Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘confessional quota.

Assessment of the Lebanese Electoral Framework ahead of the 6 May Elections

April 30, 2018

Note: The election took place. More later on the results, assessment and consequences. After 9 years of never having the opportunity to vote for a Parliament in Lebanon, a block of over 800,000 eligible to vote punished the deputies who extended their tenure twice. Participation rate was below 45%: No passaran again for the lousy, lazy-ass deputies who are paid, and their families, and vast privileges for No work done.

The New Electoral Law in Lebanon

The law No. 44 on the Election of the Members of the Parliament published on 17 June 2017 paves the way for the first parliamentary election in 8 years.

These elections are now scheduled for 6 May 2018.

Current members of Parliament were elected in 2009 for what was meant as a four-year term but remained in office for five additional years after Parliament extended its mandate three times in a row in 2013, 2014 and 2017.

For the first time in its political history, Lebanon will use a sort of proportional list-voting system.

It is complex to the extent that the ability to project results proportionally in the allocation of seats will be highly limited.

This is because of several factors, including relatively small electoral districts (compounded by the subdivision of districts in sub-districts) and the confessional quota. (Mind you that there is no women quota and Lebanon is at the bottom of even Arab States in the proportion of women in Parliament and government)

It will not be easy for parties and voters to understand how the results of the preferential vote are translated into seats. (President Michel Aoun said in a speech that the choice of the preferred candidate is more important than the political list of the candidate)

In short, there is a “lottery” aspect to the new electoral system.

Note: for the first time, Lebanese overseas were allowed to vote in their foreign countries.

The Legal Reform

Since the last elections in June 2009, the political system has been under severe domestic and international strain. The country is yet to find a sustainable consensus on the reform of the political system and the restoration of its institutions.

The state apparatus, including Parliament, remains too weak to provide a framework for discussing key policy issues and reaching decisions.

The ability to make compromises largely belongs to heads of religious communities and often takes place outside state institutions.

In that sense, Parliament is not viewed as truly law-making institution as its role is often perceived as ratifying decisions made outside its premises.

Although most political parties had, since 2009, rejected holding new legislative elections based on the existing system (the 2008 election law with its 26 electoral districts), there were fundamental disagreements between them over the nature of the new electoral system, the size of the electoral districts and the issue of preferential voting.

Discussions dragged on until the last minute.

In June 2017, an agreement was eventually reached, days before the end of the legislature’s term on 20 June, which avoided catapulting the country into another political crisis.

To reach an agreement on the new law, it took Lebanese political actors four years of “regular” parliamentary time, four more years of “extended” parliamentary time, two Presidents, four governments, more than two years of presidential vacuum and a little less than one year of governmental vacuum.

The key hallmarks of the new electoral system can be summarized as follows:

  • The electoral map will be divided into 15 electoral districts (instead of 26 districts in the 2009 elections). Each electoral district may have at least one district, and seats are distributed among the sub-districts.
  • The seats remain allocated to confessions (64 each for the Christian and Muslim communities), and within each confession they are further subdivided into 11 confessional branches (four within Islam and seven within Christianity);
  • Citizens are registered to vote at the place of their family’s origin, rather than their actual place of residence. The election register does Not reflect the demographic reality. This practice is recurrently being criticized, but remains “untouchable”. Citizens naturalized for less than 10 years can neither vote nor stand as candidates. Military personnel, including conscripts, cannot vote. The minimum voting age remains 21 years despite several attempts to reduce it to 18 years.
  • The bloc vote plurality system is replaced with a list proportional electoral system using an electoral quotient (Hare quota) and the largest remainder method for allocating seats to lists, in the first phase, and to individual candidates in the second phase. Seats are allocated proportionally across the lists considering the confessional denomination and the regional allocation of seats (i.e. the distribution of seats among sub-districts). Only lists that reach the quotient are eligible to seat allocation.
  • Voters have two votes: they vote for a list of candidates and for one individual candidate on the same list (preferential vote) competing for a seat in their sub-district (or the district if there are no sub-districts). Candidates form lists at least 40 days prior to election day, and these lists must comply with the seat allocation of electoral districts as well as with the confessional distribution of these seats. While lists can be incomplete, they must include a minimum of 3 candidates per district.
  • For the first time, Lebanese citizens living abroad will be allowed to vote at embassies, consulates or other locations, provided they are registered in the Lebanese civil registry. There is no separate district for them, and while the law allocates 6 seats to them (3 for Christians and 3 for Muslims), the votes of non-resident voters will be distributed in-country, depending on where they are registered in Lebanon. In the elections following the 2018 parliamentary elections, 6 additional seats will be added to the 128 seats (which will make a Parliament with 134 MPs), but the law does not specify how this will work.
  • As in 2009, voting will be carried out using official ballot papers provided by the Ministry of the Interior and Municipalities (hereafter “MOIM”) for every district and distributed to the polling stations staff along with the elections material. The official ballot papers will include the names of all lists and their members.
  • The election campaign begins 90 days before election day. The media regulations applicable to election campaigning remained largely unchanged. The same goes for the regulations on campaign spending by candidates.
  • A permanent Supervisory Commission for Elections (replacing the Supervisory Commission for Electoral Campaigns) was set up. While MOIM remains in charge of organising the elections, the Supervisory Commission was granted a slightly extended mandate, but remains primarily tasked to supervise compliance with campaign finance, media and advertising regulations. According to the new law, and in contrast to the previous one, the Commission is established as an independent body, but it will depend how this will be reflected in practice. (Note:  The Supervisory Commission for Elections  admitted that the law restricted its functions and responsibility and emptied its leverage for controlling the election process)

Although the new law is mostly in line with international standards on democratic elections, it is problematic in some respects.

