A speech by Tracy Chamoun - Political Project - Diplomat Conference hosted by Embassy of Spain


I would like to thank my honorable hostess: Spain’s Ambassador to Lebanon Signora Milagros Hernando and her dedicated staff who have made this event both possible and powerful due to the presence of the esteemed lady guests joining us today. Thank you all for coming. 

To begin, I would also like to acknowledge my women colleagues in the Party who have accompanied me here and who share with me their deepest pleasure to be part of this unique opportunity, not only to present the platform of the Liberal Democrat’s Party’s Policies and Directives for reviving the Lebanese political and social system, but also to recognize the symbolic importance of the respected female audience which we have the privilege of addressing.

Before I start my address I would like to say that there are many reasons why I am standing before you today and one of them no doubt is due to my birth into the established political system. For this I am honored certainly, but I am also aware of the irony, and I am diligent not to waste this privilege on perpetuating a system that only accepts women leaders as clones for their male counterparts. 

For this reason among others, I founded a political party in 2012, which could serve as a platform for a modern national strategy while at the same time resting on the values of sovereignty, democracy and coexistence, which were laid out by our forefathers. 

For women to play a significant role in Lebanon, a shift has to occur in the perception of women by both women and men, and as Albert Einstein said the realization has to dawn that: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” The consciousness that defines women’s roles in Lebanese politics as mother’s, daughters, or wives of important men in Lebanon is no longer valid and has to change.

My grandfather Camille Chamoun was the first president to give women the right to vote. Now we need to ensure for women, the right to govern. 

To do that we must bring back democracy to a country that has waived it aside. It is only by fighting for real democracy that we can ensure the fair representation of women.

Any woman today wanting to participate in government or run for president faces an uphill struggle from the outset for different reasons.

The first being: The entrenched dominance of male representation in the Lebanese Parliament. The second being: The nature of the Lebanese political divide along the lines of patriarchal figureheads who perpetuate the system by insuring the succession of their sons, and thirdly being: The geopolitical overlords, consisting of nations which are fundamentally male dominated societies where women are still in some cases even forbidden to drive a car.

However when confronted with the present vacuum in the presidency today it is fair to ask where are the women in this debate? And what kind of president is needed? Is it one that will perpetuate the existing system or one that will endeavor to change it?

For many years under Syrian occupation, the Taef Accord was implemented in the shadow of duress. However since 2005, when the Syrian yoke was removed Lebanon has struggled to exercise its sovereignty in the most basic of its needs including its sovereign duty to insure the legitimacy and application of its constitutional rules.

The Constitution is after all a set of rules, which keep the players in check. When these rules are co-opted in their interpretation by different players, the game is forfeited. 

In our political project we address some of the counter-measures to prevent this abuse of power by reestablishing safeguards to the rules of the game. Namely we are asking for a broader role for the President by placing the regulatory bodies of government under the President’s auspices, after they were transposed to the Prime Minister under the Taef Agreement. Since then they have been usurped by the political class and in many cases neutralized. This measure of reviving the regulatory bodies will ensure a tougher process of control in the executive branch and in the administration of the Affairs of State.

We are talking about essential organizations such as The Court of Accounts, The Central Inspection and The Civil Service Board, among others which would ensure that a system of checks and balances is reestablished in the Executive Branch to prevent abuse, and lack of transparency such as for example the fact that three main post war organizations associated not coincidentally with three of the “Zaims”, namely the Council for Development and Reconstruction, The Fund for the Return of the Displaced, and The Council of South Lebanon are all organizations that are excluded to this day from the supervisory and post audit jurisdiction of the Court of Accounts. In other words, the public has no idea about what goes on. Added to which, the nation has been without a national budget for 10 years and this process has been hijacked by political accusations of theft and misuse of public funds.

There is no doubt that the Sate has to be stood on its feet once more by the revival of the supervisory and penalty mechanisms, which ensure accountability and equitability.

In addition, further safeguards need to be reinstated such as the right for the President to dissolve Parliament in the event the Members want to unlawfully extend their own mandates again. Furthermore, in light of the recent presidential vacuum preventative measures must be taken by declaring a deadline for the election of a president by any incumbent parliament or else it faces dissolution and elections are carried out immediately. These preventative strategies do not require the revision of the constitution. They merely require executive decrees and legislation. Since the President has the right to propose the agenda of the Cabinet of Ministers these subjects can all be brought to the table for debate.

