About Michel Chiha

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Constitution and Suspensions

First suspension of the Constitution

Because of the failure to obtain a majority on the eve of the 1932 presidential elections, Constitutional Decree number 55/LR was invoked and Henri Ponsot suspended the Constitution. It would remain suspended until 1939 when it was reinstated due to political upheaval in Syria at a time when Damien de Martel was High Commissioner.

“…Which particular authority must be restrained? In fact, there is only one authority in Lebanon, that of the High Commission. The High Commissioner holds absolute power. He can suspend Parliament, dismiss Ministers and legislate as he pleases and even without the impetus of a coup d’état, he can suspend the Constitution! Compared to his, even the firepower of a great Padishah pales into insignificance…”
‘Parliamentarianism under a Mandate’, M.C., Le Jour, November 3rd, 1934.

“… the latest amendment of the Constitution was apparently designed to reinforce the powers of the Executive. The intent was to give the country an effective government. The attempt failed…”.
‘The Executive and legislative powers’, M.C., Le Jour, December 27th 1934.

“…because we believed it to be a Mandate intent on our liberation, we accepted fifteen years of changes in government and all manner of constitutional amendments. A fact which the mandatory authority must acknowledge is that any advance in our country’s emancipation can only occur through a real sharing of power. How much longer can the Mandate deny us this? ‘Democracy and dictatorship in Lebanon’, M.C., Le Jour, January 30th, 1935.

“…In view of these exceptional circumstances, we claim the right of the Lebanese people to share authoritative power albeit within the confines of a loyal collaboration. We ask that the Lebanese be allowed to undertake, in Lebanon, the pressing task of rebuilding their own nation. We have been anticipating this consent for twenty years and yet, as easy as it is to grant, for twenty years a response has failed to come.”
“To his Excellency Count de Martel”, M.C., Le Jour, February 25th, 1935.
“…It is necessary that this country has stable national institutions because of its perpetual tendency for transformation. This is something I have known for a while, in fact since 1926 when as Deputy for Religious Minorities and in the aftermath of serious political events in Syria, I worked day and night to produce the Lebanese Constitution…”
‘Basic observations’, M.C., Le Jour, November 14th, 1952.

Second suspension of the Constitution (1939–1943)

Due to the outbreak of the Second World War the Lebanese Constitution was suspended for a second time in 1939 by Gabriel Puaux, the then new French High Commissioner. When it was eventually restored with the declaration of Independence in 1943, four further amendments were introduced. These included:
– Decree F.T 129 endorsed by General Catroux on March 18th 1943 which abolished the phenomenon of appointed Deputies. From hereafter, the Chamber of Deputies would be formed in accordance with the outcome of a general election.
– The Statute of  November 9th 1943 whereby all textual references or restrictions referring to the Mandate were removed from the text of the Constitution
-The Statute of December 7th 1943 which prescribed the current national flag
– The Statute of January 21st 1947 which put the finishing touches to the 1943 constitutional undertaking.
These new stipulations allowed President Béchara el Khoury to extend his presidential tenure for a further six-year term thus altering, albeit for the duration of a single mandate, Article 49 of the Constitution which decreed against re-eligibility.