by Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer Beirut: Lebanon is a largely paralysed society that is struggling with
basic governance issues, some of which predate the 1975-1990 Civil War,
though the chaos endured by citizens has intensified in the past twenty
Since its creation, Lebanon has had a relatively effective
presidential system through a unique paradigm [a power-sharing system
based along confessional lines].
Then in 1989, the Taif agreement
which ended Lebanon’s bitter civil war shifted that very paradigm into
the hands of the cabinet. The aim of Taif was to return Lebanon to operate under a functioning democracy. The options being toyed with range from federalism to administrative
decentralisation and even the drastic option of dividing Lebanon into
two to three separate countries.
Taif was largely built upon the
1943 National Pact which focused on the concept of “mutual coexistence”
(Al Aysh Al Mushtarak) between Lebanon’s 18 religious sects.
of the new proposals seek to modernise Taif to better equip it to manage
Lebanon’s current political, religious and sectarian realities which
have changed over time.
Some of the new proposals include to
expand Lebanon’s Arab identity, the disarmament of militias, the
abolition of political sectarianism, and to increase the size of the
chamber of deputies to 128 members and, perhaps the most important, to
have the cabinet be held accountable by the legislature which is the
case in most parliamentary democracies worldwide.
Senate to function alongside the parliament is also being proposed in
order to strengthen power sharing between Christians and Muslims. This
is intended to cushion sectarian influences instead of eliminating it
While Taif’s intentions were to free parliament from
sectarian quotas (64 Christian and 64 Muslim deputies divided among the
18 sects) and have the “one-person-one-vote” system, this did very
little to limit sectarianism in the country. This was largely due to
ingrained interests that empowered confessional institutions.
other words, the politics of sectarianism allowed those who enjoyed
certain monopolies to benefit from existing arrangements that,
naturally, rejected the notion of “one-person-one-vote” and intended to
keep the prevailing confessional mechanisms in place.
Senate proposal, clearly enunciated in the Ta’if Accords, the idea is to
regroup different religious representations that would reduce
confessionalism in the political system without jeopardising minority
Taif doesn’t specify who would or could serve in the
Senate, whether members would be elected or appointed, what kind of
jurisdiction the body ought to have and, perhaps critically, what would
be its relationship be with the other branches.
Although one would
assume that the country’s same elites would fill its ranks, which
effectively meant that the body was stillborn and why, perhaps, it never
The idea of a Senate in Lebanon did not originate
with Taif — as a Senate existed under French Mandate but was abolished
on October 17, 1927 — even if the notion gained momentum in 1989 to
grant the Druze community a leadership post.
Since the presidency
was entrusted with Maronite Catholics, the premiership to Sunnis, and
the parliamentary speakership to Shiites, it is assumed the leadership
of the senate would be given to the Druze.
While the goal of a
putative Senate would be to reduce legislative gridlock caused by
confessional agendas, it is unclear whether Lebanon’s elites are ready
to accept this.
Except for a small minority, many Lebanese benefit from the very confessional system that has caused political stagnation.
elites across confessional lines often work together to maintain their
positions even if it is at the expense of the national interest.
A Senate therefore could not guarantee that power and decision making could be wrested from the hands of the elite.
years later, Taif has not achieved its aim, which has prompted many in
the country to propose to redraw Lebanon’s entire political structure