Lebanon’s Elections on the Rhythms of ‘Consensual Democracy’

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.

Bassil: Our Alliance with Future Movement Will Be Translated in Elections

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a press conference in Berlin, on May 6, 2014

Beirut – Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil said that the new era, led by President Michel Aoun, was focused on works and achievements.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Bassil noted that his party has put behind all the “bickering” and decided to open a new chapter of political work.

He warned, however, that his party would expose all those who seek to hamper the country’s political process.

Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said that his party would nominate Muslim candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

He strongly denied claims that previous proposals of the new voting system were aimed at guaranteeing his arrival to Parliament.

While he said that he was committed to the political agreement that resulted in the adoption of the current electoral law, the minister stressed that he would seek to amend the law following the elections.

“Lebanon is now on a constitutional, independent path,” Bassil said, adding: “The Lebanese people, for the first time in their history, have elected a president with their own will and created a government and adopted an electoral law without foreign interference.”

“It is a Lebanese phase par excellence that we would like to translate into agreements and a prosperous economy,” the minister also said.

Asked about the government’s plan of action, which was adopted during last week’s consultative meeting in Baabda Palace, Bassil said: “We want to establish a civil state and to consolidate equality between the Lebanese with the aim to abolish political sectarianism.”

The other part of the plan of action focuses on economic reforms, according to Bassil, who underlined that the government was laying much importance on economic issues and the fight against corruption.

He noted in this regard that the president would be closely following up on the implementation of the new national agreement, which would be implemented within the framework of comprehensive institutional work.

The foreign minister warned that those who would seek to hamper the implementation of the agreement would be exposed to the public.

“Confessions cannot protect corrupt people; nobody will protect them,” he stated.

He noted that the paper has set out mechanisms to tackle the issues of electricity, water, and oil.

On the electoral law, the head of the FPM said that the new voting system “has mistakes, which should be corrected.”

“I am committed to the political agreement (over the law), and I call for its amendment, but not during this round (the upcoming elections),” he added.

Bassil rejected claims that the new electoral law was tailored to his party’s own interests, saying: “On the contrary, I sacrificed myself for my colleagues.”

He also stressed that his alliance with the Future Movement would be translated in the elections, without elaborating on how the electoral lists would be formed.

Aoun: Elections will be Held on Time

Lebanon

Beirut– Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that the new electoral law “might not fulfill all our ambitions, but represents a major breakthrough in the political path and a shift to the [proportional] system after 91 years of majoritarian systems.”

Aoun also stressed that the parliamentary elections would be held on time.

For his part, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said that the Lebanese have, for the first time, produced an electoral law that was “made in Lebanon”, stressing that the current law was the fruit of a “deep Lebanese political dialogue.

The statements of Aoun and Hariri came during a Cabinet session held on Wednesday at the Baabda Palace.

A meeting between the president and the premier preceded the session. The two officials tackled latest developments in the country and the region.

In a statement, Information Minister Melhem Riachi quoted Aoun as saying that the elections would be held on time. He also called for an awareness campaign to explain the new law for the public.

On a different note, the Lebanese president underlined the need to implement the electricity plan in the nearest time possible.
Hariri, for his part, called for a positive approach to the electricity issue.

Lebanon: A Nation Postponed

A man dressed up in a Lebanese flag attends a demonstration against proposed tax increase, in Beirut.

As it is well-known, there is a basic difference between an ‘examination’ and a ‘contest’. In the first, all entrants may pass, not so in the second which must end with ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

In schools and universities, examinations are the norm unless there is a need to fill a limited number of vacancies in highly selective advanced or specialized courses. In such cases, these examinations become contests – or ‘concours’ whereby even those who achieve passing grades would not make it to the final desired number chosen to fill available vacancies.

The occasion for this is what is supposed to be the much hoped for – but what has been an elusive – agreement among Lebanese politicians on a new electoral law. This ‘agreement’ has been farcical, to say the least, especially, that it has emerged while all concerned parties are talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’!

