of moderation and co-operating closely with the various religious groups, and with both secular and religious forces, Chehab was able to cool tensions and bring stability back to the nation. His ideology inspired the presidencies of two other presidents.

Michel Helou was then elected as the 4th president in 1964. Helou's lack of political affiliation gave him the appearance of a leader able to unite Lebanon and he was chosen to succeed Fuad Chehab as president by the National Assembly.[11] The Six-Day War of 1967, strained sectarian relations in Lebanon. Many Muslims wanted Lebanon to join the Arab war effort, while many Christians wished to eschew participation. Helou managed to keep Lebanon from entanglement, apart from a brief air strike, but found it impossible to put the lid on the tensions that had been raised. Parliamentary elections in 1968 revealed an increasing polarization in the country, with two major coalitions, one pro-Arab Nationalism, led by Rashid Karami and the other pro-Western, led jointly by former president Camille Chamoun, Pierre Gemayel and Raymond Eddé, both made major gains and won 30 of the 99 seats each.

In addition, government authority was challenged by the presence of armed Palestinian guerrillas in the south of the country, and clashes between the Lebanese army and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became increasingly frequent. For a long time, Helou resisted their demands, but in 1969, after failing to end the rebellion militarily, he finally gave in, hoping that the Palestinian guerrillas would confine their operations to cross-border attacks against Israel and would stop challenging the Lebanese government. As it turned out, the clashes only intensified.

In 1970, Helou endorsed Elias Sarkis as his chosen successor,[12] but the latter lost the election in the National Assembly by one vote to Suleiman Frangieh.

Civil war[edit]

Civil war in Lebanon began on 13 April 1975.[13] Frangieh as the Lebanese President declared the Constitutional Document on 14 February 1976 that was the first serious initiative to end the conflict and reach a consensus.[13] The document empowered prime minister and suggested a "parity between Christians and Muslims in Parliament", reducing the power of Maronites.[13][14] Although it was supported by major politicians and religious leaders, it could not achieve its objectives.[13]

Élias Sarkis, the Chehabist nominee in the 1970 election - who lost the vote by a margin of only 1 vote - was elected on the second round of voting with 66% of the votes. He was the only person to receive a vote during the election, all other ballots containing blank votes. Almost a third of MPs were absent from the parliamentary session. As outgoing President Frangieh's term expired on 23 September of that year, he was therefore sworn on multiple months after the election. It was hoped that Sarkis would be able to unite the warring factions and end the emerging civil war; by September 1976, however, the situation had grown past the government's control as Syria and other countries began interfering and complicating the situation. On 5 March 1980, Sarkis developed his policy as part of his attempts to create national accord: unity, independence, parliamentarian democracy, rejecting the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel.  

Today[edit]

From the expiration of the term of President Michel Suleiman in May 2014 until 31 October 2016, the parliament was unable to obtain the majority required to elect a president, and the office was vacant for almost two and a half years, despite more than 30 votes being held. On 31 October 2016, Michel Aoun was elected as president, serving until 30 October 2022.

Office[edit]

Qualifications[edit]

The constitution requires the president hold the same qualifications as a member of Parliament (also called the Chamber of Deputies), which are Lebanese citizenship and attainment of the age of twenty-one years.[15]

Though not specifically stated in the constitution, an understanding known as the National Pact, agreed in 1943, customarily limits the office to members of the Maronite Christian faith.[15][16] This is based on a gentlemen's agreement between Lebanon's Maronite Christian president Bechara El Khoury and his Sunni Muslim prime minister Riad Al Solh, which was reached in 1943, when Lebanon became independent of France, and described that the president of the Republic was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim.[16]

Article 50 of the constitution of Lebanon requires the president to take an oath upon assuming office, which is prescribed thus:[17]

I swear by Almighty God to observe the Constitution and the laws of the Lebanese Nation and to maintain the independence of Lebanon and its territorial integrity.

