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Lebanon’s Elections on the Rhythms of ‘Consensual Democracy’ | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A policeman stands guard as voters queue to cast their ballots at a polling station during Beirut’s municipal elections, Lebanon, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Beirut- The Lebanese are now preparing forby-elections to fill two vacant seats in Parliament. The polls will be the first under the new electoral law, which was adopted last month.

It should be noted that the different political factions have agreed on the new voting system after dozens of rounds of meetings over the last five years, during which they studied several proposals and produced a law that is based on the proportional system, for the first time since the declaration of the State of Lebanon.

Despite the ambiguity of the outcome of this new law, it is definitely “the fruit of consensus following a long period of discussions and deliberations” and proves that Lebanon cannot neglect the balances of democratic consensus that govern the course of its political process.

While the new electoral law has been widely welcomed and described as “the best possible”, critics stressed that the voting system “reinforces current political powers” and does not allow for any fundamental changes.

Hezbollah’s opponents, for their part, fear that a similar law would allow the group’s allies to increase their share in parliament, which might lead, in future stages, to giving legitimacy to Hezbollah’s military wing, alongside the Lebanese army.

Consensus and Confessions

The adoption of a proportional law does not contradict with the principle of consensual democracy, which governs Lebanon’s constitutional process. Article 24 of the Constitution provides for the distribution of parliamentary seats among sects and regions, which is applied in both the majority and the proportional systems.

The new law falls within the framework of a series of political settlements in Lebanon since October 2016, the date of the election of Michel Aoun as President of the Republic, after two and a half years of vacuum.

The settlement also resulted in the appointment of Saad Hariri – Aoun’s former opponent – as prime minister.

The Electoral Law

After years of political debate, the Lebanese government approved a new law based on proportional representation instead of the majority voting system, which would pave the way for legislative elections that would be the first in nine years.

The law divides Lebanon into 15 constituencies and replaces the majority law passed in 1960, known as the 1960 Law. It also grants six seats for Lebanese emigrants in the upcoming elections, provided that these seats constitute one constituency.

The 23rd Parliament

The parliament, which is to be elected on May 6, 2018, will be the 23rd since the declaration of the Lebanese State. Lebanese observers and politicians alike believe that the adoption of a proportional electoral law constitutes a practical step towards reaching a national non-sectarian law.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Constitutional Researcher Dr. Wassim Mansouri said: “The mere agreement over a proportional law is positive … It is a good experience that can be built on in the future as it helps pave the way for the adoption of an electoral law that goes beyond sectarian calculations”.

Advantages and disadvantages of the new law

The Lebanese Association for Electoral Democracy (LADE), said the advantages of the new law include the use of a unified official voting card, the adoption of the principle of proportional system rather than the majority system, the electoral campaign supervisory authority and its partial independence from the ministry of Interior and Municipalities, and the presence of a representative of civil society among the members of the supervisory authority.

On the other hand, the Association recorded some shortcomings, including what it described as a “distortion of proportionality and turning it into a majority system that weakens the dynamics of change”. It added that the adoption of the small and medium constituencies and the mechanism in counting the votes, with the possibility of forming incomplete lists, are elements that would all lead to the loss of the true meaning of proportionality.