The main problem that we have deduced is that there is nobody in charge. Lebanon has been allowed to drift rudderless for years because that which is most feared in Lebanon is change. The vested interests of the ruling class are committed to the preservation of the political seesaw. The parameters of which never change, only the incline shifts from one side of the organized political cartel to the other. 

We want to replace the seesaw with the image of a carrousel that ensures that mindfulness, accountability and prescience are the fixed center from which every sector can benefit and grow.

In our political project we have focused on what we believe are the elements over which the Lebanese can exert an element of control. We have steered away from geopolitical posturing and concentrated on formulating a plan for the revival of the different sectors of government. This is an open-ended plan with plenty of room for improvement. W have highlighted how small changes can yield big results by shifting the awareness towards efficiency, sustainability, respect, preservation, accountability and transparency. We have described minor alterations, which could affect each sector dramatically including, new laws against monopolistic practices, environmental exploitation, fiscal regulations, broader healthcare practices, as well as women’s rights and public education, which would all benefit from these modifications. 

There are a few sectors, which require special mention namely the matter of the present refugee crisis and the matter of decentralization, which has become highlighted in the recent waste management crisis.

From the outset the refugee crisis has been handled in an ad hoc manner, which is posing severe security and social problems today.  Even now with a plan in hand, the implementation of a strategy is nowhere in sight leaving the social fabric of Lebanon in grave danger as it confronts health hazards, the rise in poverty, the increase in unemployment and the burden of providing education. We have outlined a mechanism to handle the displaced crisis, which would be decentralized and adaptable through the local function of municipalities since these populations are impacting the whole country on local levels. 

In this issue as well as others, we are saying that the Executive Branch must be re-energized and the oversight given to the President for the sake of continuity in implementation. 

The matter of decentralization has never been more acute and though there are many plans and suggestions ranging from administrative decentralization to federalism we are advocating the idea of administrative decentralization, through a process of empowering municipalities by changing the laws surrounding their eligibility and elections, to create local governments that are both fiscally and geographically sustainable. We are also asking that the function of municipalities be removed from the Ministry of Interior and be allocated its own ministry as it once was the case, to be able to centrally coordinate the integration of the decentralization process.

For things to truly change in Lebanon, a new political class has to be allowed to emerge. Under the present system, any newcomer, whether it is a man or a woman, is at the mercy of a traditional leader who will afford them the privilege of taking them on his electoral list and securing their chances at being elected.

We are therefore proponents of a new an electoral law based on proportional representation with large districts in order to break the existing duopoly between the Zaim driven lists and thereby shift the electoral momentum from keeping the status quo, towards healthy competition based on political parties and the advancement of political programs. This will allow for newcomers with new ideas to breakthrough and enter the otherwise closed system. We will also accept an interim proposal, which would allow for a mixed law that would be half majority and half proportional to begin the process of diversification. 

As far as women are concerned, we are advocating the imposition of the participation of woman through a transitional quota for the first mandate in the hope that in four years conditions will be more favorable for women generally. This position will be reviewed at the time.

Let us talk now about the security concerns affecting Lebanon today. The fight against terrorism is a national priority because without security there is no prosperity. 

Our Party position regarding “The Resistance” is that as it stands today we support “The Resistance” as a force of deterrence, provided that their weapons are not directed against the Lebanese population and provided that “Acts of war” are not initiated or committed which recklessly endanger the nation. 

Ultimately a process of integration must be reached with the military arm of Hezbollah that clearly defines jurisdictions and parameters leading to an effective assimilation of this force into more legitimate channels and applications. 

The main asset for our national defense is and remains The Lebanese Armed Forces, which should be equipped with the necessary weapons to ward of assaults, fight incursions and prevent terrorism.

In Conclusion today, I would like to say that Lebanon is on course towards becoming a failed republic.

Present political choices have created an explosively dangerous situation in the midst of a regional cataclysm, because they have devalued the role of state institutions. 

For this reason the matter of electing a President is of vital relevance in order to avoid a complete governmental free fall into temporary solutions that are anti-constitutional and dangerous.