Role and responsibilities[edit]

As described in the constitution, the president is commander-in-chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces and security forces; may appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet; promulgates laws passed by Parliament; may also veto bills; and may dissolve Parliament. In addition, he may also issue "emergency" legislation by decree.[18] In practice, however, Lebanon being a parliamentary republic, the president is essentially the repository of reserve powers and the office is largely symbolic.[15] Nevertheless, the president remains by and large the most important member of the executive.[19] This is despite his powers having been somewhat moderated under Ta'if, notably with the increase in the powers of the Cabinet; nevertheless, these reforms have not substantially altered the president's power, as he is still the sole person who can nominate and fire the prime minister and the Cabinet.[18]

His major responsibilities (following Ta'if) include:[18]

  • Issue the decree appointing the prime minister (by convention Sunni Muslim) independently.
  • Issue the decree forming the government (i.e. the cabinet), co-signed by the prime minister. The government must then receive a vote-of-confidence by parliament (51%) in order to become active.
  • Fire the prime minister (at will, no confirmation needed). This automatically fires the entire government, meaning every minister.
  • Fire an individual minister. Requires confirmation of 2/3 of the cabinet and the signature of the PM. If more than 1/3 of the ministers constituting the initial government are fired/resign, then the entire government is considered resign.
  • Sign into law and promulgate laws (countersigned by the PM).
  • Sign decrees concerning a specific ministry(ies). Countersigned by the PM and ministers involved.
  • Negotiate and ratify international treaties. All treaties must be approved by 2/3 of the cabinet and countersigned by the PM before entering into force. Treaties involving spending that cannot be cancelled every new year must also be approved by Parliament (51%).
  • Dissolve the parliament. Must be countersigned by the PM and requires a 2/3 approval of the cabinet.
  • Pass "emergency decrees" without the parliament's approval (article 58).[20] Requires a simple majority of the ministers. To pass emergency decrees without the parliament's approval, the parliament must spend 40 days without taking any action on a bill that was previously declared urgent by the president.

Previously to Ta'if, the president only needed the "favourable advice" of his ministers, rather than a clear consensus/majority. Nevertheless, while it may seem that the president is a "symbolic role" or significantly subjected to the will of his ministers, constitutionally, it is not so. The president retains the right to fire the entire government at will and is still the person who nominates every minister - thereby effectively ensuring that they will all be favorable to him. In practice, the president's office has been weakened because of a) no clear majorities of parties and blocs in Parliament, b) the election of "consensus" (meaning generally weak, or different[clarification needed]), presidents, and c) the formation of divided cabinets. The perceived weakness of the president is thus rooted in political, rather than constitutional, issues.

Symbolic roles and duties[edit]

Following the ratification of the Ta'if Accord, the Constitution laid out a preamble for the three "key" executive posts: the president, the prime minister, and the Council of Ministers. The preamble states the following:

The President of the Republic is the Chief of State, and the symbol of the unity of the Homeland. He ensures the respect of the Constitution, and the maintenance of Lebanon's independence, its unity, and its territorial integrity in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. He chairs the Higher Defence Council. He is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces which are subject to the authority of the Council of Ministers.

The posts that come with the presidency are as follow:

  • Chair of the Supreme Defense Council.
  • Commander in chief of the armed forces.
  • State President of Lebanon (the head of state).

The presidential residence is the Baabda Palace, located southeast of Beirut.[21]

Official state car[edit]

The president's car is a W221 Mercedes-Benz S 600 Guard armoured limousine and it is escorted by the Republican Guard's SUVs and other security vehicles including the preceding official state car, an armoured W140 S 600 now possibly used as a backup limo.[22][23][24][25]

Election and vacancy[edit]

Thirty to sixty days before the expiration of a president's term, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies calls for a special session to elect a new president, which selects a candidate for a six-year term on a secret ballot in which a two-thirds majority is required to elect. If no candidate receives a two-thirds majority, a second ballot is held in which only a majority is required to elect. An individual cannot be reelected president until six years have passed from the expiration of his or her first term.[15][26]

Quorum for an election[edit]

The Constitution is silent on the issue of the quorum needed to call to order a parliamentary presidential electoral meeting. In the absence of a clear provision designating the quorum needed to elect the president, the constitution is open to differing interpretations. According to one view on the issue, a quorum constituting a majority of fifty-percent plus one (that required for any meeting of Parliament) is sufficient for a parliamentary presidential electoral meeting. Another view on the issue argues that the quorum is a two-thirds majority of the total members of Parliament as Article 49 of the constitution requires a two-thirds voting majority to elect the president in the first round and, if the quorum were half plus one, there would have been no need to require the two-thirds voting majority when the number of deputies present at the meeting does not exceed the quorum.[26]

Vacancy[edit]

