A Mutant Democracy

By Ghassan Karam Special to Ya Libnan

Democratic forms of government have essentially evolved, over the millennia, to follow one of two forms. There are the presidential systems similar to that in the US or parliamentarian systems exemplified by the German political structure. As is often the case there are a number of other systemic combinations that are characterized by elements of both.

Presidential systems have usually been established to enshrine the principle of the separation of powers   between the three branches on which democratic governance rests.  The Executive branch in these circumstances is lead by a President who nominates a cabinet to run the daily affairs of governments and to propose laws and policies.  These proposals must be approved and voted upon by the legislative branch, the elected represented of the people. It is this separation that acts as to prevent one branch of government from running rough shod over its opposition. The resulting healthy tension between the executive and the legislative tends to lead to compromise and positions based more on the individual merit of the case rather than on  pure ideological basis. Obviously an independent and well qualified judiciary makes sure that the constitutional principles and the basic laws of the land are adhered it and that no violations of these principles is allowed to take place.

This principle of separation of powers evolves into a fusion of power under parliamentary systems of governance. The cabinet is headed by a Prime Minister who is usually chosen from among the members of parliament and a cabinet is formed from among the members of the chamber of people’s representatives. In this case the president’s role is rather ceremonial and the ultimate arbiter is the legislative. Although the cabinet is chosen from among the elected members yet it always strives to have the blessings of the majority of the members on its side. The legislative in this case plays just as crucial of a role, through robust debates, as its counterpart in a presidential system. Again the judicial will be impartial and objective in order to ascertain that no branch is abusing its power.

In Lebanon, as is often the case, our system of governance does not belong to any of the forms although it pays lip service to elements of both. The most obvious shortcoming of the Lebanese system is its failure over its more than 65 years of existence to establish a respected, well qualified and independent judiciary. The constitutional rights of citizens will never be protected from various assaults on their integrity without the presence of a powerful and independent judicial branch. As if it is not enough to take away what is arguably the most important guarantee that individuals have Lebanon has managed to come up with another hybrid or should I say mutant. The efforts over the past couple of years have culminated in creating the principle of “national unity” government which is a cover to give the minority the right to veto any and all plans by the majority. That in it would have been a strong enough blow for effective government but that was not enough to satisfy the ambitions of the “opposition”. Diffusion in the current Lebanese system does not end with forming a government chosen from the elected members of the parliament but has even managed in creating a cabinet that is for all intents and purposes a “shrunken parliament”. This new cabinet has in effect emasculated the legislature to such an extent that it does not ever get its approval but it even dictates to it. Decisions arrived at by the cabinet are so sacrosanct that no one in the parliament dares question. Our present iteration of diffusion has resulted in the effective annulment of the legislative branch.

So what has the democratically based Lebanese political structure evolved into?  A tower of Babel where the judiciary has no important role to play, an unconstitutionally elected president and a legislature that has willingly abdicated its responsibilities. Welcome to democracy, Lebanese style.

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A copy of the above has been posted to rationalrepublic.blogspot.com