Lebanon News

Protesters in Beirut push for proportional representation

Many young people attended the rally. (The Daily Star/ Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: At least a thousand demonstrators participated Sunday in a rally organized by the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reforms calling for a law based on proportional representation.

Protesters from across Lebanon gathered near the Interior Ministry in the Sanayeh neighborhood of Beirut and marched toward the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.

“We came here to stress the need to adopt a proportional representation-based electoral law, in addition to establishing a senate. This is the best option for Lebanon since it will abolish discrimination and force electoral choices to be based on merit and competence,” said Mayada Abdallah, the CCER’s spokesperson.

During the march, the CCER played a song with lyrics focused on the importance of having a system based on proportional representation.

“Raise your voices, we need proportional representation and a quota for women [lawmakers],” it said.

Though the parliamentary elections are slated for just over a year from now, there is little agreement among political factions on a new electoral law.

The CCER has drafted an electoral proposal, but it is competing with legislation drafted by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel. The number of districts and the degree of independence entrusted to the commission established for administering the electoral process are the major differences between the two proposals.

The CCER’s proposal calls for five or six medium-sized districts, which the group argues is a way to ensure proportionality among different sects and areas, as stipulated in the Constitution.

Charbel’s draft legislation submitted to the Cabinet last year would introduce proportional representation, but it states that Lebanon be divided into 10 to 14 smaller voting districts.

In a statement issued earlier by CCER, the group called on the government to reduce the proposed number of districts, arguing that “proportional voting requires districts with a greater number of seats in order to achieve just representation ”

Civil society groups have long asked the government to allow an independent committee to monitor voting reform and scrutinize campaign funding. However, under Charbel’s proposal, technocrats on the committee would be under the supervision of the Interior Ministry.

Protesters also called for a quota for female lawmakers to be included in the electoral law, as well as the adoption of preprinted ballots and the lowering of voting age from 21 to 18.

Young people had a strong presence among the protesters.

“At the age of 18, I can sign a contract; I could be sentenced to the death penalty. But, I cannot vote,” one banner read.

“There are 170,000 youth between 18 and 21 who are denied the right to vote,” said Omar Deeb, chairman of the Union of Lebanese Democratic Youth.

Abdallah told reporters of other electoral reforms advocated by the group, including allowing Lebanese expatriates to vote, regulating campaign finance, instituting equal access to media outlets for all candidates, and providing facilities for people with special needs to be able to vote.

Fadi Sayegh, from the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union, said that disabled people would be more likely to vote if polling stations were accessible to those with different needs.

“In addition to voting, we are granted the right to serve as representatives [to monitor voting] for different candidates inside the polling stations,” Sayegh added.

Jad Lezzek, an independent activist who took part in the march, said that a proportional representation-based electoral law will allow new political groups to be represented in Parliament.

Lezzek said that he was satisfied by the large turnout, but urged the campaign to organize future protests near the residences of the country’s key political leaders.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 14, 2012, on page 4.

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