by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Despite the cheers that Lebanon’s feudal-like political leaders have agreed on a new electoral law, real electoral change is a far way off for Lebanon’s political system.
Lebanon has finally adopted proportional representation as part of its new election law. Indeed this is monumental for a country that has delayed legislative elections for nearly 8 years now and has only used an archaic first-past-the-post system, which, saw different feudal and religious oligarchs form a wide range of alliances in order to stifle any real opposition.
Understanding archaic Lebanese election laws is no simple task. Lebanon’s parliament is made up of sectarian quotas, with one half of the parliament reserved for various Muslim sects and the other half for Christian sects. Voting districts have varied, either being based on large mouhafazat (governorates) or qada (small administrative districts). Within each voting district is a number of seats reserved for the sectarian makeup of the district i.e. the district of Kesserwan which has a primarily Maronite population is allocated 5 Maronite seats. Typically political parties or prominent local politicians will will draw up a list of candidates from prominent families and often times will even go as far as making alliances with enemies in hopes to stifle any real competition and garner a large amount of votes. Previously there were no pre-printed ballots and votes could write their own made up of candidates from different lists or cast a blank vote.
But if one were to hold a magnifying glass up to the new law, one could see how it is already riddled with problems and we should not expect any less from the oligarchs who created it behind closed doors and not by an independent commission.
People must be careful on how they approach this new law that finally gives parties seats based on their proportion of votes. From the outside it seems the law tackles a number of problems that have plagued previous Lebanese elections. Up until now, Lebanon has only ever used the first past the post. If a list had garnered only 49% of the vote, it would still gain nothing. Now for the first time, parties will actually receive seats in parliament based on their actual percentage of votes they garner. Also for the first time in Lebanon, there will be pre-printed ballots, which breaks from past elections where people can write whichever names they wish on the ballot or go in with a ballot handed to them by political parties.
But the law already has several gaping holes. It has done away with the electoral promise of a quota for women and a senate that would not have any sectarian quotas. It has also brought new archaic laws to the table and a number of vague issues.
First, people will be voting for a list and then marking a preferred candidate. Preferred candidates will be weighted more when it comes to who from the list will make it to the parliament. This also leads to to the next problem. Typically in countries that use proportional representation there is a certain percentage of votes that must be obtained to enter parliament, usually at least %5 and districts tend be large. Instead Lebanon’s 26 small administrative districts are now regrouped into 15 districts which altogether are still quite small for electoral districts using proportional representation. Take for instance the district of the Metn. It is only allotted 8 seats split amongst varying Christian sects. If three different parties managed to each take a third of the vote, how would seats be divided? And which party gets which sectarian seat? Not to mention districts have been once again designed based on sectarian makeup (such as Jbeil and Kesserwan which are primarily Maronite or Tripoli, Minnieh and Dinneyieh which are primarily Sunni).
And already analysts have warned that the new law is only a mere rehashing of the 1960 law. There’s a little to stop the current oligarchs and their parties from forming joint lists to continue to dominate the vote in most districts. The new law also does not call for an independent commission to oversee the election that meaning once again the Ministry of Interior (currently run by a man close to the prime minister) will be overseeing the election and attempting to decipher the results with the confusing new law. So far now it seems that real electoral reform in Lebanon is a long way off.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon