BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati have come out strongly in favor of scrapping the “winner take all” electoral system in favor of proportional representation for the 2013 parliamentary polls.
But while some leading political parties say they support the move, politicians are offering the usual responses. They say the initiative isn’t serious, or that the formal discussion of proportional representation, which has been debated at length since the end of the Civil War, has yet to tackle any significant details.
Others, like Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, have called for postponing the discussion of the system for the sake of “diversity.”
“Some have recently said that proportional representation will open the way for abolishing sectarianism, very nice!” Jumblatt said during an iftar in the Chouf Saturday.
“But I remind these sides that proportional representation was part of the National Movement’s program under Kamal Jumblatt … for the sake of a new Lebanon and in order to abolish sectarian privileges,” Jumblatt said, in reference to his late father’s initiative during the early years of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War.
“But given that the Lebanese Left has become weak … and even small issues like the personal status law are not being discussed, it is better to postpone discussing proportional representation and to keep the current situation to preserve diversity and plurality,” he added.
Ali Hamdan, the media adviser to Speaker Nabih Berri, told The Daily Star that while all political factions in Lebanon publicly endorse the adoption of a proportional representation system, these intentions have yet to materialize.
“We don’t know about their intentions; they all endorsed lowering the voting age to 18, but then didn’t approve it in Parliament,” Hamdan said.
“The [adoption of proportional representation] requires a national political will … so far there is [only] semiunanimity over the adoption of proportional representation,” Hamdan said.
Hamdan said that his Amal Movement supported the system, along with adopting the entirety of Lebanon as a single electoral district.
“This is the best choice because we need to reduce sectarian rhetoric, and this [option] will facilitate abolishing political sectarianism in the future,” the media adviser added.
But Jumblatt said he preferred local competition in both municipal elections and parliamentary elections within the same district.
Echoing Hamdan, Baabda MP Alain Aoun said that adopting such a system would constitute a qualitative jump in terms of political reform.
Under the current system, with multimember districts, a ticket that secures 60 percent of the votes could win all of the seats in a given district, even though the second-place finishers might get 40 percent of the votes and a total of zero seats despite being representative of nearly half of the voters.
“Adopting proportional representation introduces a major reform on the level of the voter’s choices … We need to develop our political system,” added Aoun, a member of Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc.
At present, he continued, there is a serious opportunity for adopting proportional representation in Lebanon.
“Interior Minister [Marwan Charbel] has said more than once that the draft law would be based on proportional representation,” Aoun said.
Asked whether he was optimistic that all parliamentary blocs would endorse such a draft law, Aoun said he was “cautious.”
“But our bloc will put words into action. We will endorse proportional representation; this is a decision that we have taken,” he said.
In July, Charbel formed a committee tasked with preparing a draft law for the parliamentary elections of 2013, setting a three-month deadline to finish the task.
All electoral rounds in the country’s history have adopted a winner-takes-all system, but many experts and politicians argue that a proportional representation system would provide better representation and help eliminate sectarian sentiment.
Addressing delegations of youth from March 8 and March 14 political parties at the Grand Serail on International Youth Day last week, Mikati came out in support of the system.
“We must know that in Lebanon, no one can eliminate anyone. Hence, elections based on a proportional representation law will allow everyone to participate. The participation of each party will be commensurate with its strength,” Mikati said.
For his part, Sleiman endorsed the system in an address during a ceremony to mark Army Day on Aug. 1.
“Lebanese consensual democracy may not become complete without adopting proportional representation that the Lebanese could agree upon, provided that its concepts and frameworks are well defined,” he said.
For other politicians, the adoption of proportional representation has yet to be tackled seriously by political parties and it includes many details that require discussion.
Batroun MP Antoine Zahra, a Lebanese Forces official, ruled out the possibility that proportional representation would be adopted in the 2013 election round.
“I believe that everything being said is for media consumption. In the end, I don’t think that big blocs will endorse it,” he said.
Zahra said that the LF had initially supported the system with medium-sized districts, adding that a final position could be announced this week.
“We have a working team which will discuss the matter,” he said.
Future Movement MP Ammar Houri said parties have yet to seriously discuss proportional representation.
“Everything that the various sides have said so far represents good intentions,” he said. “As the Future Movement, our workshops have yet to tackle proportional representation.”
The Beirut MP said that Future’s position on overhauling the electoral system depends on the districting system that is eventually adopted.
“In principle, proportional representation is a civilized system, but will [the entirety of Lebanon] be adopted as one district? Or will there be governorates? … Is there going to be a ‘one man, one vote’ system or what? These details should be discussed.”