SIN AL-FIL, Lebanon: A workshop to prepare a new electoral law for parliamentary elections should be based on suggestions put forward in the past, including the adoption of proportional representation, according to the participants in a conference on electoral reform held over the weekend.
“We recommend that any new electoral law should be based on the proposed draft law, which adopts a proportional representation system,” said Ziad Abdel-Samad Saturday, at the end of the conference, “In Search of an Electoral System which Guarantees Proper Representation and Stability.” The workshop was held at the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel launched a workshop last week to prepare an electoral law for the parliamentary elections of 2013, setting a three-month deadline to finish the mission.
The committee promised to take into consideration ideas and reforms previously put forward.
But Abdel-Samad, who is from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, told The Daily Star that “taking into consideration was not enough.”
“The new law should be based on that handed by [former Interior Minister] Ziyad Baroud [to his successor Charbel]. Otherwise, I am afraid that the committee’s work will take so much time and they will end up passing a law that lacks major reforms,” he said.
All elections in Lebanon have so far been held based on a winner-takes-all system, which many blame for inciting sectarian feelings and depriving minorities of representation.
Baroud, who spoke during the opening session of the conference, said that he handed Charbel a complete draft electoral law, which he and others worked on over the past three years. It includes some of the reforms proposed by the Butros Committee but fully adopts a proportional representation system.
Among the proposed reforms are the establishment of an independent committee to run elections and the use of pre-printed ballots.
The Butros Committee was appointed by the government in 2006 to draft a new electoral law. Chaired by Fouad Butros, the committee released a draft law in 2006 which suggested a semi-proportional representational system, among other reforms.
As part of the May 2008 Doha accord, which ended 18 months of political deadlock, most of the Butros Committee’s recommendations were dropped and the parliamentary elections of 2009 were run based on a winner-takes-all system and divided the country into a number of Qadas.
Baroud voiced fears that some sides would prevent the implementation of proportional representation and other proposed reforms in the 2013 elections. “I hope that the day will not come when our grandchildren discuss the matters that we are discussing right now,” he added.
On hand at the conference were MP Mohammad Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, MP Tammam Salam and other officials.
Speaking at the opening session along with Baroud were Nijad Fares, the son of former Deputy Speaker Issam Fares, and Raghid al-Solh from the Issam Fares Center.
The first session saw speeches from former Minister of Economy Damianos Qattar, Ghaleb Mahmasani, a lawyer and a member of the Butros Committee, Hadi Rashed, a university professor and statistician Abdo Saad.
Participants detailed the flaws in the current electoral system.
Mahmasani touched on the system’s role in the formation of groups along sectarian lines in Lebanon and in boosting sectarian rhetoric.
“The distribution of parliamentary seats based on sect, together with a winner-takes-all system turns the sect into an alternative for the political bloc or party in the electoral contest,” Mahmasani said, adding that sects have become the key determinant of people’s voting choices.
“The consolidation of sectarian blocs and the advance of sectarian choices over political ones has led to an escalation of sectarian rhetoric by candidates as well as voters, which has harmed national unity and ruined the concept of democracy,” he added.
Mahmasani also said that when members of a candidate list triumph after winning a simple majority, they deprive minorities of representation in Parliament. Speaking during the second session were former Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara, MP Yassin Jaber, former ambassador Abdallah Bou Habib and Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.
Jaber said that he supported passing an electoral law based on a proportional representation system which adopts the entirety of the country as one district, despite the position of his bloc – headed by Speaker Nabih Berri – which calls for dividing Lebanon into a number of governorates, but still under a proportional representation system, in line with the Taif agreement which ended Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War.
“In my opinion, this system [which I support] fosters cooperation between different Lebanese factions on the national level,” he said.
“That is, the candidate in the south need not only voters in the south, but those in the mountains, Bekaa, the north and definitely Beirut and vice versa,” Jaber explained.