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Historical Background

The revised constitution of 1990 declares that Lebanon is a republic with a multiparty system based on multiple religious groups. The Constitution contains the principles of separation of powers and balance and cooperation among the three branches of government. The president is the head of state and the prime minister, also called the President of the Council of Ministers, is the head of government. The president of the Republic is elected by the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority for a six-year term and normally may not stand for re-election until six years after the end of his mandate. The Lebanese parliament amended the constitution on September 3, 2004, however, to extend the incumbent president’s term exceptionally for an additional three years.

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Separation of Executive, Legislative, and Judicial Powers

The president of the Republic presides over the Higher Defense Council and is the supreme head of the armed forces. The president also presides over the Council of Ministers when he so wishes, without participating in a vote, and he may convene the Council of Ministers in emergency meetings. The president appoints the prime minister, in consultation with the speaker of the parliament, and transmits the draft laws, which are presented to him by the Council of Ministers, to the parliament. The president accredits the ambassadors and receives their credentials. He may pardon by decree, but general amnesty may only be granted by parliamentary action.

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Main Provisions

Article 54 of the Constitution stipulates that every act of the president must be countersigned by the prime minister or by the relevant minister. The only exceptions are the decree appointing the prime minister and the decree accepting the resignation of the government. The president may negotiate and ratify international treaties, but they also require the signature of the prime minister.

The President of the Republic promulgates laws within one month following the communication to the government that the law has passed. He may also issue decrees and request their publication. He has the right to request the Council of Ministers to reconsider its decisions. The Council of Ministers has the final word, but the president may require one additional debate regarding a law that has already been passed.

The prime minister chooses his ministers, in consultation with the president of the Republic and the members of the National Assembly. The president, in consultation with the National Assembly, appoints the prime minister and the deputy prime minister. Ministers may be selected from within the parliament or outside of it. The initiative for laws belongs to the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers.

Judges are independent in the exercise of their functions. There is no judicial review of legislative acts. Freedom of conscience is absolute. Equality before the law, freedom of expression, the press, freedom from arbitrary arrests, and meritocracy in the access to resources are constitutionally guaranteed. Education is free, “so long as it is not contrary to public order and good manners, and does not touch the dignity of creeds.”

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Constitutional Court

The ten-member Constitutional Council, created in 1990, rules on the constitutionality of laws and has the power to settle litigation over presidential and parliamentary elections. The right of recourse to this Council belongs to the president of the Republic, to the president of the parliament, to the president of the Council of Ministers, to any ten members of the parliament, as well as to the heads of the legally recognized communities for matters concerning personal status, liberty of conscience, exercise of the religion, and freedom of religious education.

The constitution also establishes a Higher Court, whose function is to judge the president and the ministers. It is composed of seven members elected by the parliament and eight of the highest Lebanese judges.

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Constitutional Amendments and Procedures

The President of the Republic and the parliament may suggest revisions to the constitution. The parliament may, during an ordinary session and on the proposal of at least ten members, voice the wish that the constitution be revised. A majority of two-thirds of the total membership is required to initiate complex amendment procedures and to adopt the final amendment.

The 1926 constitution, amended in 1927, 1929, and 1943, was complemented by the National Pact of 1943, when Christians were a majority according to the last census of 1932. The National Pact, an unwritten covenant, provided for a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiite Muslim speaker of parliament. It also provided that the ratio of seats in parliament would be six Christian seats for every five Muslim seats, and other government posts would be allotted on similar sectarian criteria. The constitutional amendments passed in 1990 preserved confessional allotments, but gave Muslims increased power, for example, by dividing parliament’s seats equally between Christians and Muslims. This sectarian distribution is also to be observed in appointments to public office. The abolition of political confessionalism is a basic national goal and shall be achieved according to a gradual plan according to article 95 of the constitution. Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its association. It is a founding and active member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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International Conventions

Lebanon, is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

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