Across the Bay

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How Berri Condemned Himself and his Allies

I just finished listening to Speaker Nabih Berri on LBCI. I was quite disappointed with the host's weak performance, and for not pushing Berri on several accounts.

For instance, Berri tried to say that the parliamentary majority had to concede the necessity of the two-thirds quorum for the election of a new president.

Berri knows that the constitution itself does not spell this out and that there is a good argument that it's unnecessary. What is true, however, is that in the past, common practice (what's called in Arabic 'urf) always had a two-thirds quorum at the sessions.

Knowing this, Berri tried to push his view by running through a list of the quorums of all the elections since Lebanon's independence. The point he wanted to make was that never in Lebanese history was there an election without that quorum.

The problem with this argument -- what the host missed here -- is that Berri just condemned himself and his colleagues in the so-called opposition. By showing that throughout Lebanese history, even during the war, and with the presence of three foreign armies (Palestinian, Syrian and Israeli), at least a two-thirds majority of Lebanese MPs always showed up for the election, regardless.

Not once, not even during the war, did a parliamentary bloc threaten to prevent a quorum unless it was able to impose its candidate of choice (thereby nullifying the process of the election itself). This did not happen even in 1982 when the Syrians threatened to kill MPs who went to participate in the session to elect Bashir Gemayel, whom the Syrians later assassinated (and then tried to assassinate the Sunni leader Saeb Salam who, despite the controversy around Gemayel's election, and the two figures' clashing visions, offered to open a new page with him and work with him. Salam later fled the country after the failed assassination attempt. Hariri wasn't as lucky. Furthermore, the Speaker at the time, Shiite leader Kamel As'ad, was threatened by the Syrians not to call parliament into session, but he did anyway. His house was subsequently attacked by RPGs. He was lucky as he only ended up paying a political price for it.)

In other words, by providing this data, Berri showed that he and his buddies have the dubious honor of being the first MPs in Lebanese history to behave this way. When Hezbollah is put to the democratic test, it shows its true colors.

To his credit, a non-Hezbollah Shiite, Ibrahim Shamseddine (son of the late cleric), made the most sense: "it's time for us to abide accurately by the constitution, and for parliament to elect a president out of several candidates, and not for a single president to be made outside parliament and then sent there. This is a critical and essential matter. ... The characteristic of a democratic system is that it allows the peaceful rotation of power, and the ruler is not eternal. Those who don't like an incoming president should wait until a new one is elected. Those who don't like a government can hold it accountable and change it in parliament. Those who don't like [the make up of] parliament can change it after 4 years."

But Berri made even more ominous statements, confirming every fear we've expressed about the "opposition's" intentions. Berri said that the new president (which, of course, is the one they impose -- after all, this is the purpose of his "initiative"), will bring with him his share of ministers in the new cabinet that would be formed after the election. Furthermore, Berri informed us, this cabinet (in which they would have veto power and maybe more) would proceed to review every decision made by the Seniora cabinet. And, echoing the recent statements by Hezbollah, Berri specified that one UNSC resolution in particular would be immediately trashed and that is UNSCR 1559.

This obsession with reviewing all the Seniora cabinet's decisions, and the fixation with 1559, just shows how Berri is totally susceptible to Hezbollah and Syrian pressure.

It doesn't get any clearer than this. This is the "opposition's" vision for Lebanon.

Update: NOW Lebanon's editorial addresses the same issue. Also, more commentary from Abu Kais.