Wrangling, maneuvering, impossible demands and counter demands have dominated the Lebanese political scene, becoming like other issues, ranging from energy crises to garbage collection, into ‘red herrings’ designed to occupy people in a country that refuses to acknowledge that it is suffering from a ‘governmental crisis’ if not an ‘existential debacle’. Indeed, what is even more noteworthy is that the Lebanese legislators have continued talking about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among religious and political blocs openly throughout the media after reaching the ‘agreement’!

Sure enough, for ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ to emerge from adopting a certain electoral law is not an exception in any proper democracy; but the notion of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in Lebanon implies marginalization and exclusion.

However, in a proper democracy, election results are not predestined or guaranteed in advance, and no fair and free elections can be conducted while one of the country’s constituent community is exclusively allowed to carry and use heavy weapons, and in de facto control of its own territories, while still imposing its influence in others’ territories.

Furthermore, sectarian apportionment in the Lebanese political system is enshrined in the law of the land. Religious/Sectarian identity precedes citizenship in Lebanon in most fields related to rights and duties, since the Lebanese Constitution deals with the Lebanese when they become candidates for government posts – be they civilian or military – as ‘members of sectarian flocks’ not equal citizens before the law. Yet, under the silly and barely credible slogan of ‘national unity’, it was deemed necessary to show respect to diversity by equally distributing government posts between Christians and Muslims, regardless of population figures and demographic rates of changes.

Given the above, it would be obvious to talk of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’; first, as long as Lebanon remains a hostage to institutionalized sectarianism; and second, as long as political parties remain blocs with sectarian identities, loyalties, and interests. Such a situation means that any increase in a certain sect’s share would surely be at the expense of another sect, simply because parliamentary seats are limited and earmarked or reserved for particular sects, and so are senior government posts in the judiciary, civil service, diplomatic service, armed forces and security forces.

On the other hand, the immense influence political Lebanese religious leaders wield and practice is not something new, but today, in the era of NGOs and Internet, even religious occasions have become political platforms. In the Christian camp, the regular meetings of Maronite bishops chaired by the Patriarch are almost always concluded by political statements, the same applies to weekly Sunday sermons. While in the Muslim camp it has been the habit of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to deliver fiery speeches, calls to arms, and engage in political arguments and threats in Shi’ite religious festivals and landmarks; and recently, Ramadan Iftars (breaking the Ramadan fast) on the Sunni side have been turned into opportunities to settle political scores and mobilize political supporters.

Thus, in the final outcome, while most Lebanese claim to be striving for a healthy civil society based on true consensus and accords, the forces which speak on their behalf spare no moment in undermining any move toward that goal. It may not be far off to say that the Lebanese today are more extremist and more sectarian than they were during the 1970s (when the Lebanese War broke out). Indeed, to make matters worse, Lebanese youth who are now calling for lowering the voting age and are active in various NGOs, do not – to some extent – possess a strong political memory, and are unable to comprehend the dynamics that dominate and control the political realities of the country.

Actually, talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ from approving the electoral law, in conditions as those prevalent in Lebanon, destroys several notions in one go:

1- It destroys the notion of ‘national consensus’, underlining the fact that it is nothing but a lie exploited by political merchants from all religious communities.

2- It destroys democracy, as it is being deprived of its true spirit while using its ‘ready-to-order’ technicalities into tools in the hands of those possessing real power at the expense of true co-existence.

3- It destroys the notion of a common destiny for the Lebanese through temporary factional and sectarian deals reached in the shadow of the current competition for ethnic, religious and sectarian hegemony between regional powers.

4- It destroys the last opportunity to build a real ‘homeland’ all Lebanese have a vested interest in building together and live in it together, not at the expense of each other.

Not building a ‘homeland’ whose inhabitants are supposed to have learned from the mistakes and tragedies of a devastating war which lasted for 15 years, and insisting on escaping forward, is very damaging.

