Consensus inevitable as Lebanon’s political map is redrawn

Sunday 18/06/2017

Drastic shift. Lebanese President Michel Aoun (C-back) and Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C-L) attend a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace of Baabda, on June 14. (AFP)

Beirut - L ebanon’s protracted politi­cal crisis seems to be com­ing to an end. After many troubled months, indica­tors point to consensus has been reached over a new elec­toral law with fresh alliances are forming ahead of the introduction of a new voting system.
The most recent Lebanese elec­tions were in June 2009. Since then, parliament extended its term twice, both times under the pretext of security. With the current par­liament’s mandate to expire June 20, a third extension looks almost inevitable before elections, set for May 2018, take place under the new system.
Historically, every Lebanese elec­tion since 1943 has been the spur for a staggering amount of political debate over the best electoral sys­tem under which to have the vote. These debates produced only ad­justments to a system weighted for the benefit of whatever ruling fac­tion is in power. For instance, under Syrian tutelage, the law was adapt­ed according to the best interests of Syria’s allies with minimal possibil­ity of protest for their opponents.
However, rather than simply an adjustment in favour of the coun­try’s competing elites, the new law marks a drastic shift in how votes are measured and what govern­ments are appointed. It is a shift from the majoritarian voting sys­tem of winner-take-all to the pro­portional representative system of competing closed lists, with par­liament’s structure decided on the proportion of overall votes won.
The new system looks set to not only redraw Lebanon’s political map but to pave the way for new factions to enter parliament, some for the first time. Civil society ac­tivists, long excluded from direct participation in the mechanics of government, may be able to enter parliament and the traditional coa­litions built after the 2005 assas­sination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri also look set to be re­visited.
Moreover, the country’s tra­ditional coalitions, the March 8 grouping (made up of Syria’s al­lies, Hezbollah and the Free Patri­otic Movement) and the March 14 coalition (made up of current Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Christian Lebanese Forces and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, before his withdrawal in 2009) all look to end with the replacement of the current voting system.
Furthermore, the apparent rap­prochement between Lebanon’s two largest Christian parties ap­pears to be undergoing change. Following decades of differences, struggle and even military con­flict, the détente between the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Lebanese Forces (LF) seems to be experiencing a period of flux, as the longstanding alliance between the FPM and Hezbollah continues to draw the FPM closer into the Army of God’s orbit.
Whether the FPM will be able to compromise its old alliance with Hezbollah, which is highly antago­nistic to the Lebanese Forces, is a serious question. Furthermore, whether FPM’s alliance with LF will survive amid fierce competi­tion over parliamentary seats in the so-called Christian provinces is also questionable.
LF leader Samir Geagea started nominating his candidates for sev­eral of electoral districts before the agreement on the new electoral law was reached. More than anything, it is a clear signal to its rivals that the LF is intent on getting what it clearly regards as its due share of the electoral cake.
In southern and Beqaa districts, there are few surprises anticipated as the consistently successful al­liance between Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah, which has held since 1992, looks set to continue unchallenged.
However, the question remains as to how other electoral alliances, such as those between Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party and Hariri, or that between Berri and FPM and others may fare.
The Sunni street seems quite up­set with several policies pursued by Hariri. For evidence, look at Beirut’s municipal elections, during which Hariri’s list managed victory by the slenderest of margins. In Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and one with a sweeping Sunni major­ity, Hariri’s list fell short of winning.
That the Lebanese political map is to be redrawn along new lines ap­pears inevitable. However, regard­less of whatever weight any party or faction might hold, Lebanon’s history has provided ample proof time and time again that, without consensus, politics in this country rarely works.