Vote quandary

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, center, heads a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

The dithering and bickering over the electoral law has gone on long enough and unless Christian politicians agree on reform soon, the 2013 elections will be held under the law of 1960. Otherwise, we will be faced with an unprecedented situation in which Parliament’s term is extended.

At every election since 1960, small amendments have been made to the winner-takes-all electoral system, negligible changes, but ones which, nevertheless, have sought to benefit the ruling party of the moment.

But this current Cabinet, as with its predecessors, has vowed to implement more than just cosmetic changes.

But a proportional representation system still seems a long way off. Since the 1989 Taif Accord, Christian MPs have been struggling to agree on a new system.

In the most recent developments, March 14 Christian parties have endorsed a new law – proposed by the Bkirki Committee – which would see Lebanon divided into 61 electoral districts, rather than the current six. And the Cabinet has approved a draft law which would see 13 districts created.

But Michel Aoun has rejected both plans, instead proposing a law in which each sect would elect its own MPs, under a system of proportional representation, preoccupied perhaps with his own presidential fantasies rather than what actually serves the people best.

The Christians have now had over 50 years to find a new law, and they are still failing to agree on the basics. And now they are even disagreeing on what has been agreed upon at Bkirki, in an almost Kafka-esque situation, and a new level of farce. Rightly bemused and fed up with this state of affairs, Speaker Nabih Berri has quipped that whatever system the Christians now agree upon will be immediately endorsed by Parliament.

In the harshest criticism it can be said that the majority of actors have been looking at ways to maintain or increase their representation in Parliament, rather than seeking a new system which would genuinely allow for a more democratic state.

The population deserves an electoral law which will serve future generations, rather than one which maintains the status quo, and keeps certain men and their families in power, despite the obviously endemic corruption in this system.

At this rate, even if a new law is agreed upon, and that is a big, hypothetical “if,” it will then have to go to the parliamentary committee stage – a system not renowned for its haste – and then will have to face a vote in Parliament, by which time polls will be imminent, denying candidates an opportunity to sufficiently prepare.

If polls are to be held when we have been told they would be, it seems more than likely they will be under the 1960 law. Otherwise the parliamentary term will have to be extended, a situation which will reek of a collective conspiracy aimed at preserving the old ways.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 19, 2012, on page 7.




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