Off the cuff

The Lebanese Cabinet. (The Daily Star)

Lebanon’s Cabinet has approved a new parliamentary election law for next year, in an attempt to complete an item of business that should not be left until the last minute, as has often been the case with postwar legislative elections.

The only thing that can be said about this “achievement” is that a vote took place, and an announcement was made. Other than that, the handling of the issue is yet another example of dysfunction in the executive branch.

The Cabinet endorsed proportional representation, based on 13 election districts, without bothering to secure a national consensus beforehand. As expected, Progressive Socialist Party ministers voted no and predicted that little would remain of the legislation when it comes up for parliamentary approval. Perhaps the government forgot that the PSP, when joined with the March 14 coalition’s MPs, will defeat the draft law in the legislature.

The government also approved a “revolutionary” quota for women’s representation: a whopping one female per candidate list, with no details about whether this would necessarily translate into any guaranteed representation.

Finally, the government said it would work on creating another six seats, set aside for Lebanese in the Diaspora. When officials were asked about the details, in terms of the sectarian affiliation of the MPs from outside the country, they responded by saying that such matters would now be discussed and debated.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Najib Mikati avoided the hard job of authoring a serious piece of legislation and instead, applied an off-the-cuff approach to policymaking on one of the most critical issues for Lebanon’s political system, namely its election law. It’s the kind of decision that should enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the population, and not the kind that leads to the latest divisive issue.

Election laws are not meant to be the best solution for the party in power; they should be durable enough to last for generations, with only minor changes from one electoral round to another.

Government officials will now spend a considerable amount of time explaining what they have done, and this will only divert their efforts from solving a whole range of critical, bread-and-butter issues for which people desperately require solutions.

They will try to explain, if they actually know, how proportional representation will work in practice. They will try to sort out whether Lebanon, like Egypt and Iraq, will actually see citizens vote outside the country. They will try to give the impression that they have a vision, when they have slapped together a deficient piece of legislation and passed it along, as if to say “we have done the best we can.” And they will do all of this in the full knowledge that the law in its current form has no chance of passing in Parliament.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 09, 2012, on page 7.




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