Lebanon News

Campaign group: Politicians insulting intelligence of Lebanese voters

BEIRUT: A leading reform group criticized the government Thursday for insulting the intelligence of Lebanese voters by failing to adopt an improved electoral system.

The Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform, ahead of Friday’s meeting of Christian leaders in Bkirki, accused politicians of blocking attempts by civil society organizations to introduce proportional representation into municipal and parliamentary elections.

“The CCER voices regret over attempts staged by some political parties and media outlets to circumvent the proportional representation system by endorsing unfair proposals that do not ensure just representation, to say the least,” said Osama Safa, secretary-general of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, part of the CCER activist coalition.

“These proposals do not stimulate renewal in political life that can only be done by removing power monopoly and sectarian injustice,” he added.

Since independence Lebanon has only employed a winner takes all voting system, in which popular candidates who lose narrowly can miss out on parliamentary seats where as relatively unpopular district winners make the grade.

The most significant electoral law reform in Lebanon’s recent past occurred in September 2008 with the official adoption of some elements of the 2006 Butros Commission report, which itself was set up to help improve the voting system.

The most significant suggestion made by the Commission – that of the adoption of semi-proportional representation system – was however dropped by Parliament, a decision that civil campaign groups continue to rail against.

In its policy statement, the Cabinet agreed to implement reforms featured on a voting draft law a full year before the next round of parliamentary elections, due to be held mid-2013.

Since the 2009 elections, a new draft law has been widely discussed. Among the mooted changes, the CCER wants the new electoral law to adopt proportional representation, introduce pre-printed ballot papers and a one-third quota for female candidates and lower the voting age from 21 to 18. It also hopes that Lebanese expatriates will be able to participate in elections.

While overt opposition to the proposed legal changes has been muted – with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt among the few vocal critics – it is understood that several parties are skeptical about dropping the sectarian winner takes all model.

Safa accused politicians of prioritizing their grip on power over a fairer voting system.

“Some statements are an insult to the intelligence of the Lebanese citizens since [politicians] consider that the Lebanese people are incapable of understanding or grasping the concept and the means to implement proportional representation,” he said.

“Some political parties are afraid that the proportional representation system will reveal their true popular base and rob them of the power to control the fate of their sects and/or country,” Safa added.

Safa said that the adoption of a fairer voting system had nothing to do with the divided sectarian nature of political life.

“Proportional representation will not remove nor promote political sectarianism; it is an electoral equation that translates votes into parliamentary seats. PR is a way to restore the voters’ faith in the value of their vote, their ability to voice their opinion, and by doing so, their power to change things for the best,” he said.

The CCER expressed its concern that the committee formed by Parliament on electoral reform was in danger of losing its autonomy, warning that “in order to have a new election law the committee needs to be independent.”

The group also announced a forthcoming popular demonstration, outside the offices of Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, alongside “other measures,” to ensure that the government makes good on its word by adopting electoral reforms before mid-2012.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2011, on page 3.

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