The Lebanese Electoral Law No One’s Talking About

Orthodox law here, orthodox law there. It’s all about the Orthodox law and the myth of its improvement of “representation.”
In the very narrow sense of things, the Orthodox Law makes sense given what the country is all about. Those who suddenly woke up and panicked about the law being sectarian: where were you living exactly?
You may not like what that sense is and you may be absolutely in love with it. In broader terms, however, the Orthodox Law is a disaster – not because it “improves” Christian power as some claim it will, but because it doesn’t really tackle the foundation of the issue which necessitated such a law to be present in the first place.

The problem with Christian representation in its current form in parliament is the following: democracy.

Let’s examine 3 different scenarios.

Caza A: has 40,000 Shiite voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christians usually vote 50-50 between both politics camps. Shiite voters vote with about 90% for one camp. Half of the Christian voters feel their voice has been stripped.

Caza B: has 40,000 Druze voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Christian votes get divided almost equally. Druze votes are beyond one-sided. The Druze voter has now chosen for the Christian voter.

Caza C: 40,000 Sunni voter and 60,000 Christian voter. Repeat same scenario as in A or B.

The above scenarios are in play in Lebanon today in several districts of which I note:
– Aley: has 50,000 Christian voter who, the propaganda, goes cannot choose their own MP because of the Druze majority.
– Jbeil: has 10,000 Shiite voter whose votes make the election result look very lopsided while it isn’t.
– Zahle: A sizable Sunni population was key in the victory of whoever won in that area.

Don’t worry, I am not defending the Orthodox Law’s premise. The above examples are to illustrate the following:
The “problem” in Lebanon today isn’t that Christians are too few demographically or that they are given a greater voice in parliament than they should have or that their only solution is for a separation from everyone else in choosing their representatives. It is that there is a true democratic condition among Christian communities which is beyond nonexistent in all of the other sects in the country – and any electoral law which doesn’t lead to the growth of an opposition to the key leaders of each of the landslide-sects is not a law which can actually be used for a sustainable development of Lebanese society. This is nowhere near guaranteed with a law such as the Orthodox Law or any of the laws currently discussed.

Another major shortcoming that politicians seem to ignore in order to communicate the rhetoric of “defending Christian rights” is the following: how is it logical and acceptable for a Maronite voter in Akkar to vote for a Maronite MP in the deep end of the South? How can they fathom it is a “right” for the Sunni in Saida to vote for the Sunni MP of Tripoli? How is it logical for the Shiite in Tyre to vote for the Shiite MP of Hermel?

But there is a law that takes in consideration both regions and proper representation. It is a law which is not even discussed around the round tables of our MPs as they fight over their prospective seats in parliament: individual districts (El daweyer l fardiye): voters can vote for one MP in a small district of a few thousand voters.

To illustrate this, let’s examine a real life example: my district, Batroun, which has only two MPs – one of the fewest per district in Lebanon.

If my entire district is considered as only one electoral circumscription, the results are pretty well known: the current MPs will be re-elected. The votes coming in from the Mountains overtake whatever votes are coming from the Coast. If any third party candidate wants to run, they have to communicate their message – or try to at least – to over 60,000 voter. And parties rule by having a sizable base spread across the district which can vote for whichever candidate their party endorses.
Now with individual electoral districts, my district is split in half corresponding to each of the MPs it gets. The lesser number of voters per district means higher effect for those whose votes bordered on the irrelevant in a bigger district: the 1000 Sunni vote of Rasenhash and the 500 Shiite vote in Rashkida become something that whoever wants to run needs to win in order to have a chance at winning. By lessening the number of potential voters, any third party candidate will also have a higher chance at communicating their message to the voters. Instead of having an Antoine Zahra-Gebran Bassil face off in the coast and a Boutros Harb-Whatever face off in the mountains, we could have a three-way race with a viable alternative candidate. Said candidate may not win but at least people would have another option to vote for and express their disappointment with the current political establishment.
By decreasing the overall number of voters per circumscription, the bulk-voting effect of political parties is also decreased.

This electoral model, when applied to bigger and more diverse districts, leads to a more substantial weight for minorities, less effect for political parties and a room for centrists to take office.

Individual electoral districts, however, will never see the light of the day for the following reasons:
– It decreases Hezbollah’s influence by cutting his bases into pieces.
– Can you imagine the seizure Jumblat will have if this law is proposed and he won’t be able to get every single Druze seat in the Lebanese Republic? The only law he accepts is the law everyone refuses. They call this in Lebanese slang: “7ajar el dema.”
– The Future Movement will also lose a few MPs because of a decreased effect of the voters which constitute his base and an increased power of those who don’t.

The individual districts electoral law means that the current political establishment receives a drastic makeover. Do any of our politicians want this? Absolutely not. They preach about change, reform, proper representation. But anything that doesn’t bring them back to power with absolute certainty isn’t something they can accept.

