A Closer Look At The Orthodox Gathering Law- Part I: Why It’s Unconstitutional

Elie Ferzli

I usually publish another post on the electoral law where I say if it has chances to pass. This time, I won’t publish. It’s obvious, the law won’t pass because there’s an unconditional general Muslim veto on it.

That’s me, 8 months ago. As you can notice, events evolve quite fast in this country. Who would’ve thought that the Orthodox Gathering law would be actually considered as an alternative to the 1960 law? There have been lots of talk on the issue (and even a Promotion and its Parody), so I’m going to bombard you with several posts on the Orthodox Gathering Electoral law. Just as a reminder, the OG law makes Lebanon one single district in which each sect can only vote for its coreligionists MPs under proportional representation.

I hereby leave you with the first part, an analysis on the unconstitutionality of the law.

Article 7 All Lebanese shall be equal before the law. They shall equally enjoy civil and political rights and shall equally be bound by public obligations and duties without any distinction.

One of the problems of the law is that it gives the Christians, 38%, the right to vote for 50% of the MPs.  Under the 1960 law, the Christian and Muslim votes are equal in their influence. Now of course, the districts make it harder for Christians to choose their MPs, because a big number of them are in districts where Muslims are the majority (Akkar 3, Chouf 4, Tripoli 2, Beirut II and III 5 are few examples). Nevertheless, 1 Christian Vote = 1 Muslim Vote. In every district, each Lebanese votes once, and his vote is equal to the vote of the other Lebanese in that district. In the OG law, however, it’s not the same. The power of the Christian vote will be more important than that of the Muslim vote. 1 Christian Vote = 1.65 Muslim Vote (because the 62 Muslims have the same influence the 38 Christians have , considered that Muslims and Christians each vote for 50% and have equal voting power). In a nutshell, under the current law, the Lebanese votes are equal, but under the OG law, it’s the sect votes that are equal, not the Lebanese. And If Lebanese don’t equally enjoy political rights (the right of equal votes)the OG electoral law is by far an unconstitutional one.

Article 24 The Chamber of Deputies shall be composed of elected members; their number and the method of their election shall be determined by the electoral laws in effect. Until such time as the Chamber enacts new electoral laws on a non-confessional basis, the distribution of seats shall be according to the following principles:

  • Equal representation between Christians and Muslims.
  • Proportional representation among the confessional groups within each of the two religious communities.
  • Proportional representation among geographic regions.

As you can see, the constitution (and Taef agreement) only speaks of equal representation between Christian seats and Muslim seats. It speaks nothing of a Christian electorate exclusively electing Christian MPs. In the OTV promotion, 00:54, there’s a huge blasphemy that’s committed. The woman says that she never voted because the MPs of the district don’t represent her. In fact, they do represent her because theoretically she can vote for them equally as anyone else in the district (Isn’t that democracy?), even if they are from another sect, and even if they are elected by another sect that happens to be the majority in the district. What the Lebanese are failing to understand is that the 50%-50% quota isn’t here for the Christians to elect 50%. It’s here to make sure that there will always be plurality in the parliament, and no sect gets washed out of the parliament, no matter how small it is. And if it has to be small, it gets to choose a small number of MPs, regardless of the MP’s sect. That’s the whole point of the system. The majority of Lebanese  will control the majority of the seats (Democracy), but the seats shall always be divided equally between Muslim and Christians (Plurality), even though some Christian MPs would be elected by Muslims and Muslim MPs by Christians (more Plurality). The OG law is destroying both democracy and plurality.

Article 27 A member of the Chamber shall represent the whole nation. No restriction or condition may be imposed upon his mandate by his electors.

That’s the article that kills everything the law represents. Under the OG law, the MP will not represent the whole nation, but de-facto only his sect. He is hence restricted by his religious affiliation. Yes, one might argue that under the current law (or any of the other alternatives) the MP represents his region, but again, do not forget that article 24 speaks of Proportional representation among geographic regions, while not stating anything about a direct sectarian representation.

Article 95 The Chamber of Deputies that is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims and Christians shall take the appropriate measures to bring about the abolition of political confessionalism according to a transitional plan. A National Committee shall be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, it include, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures. The tasks of this Committee shall be to study and propose the means to ensure the abolition of confessionalism, propose them to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Ministers council of ministers, and to follow up the execution of the transitional plan. During the transitional phase:

  • The sectarian groups shall be represented in a just and equitable manner in the formation of the Cabinet.
  • The principle of confessional representation in public service jobs, in the judiciary, in the military and security institutions, and in public and mixed agencies shall be cancelled in accordance with the requirements of national reconciliation; they shall be replaced by the principle of expertise and competence. However, Grade One posts and their equivalents shall be excepted from this rule, and the posts shall be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims without reserving any particular job for any sectarian group but rather applying the principles of expertise and competence.

The OG law pushes the Lebanese political system further into sectarianism, while the constitution forbids that. It clearly asks for a secular lower house and for the abolishment of sectarianism. And again, yes, the 1960 law is a sectarian one which goes against article 95, but it’s a de-facto law and the presence of any law that shares the same level of sectarianism should be tolerated. However replacing it with a more sectarian electoral law is a major violation to the constitution, to the Taef agreement and to what they represent.

Now there are two questions to ask: If the electoral law makes it through the parliament, would the Constitutional Council veto it according to the constitution? But first, do we even have an applied constitution? Read articles 7 and 95 again.

More to come.