That ’60s Show: Lebanon struggles to adopt an election law

Sunday 29/01/2017
Lebanese demonstrators blocking street leading to parliament

Beirut - For many, the 1960s brought about radical sociopoliti­cal change, culminating in May 1968 with what be­came commonly known as the youth revolt in Europe and beyond.

In Lebanon, however, the 1960s are at the centre of a radical de­bate over the adoption of a new electoral law to be implemented in parliamentary elections scheduled for May. The law to elect the 128 members of parliament adopts a majoritarian system, which would run elections according to 26 dis­tricts, each of which would choose its representatives based on sectar­ian affiliation.

In essence, this majoritarian sec­tarian system of voting, with dif­ferent variants, has been practised since 1929, the first time the Leba­nese went to the polls. While the country’s political elite have always promised a departure from this somewhat backward practice, no one has taken serious steps to bring about a more modern inclusive sys­tem of voting, one that would break the monopoly of the traditional sec­tarian leadership.

Many of the objections to this 1960 law, as it is commonly known, were championed by Christian par­ties that equated their decline from power to the adoption of the laws, especially after the end of the civil war in 1990 and the Syrian tutelage in 2005, which was clearly partial towards their Muslim compatriots.

Be that as it may, much of the pro­posed alternatives to these defunct laws brought about other challeng­es that were never fully acceptable to Lebanese Muslims, who achieved parity with the adoption of the 1989 Taif agreement. It curtailed the Maronite president’s previously un­checked powers.

The recent election of Michel Aoun as president in Lebanon promises to reinstate the so-called rights of the Christians by adopting an ostensibly modern hybrid pro­portional electoral law. While many of his allies, chiefly among them the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, have publicly supported this hybrid law, Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, has come out against it. He views it as an invention far removed from the foundations set forth by the Taif agreement but more obviously dis­enfranchising to the Druze commu­nity he heads. He has been demand­ing what he thought was fair within a Lebanese political structure that already brands people according to their predisposed sectarian belong­ing.

The antagonistic manner in which many Lebanese factions are trying to push through these chang­es reveals a different reality. Recent statements by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who is tasked with supervising the election pro­cess, exposed the pretence of many of the supposed champions of the hybrid law. For more than six years, it was ignored by all the Lebanese political classes, which refused on various occasions to discuss it in parliament.

Instead of devising ways to ger­rymander and twist legitimate elec­toral laws to serve personal narrow agendas, the Lebanese political par­ties are better off practising what they preach by adopting key re­forms that are required for any fair election, regardless of its model.

Allowing competent women to hold office does not require a sanc­tioned female quota nor a law; adopting a single ballot list and stopping vote rigging merely re­quire a conscious decision from the so-called champions of reform. Adopting a modern law, unlike the 1960 one, might be a solution to one of Lebanon’s many problems but the country at the end of the day is essentially a sectarian apartheid state that is still stuck in the 19th century, a reality no election law can hide.