Emile Lahoud has been president of Lebanon since November 1998, and the Lebanese constitution allows the president to serve only one six-year term. But on August 28th, Lebanon’s cabinet asked the parliament to change the constitution to allow Mr. Lahoud to serve an additional three years. The cabinet’s action came after Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik Hariri met in Damascus with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad.
Syria has about sixteen-thousand troops in Lebanon. And apparently to please Syria, Lebanon has made similar constitutional changes in the past. In 1995, the constitution was changed to extend former President Elias Hraoui’s term in office. In 1998, it was changed to allow Mr. Lahoud to run for president while still head of the military.
Gibran Tueni is editor of Beirut’s An Nahar newspaper. He says the cabinet is trying to “assassinate democracy in Lebanon”:
“They are just trying to kidnap the only constitution in the Arab world which respects democracy.”
Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Sfeir, the spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Maronite Christian community, criticized Syria’s perceived role in the cabinet decision. “Plotted by night and carried out swiftly by day,” he said. “Those directly involved were seized to express a view imposed on them and obeyed submissively.”
Clearly, the decision of who is president of Lebanon should be up to the Lebanese people, not the Syrians or anyone else. By interfering in the presidential election, says U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Syria is showing disrespect for the Lebanese people:
“Syria made it very clear to the people of Lebanon that they [Syria] don’t care about any established constitution, and they don’t care that the people of Lebanon are allowed to express their views and vote for whomever they wish. Our view is very clear on this, that Lebanon and Lebanese should be able to figure out their own future free of all and any outside interference.”
It is long past time for Syria to remove its troops from Lebanon and for the Lebanese to reassert control over their territory and their future.