True representation isn’t, in my opinion, sects voting for themselves and themselves alone. If Maronites vote for Maronites alone, how can we expect to accept Sunnis and Shiites voting for the president? If Sunnis vote for Sunnis alone, then why should the Christians and Shiites vote for the prime minister? If Shiites vote for Shiites alone, why should Christians and Sunnis vote for the speaker of the house?

A Maronite MP isn’t an MP that represents Maronites only. He is an MP who represents the voters of the district he comes from in order to transcend that and become a representative of the entire country and as such, it is shameful that an MP of a given sect who has to represent everyone has no chance of getting the votes of the other part of the country which he/she should represent.

Our votes as Lebanese of different sects are not and should not be confined to the sects that we are born into. It is saddening that some people want to summarize us with whatever’s written in the sect box of our IDs and are beyond convinced with this.

I refuse to be just another Maronite number.

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14 thoughts on “The Lebanese Electoral Law No One’s Talking About

  1. I’m sincerely glad you are giving an alternative electoral law without just refusing the Orthodox law.
    but regarding the dawayir el fardiye law that you proposed here, there are many disadvantages too in it:
    1- the electoral money will be more influential (you will need to pay to fewer people in this case!!).
    2- we will have at the end “mkheitir” rather than MPs. if we look at other countries, there is no room for individuals (which is emphasized in your proposed law), parties holding programs and projects are the only concurrent.

    Reply
    • Electoral money will always be influential in Lebanon as long as you don’t have proper voter education and crappy economic standards in the places where it’s spent the most. In a way, no electoral law will actually have less influence of this. The Orthodox Law could have copious amounts of money spent to vote for this list or the next. In very contested sects (almost all Christian ones), buying a few thousand votes here and there can tip the balance dramatically. Votes can also be bought by candidates who want to be your preferential vote.

      With having 128 – now 134 – districts, political parties may be overwhelmed and not handle the amount of field-work they’d have to do regarding this.

      MPs in other countries represent their regions basically in order to represent the interests of their country. We have to add sects on top of this and due to the very fragile balance of Lebanese society, either one or the other has to take precedence. The point isn’t only to have individuals winning. They may not win. But it’s at least to give them a shot and frankly, I think when you have fewer voters to work on, such individuals have a better shot. Political parties can still win and there’s no harm in that obviously but they’d have to win not only by relying on their base but by communicating their message to those who might fall in the centrist area.

      Reply
      • I agree that money is influential in all electoral laws and in Orthodox law too, but in small districts buying 1000 votes is sufficient for you to win as much as 3 or 4 MPs. Whereas, in Orthodox law you shall buy like 50000 or more (practically impossible) votes in order to win 3 or 4 MPs for example, this is because of the proportional law that is adopted in the Orthodox law. money is much less influential in proportional laws.

        Reply
        • In the districts I’m proposing, you can only vote for one MP. So if someone wants to win a sizable number of candidates via corrupt means, they’d have to spend huge amounts of money across tens of districts.
          It will still be there, sure, but unless you have stringent regulations on all electoral money spent and very careful monitoring of every single dollar, such electoral money will be spent anyway.
          At the end of the day, in my opinion, there’s a balance that needs to be struck between the need for proper representativeness for everyone, not just Christians, and a fair way to get that representation. In the long run, I think this is the law that could work.

          Reply
  2. Elie, why do you think it is important a national MP is elected locally/regionally? Does this have to do with the sectarian diversity in Lebanon or do you support it either way? Maybe this is the only way to get regional representation if you have a unicameral parliament, but why not adopt a bicameral federal system so you have proper representation both as an individual of a region and as an individual of a nation?

    As an outsider, a unicameral parliament seems a bad choice in a diverse country like Lebanon, because then there’s no distinction between national and subnational interests. I may be wrong, of course.

    Reply
    • Yes because we don’t have another way to communicate the woes of a given region to higher authorities. MPs are also allocated regionally for a purpose – it’s not a simple distribution for decorative purposes. I think it’s the same way everywhere else, or at least in countries that I think we should look up to democratically.

      Regarding the federal system, I’m afraid mentioning that word is enough to get more than few people to panic. It will never happen. The only talks currently are about a senate which will have sectarian representation. As if we need more representatives.

      Reply
      • Here the entire country is one constituency. For the lower house, I don’t vote for a local or a regional representative. I vote for a person (or rather a party) of which I believe they’re the best for the country as a whole, not just my region. The distribution is purely political not geographical. The members of our “senate” are elected indirectly by members of our provincial assemblies. So that could count as our regional representation.

        I believe there should be a division of national and regional interests. The parliament, in my eyes, should be concerned with the nation not just one province. Besides, provinces can lobby directly at the EU in our case.

