The implementation of a system of accountability and fighting corruption are essential for the success of Lebanon’s democratic formula in achieving the aspirations of the Lebanese people and equality in rights and duties, President Michel Aoun said Wednesday.
Aoun also called for separation of Cabinet and Parliament posts as the country is gearing up to hold its first general elections in nine years next month. He blamed the country’s confessional-based political system, which allotted key state posts along sectarian lines, for the absence of equality among competent people.
“The principle of equality cannot be applied in Lebanon in a correct and satisfactory manner as long as our sectarian system is the one that decides the identity of people in certain posts and positions and does not allow equality among competent candidates,” Aoun said in a speech at the inauguration of an international conference entitled “Equality in Democracy” held in the Jbeil district, north of Beirut.
“Eventually, if we want to achieve equality and approach the concept of genuine democracy, there is no escape from reaching a secular state in Lebanon,” he added, in his remarks which were carried by the state-run National News Agency.
In his speech, Aoun stressed that there can be no democracy without accountability. “The absence of accountability in Lebanon over the past years and decades with successive governments has led to the proliferation of corruption, erosion of state institutions, disintegration of the country’s normal social infrastructure and distortion of our democracy system,” he said.
Aoun added that ensuring Cabinet members were not also MPs would boost Parliament’s oversight over the government. There are currently no regulations in Lebanon preventing MPs from also serving as ministers.
“The more we strengthen accountability and Parliament’s role in this respect and harden the judiciary in its verdicts against corrupt people, the more we approach the model of the desired democratic system and attain social justice,” he said.
“For this reason, I have called and I am still calling for separation between the parliamentary and Cabinet work in Lebanon, whereby an MP, who has been assigned to hold the government accountable if it made mistakes, is himself a member of this government,” he added at the ceremony attended by Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury, Jbeil’s MPs, Christian and Muslim religious figures, a number of former ministers and MPs, and heads of universities.Aoun’s remarks come amid a torrent of calls on the president and the government by leaders and officials on both sides of the political divide to fight deep-rooted corruption in the public administration and put an end to the squandering of public funds, largely blamed for an endemic budget deficit and soaring public debt estimated at over $80 billion. Some politicians argued that the failure to fight rampant graft was due to the fact that corrupt people are protected by influential leaders.
The president’s speech also comes with only 17 days to go before the parliamentary elections deemed by all rival factions as “crucial” because its outcome would decide the country’s political future for the next four years. Leaders of various parties and bloc have been staging rallies to plead with their supporters to vote in high numbers.
Aoun added that democracy usually led to majority rule, but not in Lebanon. “The democratic system in Lebanon is based on consensus and not the rule of the majority,” Aoun said, adding that true democracy could not be implemented in Lebanon until sectarianism was abolished and a secular state was established.
Under the Constitution, Lebanon’s 128-member Parliament is equally divided between Muslims and Christians and the same thing applies to the Cabinet if it comprises 24 or 30 members.
Aoun warned that international policies that lacked justice would trigger conflicts and tensions in the world, and lead to the spread of terrorism.
“The spirit of democracy is indivisible and some are seeking to tame this spirit to serve the interests of Big Powers and devoid it of its real contents and many times under the pretext of spreading democracy,” he said.
Separately, Aoun signed the 2018 budget law Wednesday night but requested Parliament revise a controversial article over temporary residency for foreigners with property, according to a statement released by the president’s media office. Aoun will send a letter to Parliament explaining the reasons for his request, the statement said.
Article 49 of the budget allows foreigners buying property in Lebanon to be granted temporary residency. The article caused a stir as some politicians warned it would open the door to Syrian and Palestinian refugees to be permanently settled in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri addressed the criticism last week during a news conference explaining the results of the CEDRE conference in Paris earlier this month. “Article  is just to attract investments in the country, to encourage people to come to invest in the country and this applies to all citizens in the world, not only citizens of Arab countries,” Hariri said.
The premier stressed that the Lebanese government was not attempting to resettle any of 174,422 Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon and will not resettle the more than 1 million displaced Syrians who fled war in their country and sought refuge in Lebanon.
Palestinians are barred from owning property or working in dozens of professions, although they are not required to maintain legal residency in Lebanon. However, Syrian refugees in the country, who also face difficulty owning property and working in many industries, are required to maintain residency documents costing hundreds of dollars a year.
There are a small number of cases where the Lebanese state has deported Syrian nationals back to their country but not maintaining legal documentation regularly leads to prolonged detention and the denial of basic services.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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