More so, in a region already paying a heavy price of wars and foreign interventions, in the absence of wise and capable leaders, it would have been better safeguarding Lebanon instead of throwing it in the quagmire of nations’ collapse, hatred, and seeking foreign protection.

Alas, Lebanon’s political class seems to be still living in the past, and for the past.

Lebanon Parliament Approves New Electoral Law despite Criticism

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Beirut- Lebanon’s parliament has approved the country’s first proportional vote law that would allow the elections to be held in May 2018 after the current legislature served a nine-year term following two extensions of the lawmakers’ tenures in 2013 and 2015.

The law was approved by overwhelming majority despite insistence by several lawmakers that it was not perfect.

The three-hour session was chaired by Speaker Nabih Berri and attended by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and cabinet members.

Berri, who hailed the “historic” deal on the law, said it was the “best possible.”

“We were about to reach a fateful crisis. This law is the best possible and the compromise that led to its endorsement might have saved what can be saved,” he said.

“The compromise that happened is not harmful. I am keen on the rights of sects, but not sectarianism,” Berri added.

The speaker also expressed hope that the government would open an extraordinary term for the parliament to discuss pending draft-laws such as the public sector salary raise bill and to “restore the people’s confidence.”

MP Boutros Harb, who abstained from voting, said: “Parliament is required today to rubber-stamp (the draft-law) and raising hands without discussion and expressing opinion. We reject this.”

Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel, who on Thursday said that the law was flawed and lacked “unified standards,” reiterated his criticism during the parliamentary session.

“Why did the parliament extend its term for an additional year? Is it to give the government more time to bribe the voters by offering them (public) services?” Gemayel asked.

His remarks drew a sharp response from Hariri. “This is not what the government is doing,” he said.

The premier also withdrew from the parliament hall and returned only after Berri asked for the removal of Gemayel’s criticism from the minutes of the session.

Lebanon: Electoral Law Preserves Domination of Traditional Political Parties

Lebanon

Beirut – As the features of the Lebanese parliament’s political distribution become more defined with the adoption of the new proportional representation electoral law, which divides the country into 15 electoral districts, small blocs and candidates, who do not belong to the traditional political parties, seem to have less of a chance of winning in wake of the new voting system.

While experts stress that the new law, which will be endorsed by parliament on Friday, serves the interests of the Shi’ite duo (“Hezbollah” and the Amal Movement) and the Christian coalition (Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces), they say that it might lead to a drop in the representation of the Future Movement.

Head of Beirut Center for Research and Information Abdo Saad ruled out the possibility for non-traditional parties to win over dominant blocs in the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are set to take place in May 2018.

Saad noted in this regard that a proportional electoral law with a single electoral district was the only system that can achieve fair political representation.

Secretary General of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) Zeina Helou told Asharq Al-Awsat that the ball was in the court of the Lebanese people and the voters, adding that the new law included many holes that would “lock the system rather than broaden the circle of participation.”

The cabinet on Wednesday approved a new electoral law based on the proportional system, which divides the country into 15 electoral districts.

The cabinet also agreed to extend parliament’s term by 11 months to allow for the preparations for the elections based on the new voting system.

Commenting on the law, Helou said that small and medium districts, as well as the mechanisms set for counting votes, would distort the principle of proportionality, promote the majoritarian regime and weaken the change dynamics.

For his part, Saad said: “They praise the new voting system as being representative, but the division of Lebanon into 15 electoral districts would give more representation to the majority blocs.”

Lebanese Government Approves Proportional Law, Extends Parliament Term by 11 Months

Lebanon

Beirut – The Lebanese Cabinet on Wednesday approved a new electoral law based on the proportional system, which divides the country into 15 electoral districts.

Speaker Nabih Berri said Parliament would convene on Friday, three days before the end of its constitutional term, to vote on the law.

As expected, Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced that the cabinet has agreed to extend Parliament’s term by 11 months to allow for the preparations for the elections based on the new voting system.

This will be the third extension of the Lebanese parliament since the last elections in 2009.

Both President Michel Aoun and Hariri have described Cabinet’s endorsement of the new law as a “historic achievement”.

