Virtual task

Ministers attend a Cabinet session at the presidential palace in Baabda, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

The hot topic of the moment in the cafes, on the airwaves and in parliamentary offices is the new electoral law, or, as it may well turn out, the lack thereof.

For if the squabbling and indecision over replacing the existing law with a system of proportional representation continues for much longer, time will run out before the scheduled 2013 elections arrive.

There are currently many different electoral law propositions being discussed, and they share little if any common ground, all pushing for varying numbers of electoral districts, all of differing sizes. And it cannot seriously be claimed that a single one does not push the agenda of the party or group endorsing it.

While all governments over recent decades have attempted to overhaul the creaking electoral system, this is the first time that the country’s leaders have had an opportunity to do so with minimal external influence. With Syria embroiled in its own crisis, the wishes of Lebanon’s neighbor are less powerful than in the past.

But it seems that Lebanon’s own sectarian system will render this opportunity a wasted one.

Normally, when a country calling itself a democracy is in the process of creating a new electoral law, propositions and amendments will be drafted by independent and neutral bodies, individuals who will not benefit, or lose, from whatever system eventually arises. In this way, the new law will most closely translate the vision and aspirations of the population as a whole. There will always be opposition from certain quarters, but this process is mostly likely to transcend biased and unrepresentative proposals.

Electoral proposals authored by independent bodies, rather than by political or religious groups, are the only way to ensure the electorate is given the chance to nominate people who will represent them, and who can be held accountable to their actions, rather than people voted in on the ticket of their ancestors or their connections.

To allow potential candidates the bare minimum of time to prepare for the elections – so that they can know how and where to campaign – the not yet existing electoral law will have to be agreed upon by the end of the year. But with politicians from across the board voicing general disbelief that this will happen it remains to be seen whether this will actually transpire.

And if by a miracle a new law is eventually agreed upon, it can be guaranteed that one or more players will remain dissatisfied, perhaps indeed to the extent that they will be encouraged to disrupt the path to elections.

As with so many areas of government and governance in Lebanon, the disconnect between promises and reality when it comes to the new electoral law seems dangerously large. If politicians want to prove this is not a failed state, it is imperative they all work with integrity to achieving a democratic, transparent system, and one that is driven by nationalism, not individualism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 01, 2012, on page 7.




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