A recurrent theme in Lebanese politics is the vacancy in the Lebanese presidency which has occurred for three consecutive times; no Lebanese president has directly transferred power to a successor without vacancy since Elias Hrawi was succeeded by Emile Lahoud in 1998.[27] Unlike several other countries, the Lebanese constitution does not mention an "interim/acting" president. The constitution specifically states that the post of the presidency remains vacant, and some powers of the presidency are transferred to the council of ministers. Article 62 in the Lebanese constitution specifically states this: "Should there be a vacancy in the Presidency for any reason whatsoever, the Council of Ministers shall exercise the authorities of the President by delegation."[1] After Michel Aoun left the presidency in 2022 to vacancy, prime minister Najib Mikati said that he did not personally assume the powers of the presidency, as they will be delegated to the council of ministers as a whole.[28][29]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The Lebanese Constitution" (PDF). Lebanese Presidency. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  2. ^ Peter Mansfield (1991). A History of the Middle East. p. 202. ISBN 9780670815159.
  3. ^ Hadden, Briton; Luce, Henry Robinson (1945). Time. Time Incorporated.
  4. ^ Hadden, Briton; Luce, Henry Robinson (1945). Time. Time Incorporated.
  5. ^ "Election of the Presidents of the Lebanese Republic". monthlymagazine.com. Retrieved 2020-11-17.
  6. ^ Middle East International No 132, 29 August 1980; Publishers Lord Mayhew, Dennis Walters MP, David Gilmour, pp. 11-12
  7. ^ "الوزراء المتعاقبون على وزارة الدفاع الوطني" [Successive ministers of the Ministry of National Defense]. pcm.gov.lb (in Arabic). Government of Lebanon. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Traboulsi, Fawwaz (2012), "The Pro-Western Authoritarianism of Kamil Sham'un (1952–1958)", A History of Modern Lebanon, Pluto Press, pp. 129–138, doi:10.2307/j.ctt183p4f5.14, ISBN 978-0-7453-3274-1, JSTOR j.ctt183p4f5.14
  9. ^ a b Brewer, Sam Pope (1 August 1958). "Lebanon Elects a New President". The New York Times. p. 1. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 November 2020.
  10. ^ Brewer, Sam Pope (September 24, 1958). "Cehab Assumes Office in Beirut". The New York Times. p. 1. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  11. ^ Lee, Khoon Choy (1993) Diplomacy of a Tiny State World Scientific, ISBN 981-02-1219-4, p. 223
  12. ^ Hijazi, Ihsan A. (1976-05-10). "A Lebanese Who Shuns Publicity Elias Sarkis". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-11-07.
  13. ^ a b c d El Khazen, Farid (2004). "Ending conflict in wartime Lebanon: Reform, sovereignty and power, 1976–88". Middle Eastern Studies. 40 (1): 65–84. doi:10.1080/00263200412331301897. S2CID 143217001.
  14. ^ Rabil, Robert G. (1 September 2001). "The Maronites and Syrian withdrawal: from "isolationists" to "traitors"?". Middle East Policy. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  15. ^ a b c d Collelo, Thomas (1987). Lebanon: A Country Study. Government Printing Office. ISBN 0160017319.
  16. ^ a b Harb, Imad. "Lebanon's Confessionalism: Problems and Prospects". usip.org. United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  17. ^ "Lebanon - Constitution". unibe.ch. International Constitutional Law Project. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  18. ^ a b c "Lebanon - The President". countrystudies.us.
  19. ^ "Taif Accord - Reut Institute". reut-institute.org.
  20. ^ "Lebanon's Constitution of 1926 with Amendments through 2004" (PDF).
  21. ^ Mordechai Nisan, Minorities in the Middle East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression (2d ed.: McFarland, 2002), p. 219.
  22. ^ "بالصورة: هذه هي السيارة التي سينتقل بها الرئيس عون الى بعبدا".
  23. ^ "بالفيديو.. لحظة وصول الموكب الرئاسي الى ساحة النجمة".
  24. ^ "Supporters of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement cheer as the..."
  25. ^ "بالفيديو .. وصول موكب الحرس الجمهوري إلى ساحة النجمة". www.lebanondebate.com.
  26. ^ a b Saliba, Issam. "Lebanon: Presidential Election and the Conflicting Constitutional Interpretations". loc.gov. Library of Congress. Retrieved 15 July 2016.
  27. ^ Hadchity, Miguel (8 September 2022). "Lebanese Presidential Vacancy, Explained". The961.
  28. ^ "Mikati: The powers of the presidency will be delegated to the council of ministers". elnashra. 1 November 2022. Retrieved 4 November 2022.
  29. ^ Houssari, Najia (31 October 2022). "Mikati's makeshift Lebanese government to assume presidential powers". Arab News.