The restoration of Democracy through the election of a President is the only way to kick start the present paralysis, followed rapidly with the implementation of a new electoral law and parliamentary elections, which would restore the basic democratic principles that uphold the nation.

However, the Presidency cannot be limited to people or candidates who, because of their history, act as political ballast for one side's interests. A president must unite the nation and not divide it further. The claim that a strong president is what is needed is in fact meaningless in a parliamentary democracy where it is more important to focus of building trust among stakeholders than rallying throngs of humans who have no bearing on the outcome of a presidential election.

If we analyze the undercurrents of the present deadlock in the presidency, aside from the idiosyncrasies of certain individual characters who are protagonists to the seat, it becomes evident that there are some fundamental issues, which need to be addressed in this matter.

It can be summarized in the following dilemma: The ineluctable mistrust that exists between the Lebanese Sunni and Shia communities. In essence, the main problem for the Sunnis is Hezbollah's capabilities and their weapons and the main problem for Hezbollah is the Sunni Takfiri threat and the constant clamoring of the Sunnis for them to get rid of their weapons.

Added to this state of internal opposition, the escalation of extremism in the region because of the Syrian civil war and the proxy involvement of both parties on opposite sides of that battle has made it impossible for them to arrive internally at a level of comfort with each other. This has been compounded by the financial reliance of both parties on external goliaths in the form of Saudi Arabia and Iran, who themselves are locked in their own struggle, and which has made it much harder to create and sustain a climate of collaboration in Lebanon.

I believe that the only way a President can be elected in Lebanon is if both the Shia and the Sunni communities stop looking to elect a champion that will defend their cause and instead elect someone who will with time address their mutual concerns.

The intention to find a workable solution for this divergence must be part of the formula for recovery and the choice of a president must be part of this process.

A president, who represents a tipping point in favor of one side or the other, is part of the problem not the solution.

On the other hand, a Christian President is needed who understands this negative obstructive dynamic, who can act as a force of mediation and be a bridge of safety between the two communities, by recognizing the real concerns of each party.

To summarize: I have been implicated in Lebanese political life since my birth. I lived through 18 years of war, lost my whole family as martyrs to this nation and I consider myself a third generation Lebanese.

I feel that it is high time to usher in a “Third Republic” which would reflect the deeper concerns of this nation and would bring about a transformation through the advocacy of a different form of leadership, one that is held accountable, insures fairness of representation, as well as operational transparency.

Equally, for change to occur, there has to be a complete reversal of the role of government. It must change from one that is self-serving to one that is service oriented. As such, women have a big role to play in the establishment of these new values. Their participation at every level of government can only bring balance to a society that has suffered for years from extreme male stereotyping and the valorization of violence as a solution to political divergence.

Today, in this world of polarizing conflicts, of raging extremism, moderation is the key, understanding, listening and hearing each other are the best weapons we can deploy to counteract the widening schisms between people and creeds. 

This is by no means declaring that women are not strong and capable of military leadership. “Women in Governance” does not imply that women are relegated to women’s issues. It means that women should have equal access to making all relevant decisions including security; the military, foreign affairs, the economy, industry and all the sectors normally viewed as male bastions.

In the coming ages, as long as religious extremists do not succeed in castigating them out, women will be the guiding lights of a new way of operating in the world, based on cooperation not domination, on sharing not hoarding, on giving and not taking.

It is indeed women like you who are setting the trend for this new revolution in leadership and by your presence and your excellence in your fields you are actively and daily shifting the prevalent consciousness that limits women and their access to leadership. 

I am truly honored and privileged to be part of this exchange as I consider women’s issues to be at the core of the creation of a fair and just society and I encourage you in all your discussion, high level meetings, official appearances in Lebanon with the Leban

ese political class to always ask the question:

Ou sont les femmes ? Where are the women?

Only by asking this question, will we raise the prevalent consciousness surrounding women in power and thereby change the problem from a different place of awareness. 

I have distributed a copy of our political project for review. Under each section there is a summary of recommendations, which are simple steps to address the major problems confronting the government of this nation. In addition, I would also be very open to talking about the present ramifications concerning the recent political stirrings both nationally and regionally and I welcome your questions.

Thank you all Tracy Chamoun
Baabda
Residence of the Embassy of Spain
November 30, 2015

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