De­liv­ered late and far from per­fect, we must work with it

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

Since ap­point­ing the Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Par­lia­men­tary Elec­toral Law (the Fouad Boutros Com­mis­sion) in 2005, Le­banese politi­cians have been “work­ing” on an elec­toral law that em­ploys pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion (PR), a sys­tem that al­lo­cates seats in Par­lia­ment based on the per­cent­age of votes a can­di­date list re­ceives. PR is more rep­re­sen­ta­tive than a ma­jori­tar­ian or first-past-the-post vot­ing sys­tem. In all past Le­banese elec­tions, the list with the most votes won all the seats on of­fer, with their op­po­nents get­ting noth­ing (even if a com­pet­ing list re­ceived 49 percent of the vote). PR gives voice to that 49 percent and in­creases the chance for in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates to ac­tu­ally get elected. How­ever, it un­de­ni­ably threat­ens the es­tab­lished power struc­ture. No sur­prise then, that af­ter 13 years of study­ing how to best adopt a PR sys­tem for Le­banon, the law un­veiled in mid-June in­tro­duces PR, but at the same time does its ut­most to pre­serve the in­ter­ests of the en­trenched politico-com­mu­nal es­tab­lish­ment.

First and fore­most, for PR to be truly ef­fec­tive, elec­toral districts must be large. The Le­banese As­so­ci­a­tion for the De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of Elec­tions (LADE) set a cri­te­ria of 20 seats per elec­toral district as an ideal stan­dard in any new law. While Ex­ec­u­tive does not nec­es­sar­ily en­dorse 20 as a magic num­ber, the laws of math do agree that larger districts lead to more plu­ral­ity in a PR sys­tem than smaller districts. The law agreed last month comes nowhere close to the LADE pro­posal. While the 26 elec­toral districts used in the 2009 elec­tion have been re­duced to 15, the largest of the new elec­toral districts has 13 seats and the small­est a mere five. Only six of the districts have 10 or more seats and six of the districts have seven or fewer seats.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the thresh­old for a list to re­ceive seats is not only dif­fer­ent across the coun­try, in most in­stances it is far too high for non-es­tab­lish­ment can­di­dates to ac­tu­ally stand a chance. A list needs 20 percent of the vote to qual­ify for a seat in the Saida-Jezzine elec­toral district. In all but four of 15 elec­toral districts, the thresh­old for a seat is 10 percent of the vote or higher. It is for the pun­dits to de­bate which po­lit­i­cal par­ties ben­e­fit most as a re­sult of this un­even play­ing field, but fair­ness and equal­ity are clear losers.

For all its flaws, how­ever, this is the law we have to work with. Politi­cians gave them­selves 11 months to crunch num­bers and find the best strate­gies to cling to power. They’ve even le­gally al­lowed lists and in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates to spend mil­lions of dol­lars per district on elec­tion­eer­ing such as fly­ing vot­ers in from abroad (ar­guably un­nec­es­sary when ex­pa­tri­ates are also given the right to vote in their coun­try of res­i­dence).

The com­ing cam­paign will be long (it’s clearly al­ready started). It will no doubt be very dirty. There will be no short­age of sec­tar­ian rhetoric and fear mon­ger­ing. While Le­banon might not have to fear on­line med­dling and fake news ped­dling by Rus­sian hack­ers aimed at in­flu­enc­ing the elec­tion, there will be de­lib­er­ate dis­tor­tions of fact, at­tempts at voter ma­nip­u­la­tion, and out­right lies — all home­grown and apart from the in­ter­fer­ence of well-known for­eign med­dlers which have tried to ma­nip­u­late ev­ery elec­tion of the past 25 years.

For two decades Ex­ec­u­tive has been re­port­ing on and an­a­lyz­ing the eco­nomic pulse in this coun­try. There’s no deny­ing that Le­banon is much im­proved com­pared to 20 years ago. How­ever, the pace of that im­prove­ment has been woe­fully slow, and far too many prom­ises re­main un­kept (af­ford­able hous­ing, 24-hour elec­tric­ity and fast in­ter­net, to name a few). The up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions of­fer an op­por­tu­nity to re­v­erse this mo­men­tum, and in­di­vid­ual vot­ers have an im­por­tant role to play in achiev­ing that goal.

While this mag­a­zine’s ar­chives are filled with ev­i­dence that the coun­try has been very badly mis­man­aged, it is not our place to sug­gest for whom read­ers vote. What we de­mand, how­ever, is that they think crit­i­cally. Demo­cratic pol­i­tics the world over have ar­guably be­come (or at least heav­ily grav­i­tated to­ward) beauty con­tests filled with mean­ing­less sound bites. Prom­ises with­out de­tailed ac­tion plans.

In the pages that fol­low, we of­fer a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of the new elec­toral law to help read­ers un­der­stand a some­what con­fus­ing sys­tem. Our goal is to in­form, and we prom­ise to do our best to hold can­di­dates’ feet to the fire in the com­ing 10 months. We’ll ask tough ques­tions and won’t be afraid to iden­tify bull­shit as such when we smell it. We chal­lenge our read­ers to do the same when­ever and wher­ever they en­counter can­di­dates try­ing to woo them. Even if this law does not re­sult in a mas­sive shakeup of the par­ties rep­re­sented in Par­lia­ment, the more we can all steer the dis­cus­sion over the next few months to­ward prac­ti­cal ways to im­prove this coun­try and away from empti­ness and vit­riol, the bet­ter the chance we can build a stronger Le­banon post-elec­tion re­gard­less of who wins.

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