In comments during Cabinet’s session on Wednesday, the Lebanese president said: “The vote law is a tremendous achievement. The [electoral law] in Lebanon has been majoritarian since before the independence.”

However, the president described the new voting system as “a step forward”, even though it might not achieve fully balanced representation, as he said.

“This new law is for all those who have been marginalized by the previous electoral systems,” he added.

Hariri, for his part, praised Lebanese politicians for sitting together and endorsing a new electoral law.

He noted that only three ministers have expressed reservations over the distribution of electoral districts, including Minister for the Displaced Talal Arslan, Public Works and Transportation Minister Youssef Fenianos and State Minister Ali Qanso.

“Unfortunately, we could not adopt the women’s parliamentary quota and we have encouraged to lower the voting age to 18 but we could not reach an agreement over this issue,” the prime minister noted.

“As for emigrants, they will be able to vote in the 2022 parliamentary elections and will be represented” in Parliament, he added.

Hariri stressed that his government was working on easing sectarianism in the Lebanese political life.

The prime minister said the 11-month extension was only technical and would allow the authorities to prepare for the elections, raise awareness on the new process, issue magnetic voting cards and printed ballots, and to prepare for electronic vote tabulation.

Lebanese Forces (LF) Leader Samir Geagea urged the Lebanese to prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections, noting: “Every vote counts and will influence the electoral process.”

He also called on the Lebanese citizens to unify stances in order to achieve the change that they were longing for.

Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati, for his part, said that the new law promoted political diversity and would bring an added value to the Lebanese political work.

Lebanese FM: A Political Agreement Has Been Reached Concerning Electoral Law

Lebanon’s rival parties reached agreement on Tuesday on an electoral law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said, staving off a political crisis and paving the way for a parliamentary election.

The agreement still needs the approval of the cabinet in a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, and will then be sent to parliament.

“Today we have reached a political agreement between the political sides,” said Bassil, an ally of President Michel Aoun.

It will take at least seven months to prepare for an election, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said.

The new law will introduce the proportional representation system for elections, will change the number of electoral districts, and give overseas Lebanese voting rights, a senior political source said.

The agreement averts a crisis that had threatened to unravel the political deal that brought Aoun to office last year, more than two years after the previous president left.

Politicians have spent months wrangling over the new law and had a deadline of June 20 to pass it before parliament’s term expired.

The country has never been without a parliament before, but the present parliament has extended its own term twice since 2009 because of fundamental disagreements between the parties.

Last year, the parliament elected Aoun, as president in a deal that also led to the appointment of Saad al-Hariri as prime minister.

Parliament’s 128 seats are split equally between Christians and Muslims under the terms of the Taif agreement, which ended the 1975-1990 civil war.

Aoun and his allies say the way in which members of parliament are chosen in the existing system, and its drawing of electoral districts, gives Muslims too much say over which Christians are elected.

Aoun-Hariri Meeting Raises Lebanon’s Optimism in Approving New Electoral Law

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Beirut – A meeting between Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Sunday helped overcome some of the remaining obstacles that are hindering the approval of a new parliamentary electoral law.

The meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda raised the level of optimism in the country that the thorny electoral law dispute will be resolved after years of political wrangling.

The lingering differences over the current law lies in the distribution of seats in electoral districts and if the preferential vote should be held on the basis of the district or province (qadaa), revealed Lebanese Forces MP Georges Adwan.

Hariri said after his talks with the president: “The meeting with Aoun was positive and we should speed up the drafting of the new electoral law.”

The premier stated that the drafting should be complete before Wednesday’s cabinet session.

Lebanon witnessed a flurry of political consultations last week in an attempt to eliminate the remaining obstacles in the electoral law and set a date for the parliamentary elections that have been twice postponed due to dispute over the law. The factions are also seeking to extend parliament’s term before it expires on June 20.

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil stated that “time is running up”.

