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