On the electoral law: tailoring the circumscriptions so as to reproduce the same political class

Tue, 07/12/2016

In the previous editorial, we discussed the current toing and froing regarding the electoral system (whether to adopt the proportional or the majority system). We will now address the issue of electoral circumscriptions, another key aspect of the current political debate.

On one side, political powers grouped under the so-called “March 8” camp, by and large prefer larger electoral circumscriptions which they consider to reflect more accurately their representational power within their constituencies. The majority of the March 14 camp, on the other hand, prefers smaller circumscriptions, which they believe will be their safeguard against domination by the March 8 camp. In the same vain, Christian political forces have largely expressed preference for smaller circumscriptions, since, according to them, these will ensure a stronger Christian representation. One can clearly note that current positions vis-à-vis this matter, are largely dictated by narrow political interests and this regardless of any sound constitutional foundation. To prove this point, one needs to go back to the 1960 law which was adopted for the previous 2009 elections, and which was largely based on divisions according to Caza and that is in blunt violation of the Taef accord which referred to the Mohafazat as the basis for the design of electoral circumscriptions. Accordingly, the 1960 electoral law divided the Beirut mo7hafaza into three circumscriptions, whereas Baalbek and Hermel were joined into one, as well as West Beqaa and Rashayya, Hasbaya and Marjeyoon. A new circumscription was also created for Zahrani area which technically falls within the large Saida caza. All these decisions were taken in order to accommodate various political forces.

The main current divergences amongst key political figures center on Mount Lebanon where each party is trying to carve electoral divisions in line with their respective interests. This is clearly reflected in both proposals submitted by the Speaker of the House, Nabih Berry on one hand, and jointly by the Future, Lebanese Forces and PSP on the other. Berri’s suggestion brings together Shuf, Aley and Baabda in one circumscription and Metn, Byblos and Kesrwan joined in another. On the other hand, the proposed carving according to the tripartite forces, Shuf and Aley are combined in one circumscription and Kesrwan, Byblos and Baabda in another and this in order to preserve Druze interests. The latter proposal also separates Hasbaya from Marjeyoon to ensure that Druze and Sunni MPs will not be elected with Shiite votes.

A further major element of the political bickering revolves around the criteria to be used for delineating these circumscriptions that fall under the majority or the proportional systems. Proponents of the first proposal insist on parity and the adoption of one criteria, while the latter argue for adopting more than one criteria so as to preserve “local specificities” such as in Saida (which has only 2 seats for the Sunnis), and Batroon and Bsharri (which have two seats for Maronites). For its part, the Phalangist party insists on developing an electoral law based on very small circumscriptions, where electors can then vote irrespectively of their confessional affiliation. On the other side of the spectrum, Hezbollah and its allies (namely SNSP, Arab Baas Party, the Nasserites, and the communist party) propose Lebanon as one single circumscription or otherwise adopting the largest possible circumscriptions.

In conclusion, all current maneuvers are clearly aimed at ensuring maximum parliamentary gains by competing political forces and thereafter the control of the parliament through cross-confessional alliances. This current political game in which all political parties seems to excel, is only meant to buy out time since Lebanon’s fate remains unclear and very much dependent on the developments of the situation in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Issues of proper representation, respect for citizen’s aspirations, justice and equality, are remote from the present concerns of dominant political elite particularly in the absence of strong alternative political forces.