Lebanese MPs Hold Their Ground on the Presidency
There is no perfect candidate. There is no international or regional solution for Lebanon. There is only the Constitution.
Friday, April 28 marked the one-hundredth day of Dr. Najat Saliba and lawyer Melhem Khalaf’s parliamentary sit-in to demand accountability from Lebanese lawmakers and follow the constitution. In over ten sessions, Lebanese members of parliament have failed to elect a successor after President Michel Aoun’s mandate expired in October 2022. Rather than continue the process, everyone decided to return to their homes and wait until a “suitable” candidate appears. Najat and Melhem, however, chose an entirely different approach.
Why did they start the sit-in?
In a press conference held in January, both Najat Saliba and Melhem Khalaf announced their intentions to remain in parliament until every other MP assembles to have successive and open-ended sessions to elect a new president. At the conference, Khalaf highlighted that Article 75 of the Lebanese constitution obliges parliament to meet regularly until a person wins the necessary votes to become president.
The present situation and recent developments:
Saliba had to temporarily stop her side of the sit-in to travel abroad to Geneva and the United States. Her goal on the trip is to speak with high officials from the United Nations who share her conviction that the rule of law is being usurped in Lebanon. Once she returns to Beirut, Najat intends to return to parliament alongside her colleague and comrade. She is being accompanied by journalist and supporter Lebanese Australian film director Daizy Gedeon who produced the movie “ENOUGH! Lebanon’s Darkest Hour.” Although the sit-in received enormous praise for its tenacity and courage in defiance against a failed system at the beginning, there is now a sense of indifference and criticism.
Many are now seeing the sit-in as a waste of time and do not believe it can move the needle regarding the presidency. I have come across several people in Lebanon saying, “Why are they still sitting in there? They should be working.” My reply is always the same: “If they weren’t in Parliament, you would say they are no different from the rest.” The irony of such criticism is that Melhem and Najat are working. Everyone else is at home. Some have also taken shots at the sincerity of the sit-in. Najat and I spoke on this matter, and she explained her position.
“I think the sit-in with the values and principles should not be questioned anymore. Because this is the only way we can regain our democracy. People who are thinking the sit-in can do the miracle that the other MPs could not do, they are mistaken. So, I think instead of asking us about how much the sit-in has made a difference, I think they should be asking the other Parliamentarians who are really on vacation and doing nothing. They are not attending to people’s needs. This needs to be asked. I think we have stopped our lives for a beautiful and excellent cause that is to regain our anchor and point of reference, that is the Lebanese constitution.”
It is clear from speaking to both Najat and Melhem they have no regrets for initiating the sit-in. Nevertheless, it does beg the question … Why haven’t other MPs from the so-called “Change” bloc followed their example? The arrival of more MPs could solidify and strengthen the sit-in and may push for more people on the ground to come out to support them. Ordinary Lebanese citizens have asked me questions such as, “Why are they not coming together?” Can they at least agree on a name? There is growing resentment on the streets towards some of the Change MPs.
There is truly no reason for all other independent and opposition MPs to be sitting at home. This notion of the “right timing” for a bargain to be struck by all the political bigshots is an insult and anyone who abides by it is breaking the law. MPs are supposed to be legislating and working on behalf of their constituency. Not ignoring them until a political breakthrough manifests out of thin air.
There is no perfect candidate. There is no international or regional solution for Lebanon. There is only the Constitution. If it is followed accordingly, Lebanon would have had a president by now. When will the rest of parliament understand this?
Adnan Nasser is an independent foreign policy analyst and journalist with a focus on Middle East affairs. Follow him on Twitter @Adnansoutlook29.
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