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Lebanon's New Electoral Law: A Major Break Through

By Dr Elie Al Hindy and Ramy Jabbour

After two consecutive extensions of the Lebanese parliament and lengthy negotiations for more than six months, Lebanon is finally set to get out of the long political deadlock. A key role was played in the last few days before the end of the parliamentary term (on June 20) by the deputy head of the Lebanese Forces Party (LFP), MP George Adwan. The LFP MP congratulated the Lebanese on the approval of the new electoral law, describing the new system as an “achievement” and noting that it will reflect the real political weight of every party or independent candidate[1]. Lebanon’s Cabinet approved a new electoral law on 14 June based on proportional representation and 15 electoral districts, replacing the winner-takes-all system for the first time in the country’s history. Furthermore, the Cabinet also approved an 11-month technical extension of the parliament’s term until May 20, 2018, and specified that parliamentary elections should be held within the 60 days that precede the expiry of the legislature’s term[2]. Media reports said that the elections will be held on May 6, 2018[3].

This law came as a compromise between the different points of view of the different Lebanese political players  that diverged to the extent of contradiction. On the one hand, the Christian powers, mostly represented by the LFP and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), have been frustrated due to years of oppression and are eager to rebalance the scale of power sharing by pushing for an electoral law that allows the Christian voters to have a higher leverage over as many of the Christian seats provided in the constitution as possible. On the other hand, the Muslim powers are reluctant to give away their control over the many Christian seats that constitute for them a kind of guarantee for a fair representation and a normal reflection of the demographic composition, since the Muslims constitute around 60% of the voters, yet have only 50% of the seats. In addition to the sectarian dimension, the other level of tension is the political balance between Hezbollah and its allies (previously referred to as the 8 March coalition) on one side and their opponents (previously referred to as the 14 March coalition) led by the LFP and Hariri’s Future movement on the other side with the new dimension of having Aoun as President that needs to be factored in with the understandings that it has with Hezbollah, LFP, and Future simultaneous and consequently the balancing role he wishes to play. The Christian parties’ demands went as extreme as proposing a law (known as the Orthodox suggestions) that segregates the constituencies based on their sectarian affiliations and thus allows every sect to elect its own deputies. Hezbollah’s demands went as extreme as proposing to have all of Lebanon as one district with a full proportional representation system. As each demands were rejected by the other groups, it was clear that only a compromise between the two extremes can go forward. The search for this compromise law was very tricky and filled with hurdles of all kinds and even deadlocks, until only few days before the end of the parliamentary term the deputy head of the Lebanese Forces Party MP Adwan presented a formula that was accepted by most of the political groups.

In the new law, the country will now be divided into 15 major electoral districts. Parties and groups will put up a list of candidates from across the sects but as opposed to the old, winner-takes-all system, the new law will allocate seats to the different lists proportionally to the number of votes they received, and the winners of the seats will be determined based on one preferential vote that will be cast by every voter. The one preferential vote for every voter puts all the Lebanese on equal stands before the law unlike all the previous laws. In addition, the new electoral law will allow for nonpolitical organizations registered and approved by the Ministry of Interior to supervise the elections. An important reform included in the new electoral law is the adoption of the official pre-printed ballot which will lessen the ability of political parties to manipulate and pressure voters. Although this law is not ideal and needs further reforms in the future, it cannot be denied that it has improved the representation of the different communities and took into account the pluralistic Lebanese society much more than the previous laws.

As for the political significance of the law in the balance of who gained what by passing it, it is important to mention that like in every compromise, every group won some things and lost others:

On the sectarian balance axis, the Christian parties, and the newly formed alliance between the Lebanese Forces Party (LFP) and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) had several concerns, the main concern being, as above mentioned, to improve the Christian representation and rectify the balance in the power sharing system. This goal was achieved to a high extent with the major influence of the Christian voter on the choice of Christian deputies rising from merely 30 to almost 52 out of 64 seats, which is indeed a great achievement that reflects fairly the demographic balance and allows the Christian parties to regain part of their long lost political role within the institutions. Moreover, the Christian voters will have a measurable influence on the choice of a certain number of Muslim deputies (including in the Shiite community) similar to the influence Muslim voters will have on the remaining 10 to 15 Christian deputies, and this is completely acceptable and understandable due to the mixed nature of most Lebanese constituencies and districts.

On the Hezbollah axis and the struggle against its domination over Lebanon, Hezbollah’s opponents were able to achieve a significant change that will move Lebanon forward out of the political deadlock, while significantly improving the representation, and to reject Hezbollah’s push for a “one district” law that would have allowed it to control the political/constitutional spectrum. Hezbollah needed this legitimization and “peace of mind” in Lebanon amidst all its military involvement in the region, but was not able to have its way through.

In the middle of the region’s turmoil, sectarian tensions and Hezbollah’s involvement in the regional wars, a significant step forward was achieved. A year ago, Lebanon was in complete array with very dim perspectives for the future, and today, Lebanon has a new strongly supported President, a functioning coalition government, and now a new electoral law that opens the perspectives for the future and revives Lebanon’s democratic practice after long years of impasse. What is also very significant in this achievement is that unlike previous compromises, notably post-Taef, it came as the result of mostly internal efforts and of the persistence and ingenuity of the Lebanese polity.

[1] Naharnet Newsdesk (2017), Adwan: New Electoral Law to Reflect Real Weight of Every Party, retrieved from: http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/231408-adwan-new-electoral-law-to-reflect-real-weight-of-every-party

[2] H, Joseph (2017), New electoral law: A detailed breakdown, Daily Star, retrieved from: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2017/Jun-15/409720-new-electoral-law-a-detailed-breakdown.ashx

[3] Ibid

Elie Al Hindy
Elie Al Hindy
Elie Al-Hindy is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and Political Science, at Notre Dame University – Louaize, Lebanon (NDU), and served previously as the Chairperson of the Department of Government and International Relations (2011-2015). He earned his Ph.D. (2009) in Government and International Relations from the University of Sydney – Australia on the topic of “The Right of Self Determination for Minorities: An Arab Perspective”. He has an MBA in International Affairs and Diplomacy and two bachelor degrees in Political and Administrative Sciences (2000) and in International Affairs and Diplomacy (1998). Dr. Al Hindy’s previous work experience includes the International Management and Training Institute (2002-2004); and tutoring (2005-2009) in the University of Sydney and Macquarie University. Dr. Al-Hindy is an active member, trainer, and consultant in many national and international civil society organizations. He has been also a human rights advocate for more than 15 years. His Civil Society affiliations include: Director of the Middle East Institute for Research and Strategic Studies (MEIRSS) since 2015 Co-Founder & former President of the Board (2010-2017) of ALEF – act for human rights Senior Trainer at the Institute of Citizenship and Diversity Management at ADYAN Foundation Co-Founder of the International and Transitional Justice Resource Center Research interests of Dr. Al Hindy include: Minorities, Consociational Democracy, Citizenship, Lebanese & Middle Eastern Studies, Electoral Engineering, Human Rights, Civil Society, Youth Participation, Religion and Politics, and Peace Education.