Political agreement over the new electoral law in Lebanon awaits regional developments

Fri, 06/24/2016

The current Parliament has been discussing, in vain, the reform of the electoral law for the past four years, amidst repeated demands for the adoption of the proportional electoral system to replace the current majority system. In this process opposing political groups continue to quarrel over the matter, each camp trying to tailor the new legislation according to its own interests, and so as to enable it to control the new parliament.
It is widely known that March 8th camp prefers proportional representation, a system which is contested by the opposing March 14th camp. Though political tugging partially centers on the nature of the electoral system (proportional or majority), however, divergences also exist vis-à-vis the drawing of electoral circumscriptions and also, although to lesser extent, around whether or not to reinforce the current confessional political system by restricting voting for MPs along confessional affiliation of voters (the orthodox system). In this short article, we will shed some light on the former issue, leaving the drawing of the electoral circumscriptions to our subsequent editorial.

The majority electoral system considers candidates with the highest number of votes as the sole winners, therefore wrapping all contested seats, whereas the proportional electoral system apportions seats according to the shares of votes.

The main criticism of the majority system is that it fails to secure a fair and just representation as it is based on the winner takes all principle. This bears the disadvantage of weakening the overall political debate and excluding a many political positions held by parties which have secured a fair representation from voters. The mixed system which is presently under consideration is a compromise scenario which seeks to bring together both systems and whereby a number of parliamentarians are elected according to the proportional system and the remainder according to the majority system.

Overall, the positions of political parties in Lebanon have by and large oscillated according to the rhythm of changing alliances. Some however, have clearly outlined their definite preferences while others have refrained to do up till now. The Lebanon Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) for instance totally rejects the proportional system whilst expressing its preference for the majority system (the current 60 law), but remains ready to consider the mixed system as a compromise. The Future Movement strongly stands against the proportional representation particularly on the basis of confessional divisions, arguing that the adoption of the proportional law will constitutionally allow Hezbollah to dominate the political scene . The Lebanese Forces, for their part, while not totally against proportional representation, have expressed their preferences for the mixed system. The Phalangist Party is proposing an electoral law based on small electoral circumscriptions, and the current 60 law, with some minor amendments while expressing their objection to the proportional representation given the current confessional polarisation.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Free Patriotic Movement appears to have withdrawn its support to the Orthodox Electoral Law to which it was strongly attached earlier, in favor of the proportional system. The latter position is fully endorsed by Hezbollah, Amal movement, al Marada, the Syrian Social National Party in Lebanon (SSNP), al Baath and the Communist Party. Political diversions amongst the pro-proportional camp are largely linked to their ability to politically maneuver.

To conclude, it is very clear that the current exhausting political maneuvering is taking place within the background of extremely polarized and volatile regional and international context notably the gory wars hitting Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Despite the insurmountable political crisis which is accompanied by dire economic, social and humanitarian situations, the key political powers in the country continue their futile bickering around the electoral law particularly within Parliamentary commissions and do not seem much in a hurry to reach a political settlement whilst they await the outcome of the present embattlement on the regional scene.