        On the other hand, countries like Switzerland also have several constituencies and that seems to work out just fine. I don’t like a system of district voting, where a small majority gets all the seats for a district, it means that if you win 51% in every single district you could get all the seats. That means 49% of the entire country is not represented on the national level at all. Here, anyone representing more than 1/150 of the country can theoretically be in parliament.

        Reply
        • Things are very different here since our parliament has regional and sectarian allocation. So both have to be respected in any given law. For instance, my region gets 2 Maronite MPs. My MPs are known as the Maronite MPs of the Batroun (my region) district. Same applies for everywhere else.
          As long as such rules are there, any law has to consider them.

          Reply
  3. Every proposed law has its shortcomings. It all goes down to weighing the pros and cons. I think the law that balances both regions and sects, since that’s how things are, is best.
    This law would also work best if sectarianism is abolished in parliament. But will it really increase alternatives if current powers can buy votes?

    Reply
    • As I said to the other Elie, I think 134 districts would be overwhelming for political money. They might sway a few districts but would their money be enough to buy 134 results? I don’t think so.
      Eventually, the problem with electoral money isn’t the decreased number of voters, it’s that voters are willing to become an electoral commodity. I can sell my vote in Batroun now for a few thousand dollars. But I refuse to do it.

      Reply
  4. Great analysis Elie.

    I just want to make a few points here since you brought up the one-man-one-vote system.

    You have Dory Chamoun, a Baabda MP who wins with the support of Jumblatt, criticizing the Orthodox Gathering Law.
    But Chamoun supports one-man-one-vote system while many others if you bring this up with, they say you are dividing Lebanon to “cantons.”

    I agree with you that this law would better address the representation problem in Lebanon but the Orthodox Gathering law’s proportional system would result in the emergence of a Sunni opposition against the mainstream Future Movement.

    But what the Sunnis fear is that Hezbollah would continue to remain powerful and the dominant party among the Shiites.

    I disagree that Christians and Shiites would not see any reason to agree on a President and a speaker under OG law.

    A simulation on the law is necessary to show the coalition making in post-election period. Days after the election under OG law, MPs need to come together to form a majority. Many are saying that M14 and M8 would stand their grounds, but I doubt it.

    A coalition of a new set of MPs would emerge and they are obliged to form a government together. There is no need to mention that MPs from different sects need to find a common interest to form a government and a majority in Parliament.
    The remaining will have to come together in an opposition (Personal interests would meet group interests.)

    The majority should agree on a Maronite president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite speaker.
    If this happens, it would be the first time a political coalition would enforce its choices democratically.

    Reply
    • Thank you for reading.

      Regarding Dory Chamoun, I am on the fence regarding his stances from electoral law and the stances of others like him – Christian figures with no strong party backing – who are against certain laws and in favor of other simply according to their electoral chances. Chamoun, Harb, etc… are all people who, if they don’t end up on one of the competing lists w/ the OL, they will never see the inside of a parliament. But yes, I agree regarding the “Canton” mentality that some people have. It seems Lebanon’s size is relative. When it fits the rhetoric, Lebanon is too big. When it doesn’t fit the rhetoric, Lebanon is too small.

      I know that the OL might lead to the a Sunni opposition against Hariri. I wrote before that one of the “benefits” of such a law is more intra-sect competition which might lead to such an emergence. However, based on the 2009 elections, the Sunnis will end up forming an alliance. I highly doubt Mikati and his people will take on the Hariri establishment across the land. The recent situation in the country is, in my opinion, greatly hurting the Sunni opposition to the Future Movement. The only SUnni opposition on the rise is Salafism and even that is still quite small. The OL won’t, however, lead to another opposition in other sects, notably against Hezbollah, because it keeps the “torrent-voting” aspect completely intact. Looking at the 2009 numbers, another list against Hezbollah won’t even garner one seat.

      This is why I’m proposing this. By breaking the “I have 100,000 votes in the bag so you bring it” mentality of certain parties and dividing those 100,000 votes over much smaller districts, other candidates might have a higher chance of breaking in. The need for an MP who represents both the woes of a certain region and bigger national interests arises. As it stands, we are voting based on the lesser evil principle: pro-resistance, against-resistance. Pro-Syria, against-Syria, etc… not because we see this MP is better for development or has better economic plans, etc… The small district law might start putting that mentality in people’s heads.

      I don’t see how the coalition post an improbable OL election will not be that of current political powers. The Christians of the LF will come together with the Sunnis of the FM while the Christians of the FPM will form an alliance with the Shiites of Hezbollah. The only “difference” is that when those MPs start fighting with each other, they will be able to confidently say that they represent their sects. Eventually, MPs from different sects are getting together now to elect a PM and a speaker of the house and, less often, a president. But they’re not coming together because of their sect but because of their politics. I don’t see this changing.

      Reply

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