A Closer Look At The Orthodox Gathering Law- Part II: Why It’s Frightful

Orthodox Gathering Law -The Reasons

Orthodox Gathering Law – The Reasons

[Part I]

Electoral laws should always be viewed with a pessimistic point of view. In the 1950s, we thought we had a modern electoral law (Women were eligible to vote for the first time), yet we went for a civil strife in 1958, which was partly caused by the fact that the gerrymandered districts threw major Muslim leaders outside the parliament. In the 1960s, the law was also considered to be a major breakthrough. The numbers of MPs was higher than ever, the administrative cazas became electoral constituencies, and creating relatively bigger constituencies with significant multi-sectarian representation was a huge achievement that was supposed to weaken sectarianism by making it harder for a sectarian MP to make it in mixed districts, and easier for a cross-sectarian candidate to make it by getting a significant number of votes from each sectarian group. Eventually the sectarian parties were able to cope and made it massively to the parliament by entering electoral alliances with each other that would crush the secular or independent alternative (Because of the majoritarian representation and the absence of proportional representation). What Fouad Chehab wanted in 1960 was to end the influence of sectarian parties, yet what we got 15 years later was a sectarian civil war.

What I want to point out with this annoying introduction is that every detail in the electoral law counts. And the most important detail of an electoral law, especially in the Lebanese context is the influence of the law on the long run. On the short run, the Orthodox Gathering law can be a positive one (See Qifa Nabki’s post here and Karl reMarks’s post here). It can make it easier for secular candidates to make it to the parliament. Excessive sectarianism and PR can eventually result in the destruction of the “Other-sect boogeyman”. Proportional representation will create an opposition in each sect and even give it some sectarian legitimacy in a de-facto sectarian system.

On the long run, the Orthodox Gathering law might be one of the worst ones Lebanon has ever known. Even the electoral law for the executive administrative council of the Mutasarrif is to some extent better than the OG law. And here’s a useful summary (I add and sum up things I previously wrote in another post) why :

  • It creates some sort of a demographic federalism while it’s not present on the ground, creating even more sectarian tensions in mixed districts. While Federalism will not be territorially present, it will be virtually emphasized by the law. We are not in Belgium where the Flemish and the Walloons are more or less geographically separated. Federalism on the political scene without being organized on the territorial scene can lead to enormous conflicts. Mount-Lebanon already experienced Federalism (The Caimacamaite regime 1840-1860) and because of the religious mix all we got was Tanios Chahin’s  popular uprising in 1858 and sectarian clashes in 1841,1845, 1860 (the three Harakas).
  • It’s an apartheid law. It does not only separate people on the basis of their sects, but it also goes further than that giving the Christian population an advantage on the Muslim population (1 Christian vote=1.61 Muslim vote because 38% will elect 50%, while 62% will elect 50%). The Christians keep nagging all the time that they are 38% and elect 27% of the MPs under the 1960 law (The districts with a decisive Christian majority are Jezzine (3), Metn (8), Keserwan (5), Jbeil (3), Bsharri (2), Zghorta (3), Koura (3), Batroun (2) and Ashrafieh (5), a total of 35 MPs out of 128). Under the OG law,  Christian underrepresentation would be replaced by a Muslim underrepresentation that will grow with time (Muslims have higher birth rates). The OG law removes an issue and creates a bigger one.
  • It’s a one way electoral Law. Once elaborated, the elected Christian MPs will hardly accept another electoral law because the Orthodox Gathering law puts them in a privileged position. So if the Orthodox gathering law passes, its removal will be very hard. And if the system fails, which is very probable because of the inequalities, the regime will hardly be able to democratically reform itself, which opens the door for a military coup and a revolution on the Christian hegemony.
  • Define a legitimate majority. What if the government doesn’t include the winning Christian or Muslim party? Would the government be considered legitimate? For a coalition to form a government, should it be obliged to have the winning party in each sect under its rank? wouldn’t that make the process hard to achieve? What if the winning Christian party and the winning Muslim party refuse to collaborate to form a government or elect the President? These few questions show how the OG law will take all our current problems (The time to form a government, the requirements of a government to be legitimate..) and make them worse. We have a lack of clear constitutional texts (Such as “There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the pact of mutual existence” – Article J, Preamble), and the OG law will make sure that every possible deficiency (A maximum time to form a government) or lack of clarity in the constitution becomes more powerful.
  • Proportional representation is known to favor extremist parties that have no luck in making it to the elections under a majoritarian representation. Just imagine what would happen if you merge PR, sect-to-sect voting, inequality, federalism feelings and sectarian tensions. You get an Islamophobic majority among Christians and  an Islamist rise within the Muslim seats.

It’s not about getting 30 secular MPs in the next election. It’s about avoiding 90 Islamophobic and Islamist MPs two decades from now.

[Update: Part 3]