Lebanon’s presidential election, under negotiation

In the United States, when the time comes to elect a president, it takes years of campaigning, elaborate programs and live debates like the one we witnessed last night, to form an opinion about the president one would like to vote for. In Lebanon, when the time comes to elect a president, it takes years of assassinations, a list of names with political descent, and a number of closed meetings, like the ones General Aoun has been having with all the members of the majority.

Today, the General is meeting Saad Hariri in Paris, in what the media has branded "the last chance meeting." It is not only a closed meeting, it was supposed to be a secret meeting, according to the Lebanese daily newspaper l'Orient le Jour. I wonder what makes people think that after months of disagreement, one meeting between two party leaders could potentially lead to a solution.

A little background: Lebanese parliament members are supposed to elect a new president before November 24th. A few months ago, several Christian Maronites (the only ones allowed to become president in Lebanon) presented their candidacy. The campaign consists of one or two speeches, many closed meetings, and a name which usually descends from a family with a long history in politics. And as Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nassrallah put it nicely, the name is much more important than the program.

Because in Lebanon, choosing a president is not an election. it's a negotiation.

As I watched the democratic presidential debate last night, I felt passionate about my support for one candidate and my disgust for another. The debate spurred conversations between my friends and I, sharing opinions and feeling like we were able to think for ourselves. I voted in a poll over who won the debate -the only vote I'll ever get to cast. But at least I felt like I was participating.

In Lebanon, we are just spectators.

We sit back and wait until our respective leaders agree or disagree. And then we live with the consequences. True, our constitution says parliament members are the ones who vote for the president. But that vote is either orchestrated by Syria, like the vote 3 years ago, or it is negotiated by party leaders who will just tell their representatives in parliement who to vote for. Democracy? I think not. And we might be fifty years away from finding a system that actually works.

Will Aoun and Hariri reach an agreement? Find out next week, on our next episode...

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About Yasmina Hatem

Yasmina Hatem was born in Beirut, Lebanon where she spent most of her life. She started writing for a French weekly newspaper for teenagers when she was 15 years old and has been active in journalism ever since. She attended Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and obtained her Masters of Science in May 2007. She currently lives in New York City and works for Al Arabiya News Channel at the United Nations.

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