“It is unacceptable for us to reach vacuum,” he added, warning that vacuum will not be limited to parliament, but it will extend to the whole state.

He stressed: “We will forge ahead with openness and positivity to reach an agreement.”

He called for the adoption of an electoral law that is based on proportional representation and 15 districts, saying that there are no disputes over the essence of the new law.

Adwan echoed Khalil’s statements, adding that some issues of contention will be resolved this week.

The differences center on the preferential vote, he said.

“If we failed to reach an agreement, then we have no choice but to resort to a vote on it,” he explained.

The MP also denied that there are differences between the Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement, saying: “We are in agreement over 98 points, while two remain.”

Should a new law be adopted, then the date of the parliamentary elections will be set by the president and prime minister.

“The economic situation in the country depends on the adoption of this law,” stated Adwan.

Mustaqbal Movement MP Mohammed al-Hajjar meanwhile called for “preparing for the polls as if they were taking place tomorrow.”

He pledged that a new law will be approved soon and all officials should be responsible for preparing the country for voters to head to the ballot boxes to practice their democratic rights.

Not all sides in Lebanon have been pleased with the latest developments regarding the law, as Marada Movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh lashed out at the Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement saying that they had reneged on an agreement made with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi in Bkirki.

“They have gone against what we agreed on at Bkirki. Their fear has driven them to devise electoral laws that suit their interests,” he noted.

Lebanon: Christian Demands Take Electoral Law Dispute back to Square One

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Beirut – Differences over the details of the parliamentary electoral law that Lebanon has toiled over for years are threatening to erase the recent progress that was achieved by President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

The latest obstacle lies in demands by the Christian Free Patriotic Movement and Lebanese Forces to eliminate 20 parliamentary seats that were added after the 1989 Taef Accord.

Berri rejected the proposal, saying that they are part of constitutional amendments that FPM chief Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil is trying to impose as the June 20 deadline for the end of parliament’s term draws near.

The Lebanese political powers succeeded in reaching an agreement on an electoral law based on proportional representation and 15 districts. Disputes have lingered over the transfer of parliamentary seats from one district to the other and over the issue of the preferential vote.

These differences and the recent Christian demands have threatened to take the dispute over the law back to square one, but those involved in the issue sought to make light of the developments, saying that they are only superficial.

Sources from Berri have however expressed their disappointment in the FPM and LF behavior, telling Asharq Al-Awsat: “We want an electoral law, but they want a constitutional amendment.”

“It appears some sides want to burn deadlines so that we either return to the 1960 law or face parliamentary vacuum,” they stated.

The 1960 law was adopted in the last elections that were held in 2009.

“Berri will not stand idly by and watch opportunities being wasted. He will use his privileges during the remaining time in order to preserve the country and its constitutional institutions,” added the sources.

Meanwhile, FPM Secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are serious efforts to produce a new electoral law.

“The views of all sides should be taken into consideration so that common ground is reached or we can vote on the draft-law at cabinet,” he stressed.

Furthermore, he denied that Bassil had made proposals that require constitutional amendments.

“Our main idea stems from the fact that a certain number of parliamentary seats were introduced in some regions during the time of Syrian hegemony. The MPs in those areas do not represent their societies,” Kanaan explained.

“The hegemony is over and the seats should be redistributed based on practical and democratic bases,” he stressed.

As for the preferential vote, the MP announced that the FPM suggested that this vote be applied on the basis of the district, not sectarianism. It should represent all voters.

“This is the best way to avoid having the minority be lost in the majority or for the majority to become a minority. If these proposals are not acceptable, then we should turn to other ones, such as heading towards the secular state starting tomorrow,” said the FPM official.

Constitutional expert, former MP Salah Hnein warned that Lebanon will be headed towards “catastrophic choices” if a new electoral law is not approved by the June 20 deadline.

He explained that once the deadline is over, the government will be forced to issue a decree to hold the elections after three months based on the law adopted in the last polls.

“At this point, the new parliament will be constitutional and legal, but it will not be seen as legitimate by the people,” he said.