BEIRUT: A civil society group criticized the Cabinet’s approval of a new electoral law Wednesday, calling the draft legislation a “show” and warning of protests if the proposal moves forward in its current form.
The Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform held a news conference at the UNESCO Palace to highlight the parts of the law they took issue with, including a new gender quota and unchanged voting age.
“These reforms are artificial and distorted, aimed to protect the Lebanese alliances of March 8 and 14, and not to protect the rights of the Lebanese citizens or to move the country to a new democratic political era,” said Joumana Merhi, the head of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, which is part of CCER.
The Cabinet endorsed a new electoral law Tuesday for the 2013 parliamentary elections. The law would create a proportional instead of a majoritarian system and would divide Lebanon into 13 electoral districts. The law also removes a prohibition on military members participating in elections, creates a new expatriate voting system and sets a 10-percent gender quota for women in Parliament.
Proportional representation means that the number of seats received by a party or group is proportionate to the number of votes; as opposed to a winner-takes-all majoritarian system.
For example, in a district of five seats if a party received 51 percent of the vote they would receive all five seats under a majoritarian system and two or three seats in a proportional system.
Some electoral reformers say that a proportional system would better represent Lebanon’s political and religious diversity, but politicians have yet to reach consensus on the issue or how it would be carried out.
After clearing the Cabinet the draft electoral law is to be debated in Parliament where it could be changed dramatically before being voted on.
One of CCER’s main qualms with the law is the level of women representation. The group’s leaders said the quota of 10 percent is far too low and violates international agreements for more women representation.
“More than 50 percent of the voters are women, and they are only getting one seat in each list with no guarantee to success whatsoever,” Merhi said, “which means that even the 10 percent is not guaranteed to prevent the political marginalization of Lebanese women.”
Merhi said she would like to know how the ministers justified the quota percentage and called for the Cabinet to release the notes of the discussion that led to the reduction of the gender quota as it was originally proposed to be 33 percent.
Merhi added that the law also did not expand voting access to a number of groups of people where she had hoped to see change. She said the voting age should have been reduced to 18 and called for increased voting access for the people with disabilities or with medical conditions and the elderly.
Merhi and CCER also criticized the way the 13 electoral districts were drawn, saying they strengthen sectarian divides and don’t promote cooperation between groups.
The CCER said it will take escalatory steps following its press conference, to force the government to consider their requests. Merhi said this may include forming a human chain in front of Parliament on the day of the negotiations of the ministerial decisions, as well as staging other protests.
The CCER includes more than 65 civil society associations and organizations who endorse a variety of reforms of the electoral system. CCER was formed in 2006 to unify electoral reform efforts.