It seems we’re heading to the elections with the 1960 modified electoral law of Doha. Most of the politicians blame the law for the problems Lebanon is facing. But few are the ones than understand why the 1960 electoral law is an unrepresentative law that promotes sectarianism, vote-buying and neo-feudalism. I’m going to compare our current law – Small Districts and Majoritarian Representation – with its complete opposite, a virtual law promoting Lebanon as one single district under proportional representation, and perhaps, things might get a bit clearer.
Vote Buying. Take the example of the Metn district. The competition is always very close in that district, and the margin can be as narrow as 194 votes like in 2009. Which means that if you buy 98 votes, you can win the elections in the district by one vote. That’s the 50%+1 required for one to win according to the majoritarian representation. Thus by buying 98 extra votes, you can win 8 MPs. If it was a proportional representation law, the number of MPs would’ve been 4 for each side. In order to get one extra MP, the side will have to buy 10% (to reach a number close to 60%) of extra votes. That’s not very profitable for local politicians, because before they used to get up to 8 MPs using funds destined for few hundred people (maybe thousands if the competition is close). But now they’ll have to buy about ten thousand votes to get only one extra MP. That’s a big number to keep private, especially that vote-buying is punished by law. The politicians will be risking their reputation, lots and lots of money (making Lebanon one single electoral district will lessen even more the influence of the few bought votes) only to gain one more MP. And controlling the bought voters will be a pain in the neck for parties if Lebanon will be one single constituency.
Demography-Independent Law And Democracy. Let’s suppose Lebanon happens to be one constituency. Let’s also keep the all the religious quotas (such as 50%-50%) and not abolish confessionalism. Today, the Christians are about 40% of voters. When they’ll vote, they’ll be voting for 40% of the MPs. If one day they get to the 15% rate, they will be electing 15% of the MPs (But there will still be 64 Christian MPs in the parliament). That means that everyone gets his real share, and no one of the religious groups should be afraid of the other because he might take a part of his share or despise the other because he leaves him no seats. That confidence can’t come from the 1960 electoral law. The small districts and the majoritarian representation make the religious minority pay the price. For example, in Beirut 3, the Muslim majority can elect the 10 MPs – including 3 Christians – to the parliament. That can lead to an anti-muslim sentiment within Christians and create a tense atmosphere of fear. If there was proportionality, and the Christians would be 10%, that would mean that at least they can choose 1 of the 10 MPs. I took the example of Beirut but the examples are everywhere around Lebanon. Take Lebanon as whole. The constituencies with a Christian majority are Jezzine (3), Metn (8), Keserwan (5), Jbeil (3), Bsharri (2), Zghorta (3), Koura (3), Batroun (2) and Ashrafieh (5). I don’t know if Zahle and Baabda should be counted because they’re almost 50-50. That means that Christians today elect 3+8+5+3+2+3+3+2+5=35 MPs. 35/128= 27.34% of the MPs. However they represent 40% of the Lebanese electors. Under a proportional representation with one single constituency, they would be chosing 40% of the MPs. On the long-term, things might change as they might be under 27% as electors. But one shouldn’t also forget that the demography of some “Christian” constituencies with a strong proportion of Muslim electors, such as Jbeil, Jezzine or Koura would have also changed by the time Christians would go under 27%. So on the short-term, it might do good to Christian electors, and on the long run, it will be the fairest electoral system we can have. Plurality (50% Christian MPs-50% Muslim MPs) will be conserved, and the representation of the votes of each religious group will always adapted to its size. Christians would stop nagging that they don’t elect their MPs and Muslims would stop nagging that there is a lack of their representatives in the parliament.
