After 12 years of unsuccessful attempts to revise a 1960 electoral law, rival politicians finally reach agreement.
Beirut: Lebanon expects to hold a parliamentary election on May 6, 2018 and parliament will extend its current term until May 20 that year, information minister Melhem Riachy told journalists during a cabinet session on Wednesday.
Lebanon’s rival parties reached agreement on Tuesday on an electoral law, staving off a political crisis and paving the way for a parliamentary election. Lebanon’s inability to agree on a new law has prevented it from holding parliamentary elections for years and the parliament’s term has been extended twice.
The last time Lebanese voted in a parliamentary election was in 2009.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet approved the new law, which will be based on proportionality and divide the country into 15 voting districts.
The government will submit the law to parliament on Friday for debate and approval, with only four days left before the parliament’s term expires.
The new law is widely viewed as an improved version of the 1960 law with elites commanding loyal sectarian voter bases maintaining their positions.
Christian voters seem to have gained slightly under the new law as they will now be able to elect over 55 of their 68 deputies — ten more than they said they were able to vote under the old law.
The losers are civil society groups that challenge domination by the elites.
Lebanese foreign minister and son-in-law to the president, Jibran Bassil, touted the agreement as a victory that would “greatly improve representation” but vowed that one day Christians would be able to elect all of their 64 deputies.
Druze leader and head of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), Walid Junblatt, criticised the proportional representation law as being too “complicated”.
While Wael Abu Faour, of the PSP, called it “the worst possible law” — Druze MPs have promised not to block its passing in parliament.
Under the new law, Beirut would be split into two districts, instead of the current three.
A single seat, reserved for ‘Christian Minorities,’ which used to fall under Beirut III, will now be attached to Beirut I, which includes the predominantly Christian neighbourhoods of Ashrafieh, Rmeil, Saifi and Medawwar.
Beirut II, one of the 15 new districts, will include the predominately Muslim neighbourhoods of Bashoura, Marfa, Zokak Al Blat, Mazraa, Ras Beirut, Ain Al Mreisseh, Minet Al Hosn and Mousaitbeh.
One of the trickiest subjects was agreeing on how to gerrymander boundaries of an electoral constituency to favour one party over another on each electoral list.
This largely resembles the system of the old law but with a new threshold determined by an ‘electoral quotient’ (the total number of voters in any given district divided by the number of seats).
Under the new law, the ‘preferred vote’ will be counted in the adminstrative district instead of the electoral district — a key demand of Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement Party.
This means a voter can indicate their preferred candidate on their electoral ballot, granting that candidate an advantage during the distribution of seats on winners.
A proposal which would allow Lebanese living abroad to contest in elections was tabled for consideration until 2022.
Discussions on revising the archaic 1960 voting law began in 2005 and had produced no agreement up until now.
According to the 1960 voting law, parliament seats are allocated by religious sects, a provision which Lebanon’s most prominent Christian parties wanted to amend.
They complained that the law marginalised Christian voters because in the winner-take-all model Muslim voters in predominantly Christian districts cast their ballots to candidates backed by lists dominated by non-Christian parties.
Bassil has spearheaded the campaign for ‘greater Christian representation’.
Powerful Shiite groups like the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal were happy with the status quo because proportional representation or the winner-takes-all system would give it potential control of parliament due to its large numbers.
The Druze were against proportional representation because they are a minority in Lebanon representing approximately less than 8 per cent of the entire population.
What was agreed?
1. Lebanon is divided into 15 constituencies based on the proportional system.
2. ‘Christian minorities’ seat is transferred from second to first district in Beirut.
3. Success threshold for any list on the electoral score must see the number of voters divided by the number of seats.
4. Adoption of a national non-sectarian voice in judiciary.
5. Incomplete lists are allowed, provided they contain at least one seat for each district, and assume responsibility for any losses.
6. Calculations will rely on the largest fraction.
7. All sorting methods dealing with regulations and arranging candidates in each constituency will be adopted on the basis of existing preferential ratios.
8. The representation of expatriates in the upcoming elections will be postponed. Six seats for expatriates will be added in 2022 and, in 2026, six seats will be deducted from the number of deputies.
9. An actual date to hold parliamentary elections, which will require a technical extension of the current house, will be agreed by the President and the Cabinet.
10. A magnetic electoral card and pre-printed paper ballots will be prepared before elections are held to avoid cheating.
11. Agreements to authorise military personnel to vote, reduce the age of voting to 18 years, and to allocate a quota for women, were all postponed.
Joseph A. Kechichian, Senior Writer