A Cross-Sectarian Platform. The main problem with the 1960 law is that the MPs don’t only represent their region, they also represent the major religious group of the constituency. The districts are quite small, and MPs get usually elected by a majority of religious-based voters. When they get elected by the religious-based voters, they tend to act as the defenders of their religious groups in Lebanese politics, which pushes the religious-based voters to vote again for them in the next elections. If Lebanon is one single district, and PR is implemented, then if Future Movement gets 80% of the Sunni votes, it will get about 20% of the Lebanese votes. That means 20% of the MPs, thus 20% of the Sunni MPs. Which means they will get a proportion of MPs from all religious groups equal to the proportion they have of Sunni MPs. The six Future Movement Sunni MPs will be sitting along with 21 other non-Future Movement Sunni MPs and 20 non-Sunni Future Movement MPs. Now of course, Future Movement would be running in a coalition which will make its chances higher in getting Sunni MPs. But there would always be at least two rival political factions sharing the MPs of each sect. Having half of the Sunni MPs loyal to M8 and the other half loyal to M14 and at the same time half of the Shia MPs loyal to M8 and the other half loyal to M14 is a solution to remove sectarianism from politics. As an example, a Hezbollah MP wouldn’t be elected by a 90% of Shias anymore, but with the share of Shia voters in the Lebanese population, So if he doesn’t have many preferential votes, it is highly likely that he won’t make it. He will thus try to get as many votes he can from groups outside his sect, which will mean that the MP will have less sectarian speeches and he will try to work on a national agenda to attract voters of all sects, because only attracting voters of his sect won’t get him the Parliament seat. If 23 (of a total of 27) Shia MPs of Shia parties make it because of Shia votes under the 1960 law, then under “one district PR” law only 20% of the 27 MPs running under the banner of Shia parties will make it which means 6 Shia MPs will be elected because they belong to Shia parties. The Shia MPs will change their approach and try to get a wider audience of all sects so it gets easier for them to have a seat in the parliament, and they will be quickly followed by their parties in that approach. The sectarian parties would be tempted to go Multi-sectarian. When the MPs won’t be mainly elected by their sects votes, but by general Lebanese voting, they will tend to interact with all the religious entities on the ground, which will make the population even less sectarian in its choice. People would be electing a party A or B because Party A or B works, not because party A or B is Sunni or Shia. Sectarian parties will quickly find themselves in awkward positions were they have a small amount of the sect’s MPs and an important number of other sects MPs. The first four years it would be very difficult to rule, then the sectarian parties running in coalitions will slowly merge, election after election, into two main secular - or at least religiously mixed – parties. Even if the sectarian parties refuse to go multi-sectarian, they will eventually melt into the coalition, because they will be getting less and less MPs of their sects and more and more MPs of other sects that cannot be as reliable as the party’s sect MPs. Why would the parties abandon their sectarian agenda? Because they are no longer elected by religious groups. Because when the religious groups will have their true share due to PR, there would be no fear, and plurality would be conserved. In a nutshell, this law creates an equal opposition inside every sect, and diminishes sectarianism in the parliament and on the ground while creating two multi-religious parties.
A Blow to Local And Sectarian Politicians. Ahmad Al-Assir will have to find 101 non-Sunni MPs to run with him, and will have to pay for all of them, because he will have probably have 1 or 2% of the votes of the people, which gives him a maximum of 3 MPs. And there will still be a big chance that the 3 won’t be Sunnis, but rather a pro-salafi Shia or a pro-salafi Maronite. So in theory PR makes it easy for ultra-sectarian parties to surface, but as you can see, in our case, it kind of makes it harder. Again, Assir can run in a coalition and get some of the preferential votes, but his chances will still stay low. Same thing implies for the separatist Christians. If they run in coalitions, they will be deprived of the preferential vote and if they run alone it will be very expensive and quasi-impossible for them to make it. For the 1960 law, the districts are small, usually religiously dominated and you will always have a bigger chance for hardcore sectarians to make it to the parliament. Local feudal Zuamas, that will nail the elections if it’s a majoritarian on a small district will see their influence shrink if PR will implemented and will practically disappear if Lebanon is one single district. Why would the Lebanese in general elect an MP that only takes care of few towns?
As you can see, when you hear someone saying that the 1960 law “Bi Zid El Ta’ifiyye Wel Ekta’a Wel Mahsoubiyet W Sileh El Mel” (Reinforces sectarianism, feudalism and vote buying), he’s not speaking out of nowhere. He’s speaking because there are laws out there that can solve all our problems. The law doesn’t have to be the one I mentioned, because a compromise (Medium-Sized districts, PR) between the one I talked about and the 1960 Law should solve a number of our problems and will make it easier to carry out other reforms.