While it introduces long-demanded elements of proportionality, it does not endorse a fully proportional system. For instance, it adds preferential voting but combines it with parameters that make it unpredictable.

Also, it generates inequalities in the weight of votes because of the considerable fluctuations from one district to another in the ratio of votes per seat and the eligibility quota for seat allocation.

In some districts, the votes will have double the influence of votes than in other districts. Ultimately, the degree of proportionality could considerably differ from one district to another, as the level of competition may vary from one seat to another. On all these aspects, it remains to be seen how the new law will work in practice.

The law retains all the positive changes made in 2008 (campaign spending regulations, media regulations, permanent voter register, establishment of an electoral commission with supervisory powers, etc.) but does not bring about changes on problematic issues, such as the ban on the vote of citizens naturalised for less than 10 years (a distinction introduced in the 2008 law), voters’ registration at the place of family origin and the ban on military voting.

As the new law will most likely produce “losers” and “winners”, a debate on a revisited electoral law may be launched following the next elections.

It is essential that the practice of late amendments driven by short-term political objectives and ad hoc interests be relinquished. This leads to defective laws that require further amendments with no prospects for stabilisation of the electoral framework.

Stability of the law is essential to the credibility of the electoral process. The next stage should now be to create favourable conditions for a full-fledged proportional system as well as consolidating and rationalising the legal framework.

This would require reducing the current voting inequalities and making steps towards the abolition of the confessional quota. While the confessional arrangements are recurrently presented as a distinctive trait of the Lebanese society aimed at defusing tensions, their entrenchment in the electoral system rather serves to perpetuate these tensions and increase, in the mid or long-term, the potential for conflict.

Electoral reform must be based on inclusive, systematic, transparent and genuine consultations.

Proposed changes, particularly on the most sensitive issues, such as the electoral system and the drawing of electoral districts, must be discussed with political parties, opposition leaders, independent candidates, civil society organisations representing voters’ interests, election management bodies, the media and the public.

Key recommendations

The key recommendations of this assessment are summarised as follows:

  1. In light of the lessons learnt from the upcoming elections, the new electoral system should be reviewed to yield the full benefits usually associated with a proportional voting system. This should be a transparent process that defines larger districts with no subdivisions and alleviates voting inequalities. This would imply that the role of confessions in political life be reduced.
  2. A fully independent permanent election commission should be established with an extended role in the organisation of the electoral process (particularly regarding the registration of candidacies), clearer and longer terms of office for its members, mandatory gender balance in its membership, increased monitoring, enforcement powers and its own budget.
  3. Steps should be taken to allow voters to cast their vote in their place of residence instead of the place of their family origin. Administrative procedures should not be a deterrent for citizens who wish to register where they live.
  4. Steps should be taken to define eligibility criteria that do Not include the requirement for candidates to be affiliated with one of the officially recognised religious sects.
  5. To ensure transparency and confidence in the electoral process, the breakdown of the results per polling station should be published with the aggregate results immediately after the elections. It should be kept regularly updated.
  6. Special measures must be taken to end the chronic under-representation of women in Lebanese political life and boost their participation in elected and appointed public positions, and not only in the Lebanese Parliament.

A detailed list with all recommendations can be found at the end of each section.

Scope of the Assessment

This report assesses the legal framework governing the election of the members of Parliament in Lebanon in light of international standards on democratic elections.

It focuses on the Law No. 44 “Election of the Members of Parliament” published in the Official Gazette No. 27 on 17 June 2017, which replaces the Law No. 25 published in the Official Gazette No. 41 on 9 October. It does not include an exhaustive review of other pieces of legislation on related matters such as political parties, the freedom of expression, the freedom of media or the freedom of assembly.

In the absence of an official translation, the current analysis is based on an unofficial English translation of the above-mentioned law. As such, some observations might not be entirely accurate.

This report is published in the framework of the project “An Agenda for Decentralisation – Local Governance in Lebanon”, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Lebanese Elections: Clientelism as a Strategy to Garner Votes

Sami Atallah and Zeina El-Helou, respectively LCPS executive director and researcher and development consultant. March 2018

Lebanon’s adoption of a proportional representation (PR) system is seen by many as a step in the direction of fostering a more representative system to select some of the most important decision makers in the country.

Members of parliament (MP) are constitutionally endowed with the authority to collectively elect a president, issue a vote of confidence to new governments, set national policies including the budget, and hold the government accountable using its oversight function, among other duties.

Yet, the new electoral law is being undermined by some of its most central tenets, which preserve clientielistic networks through, among other factors, requiring that a preferential vote be cast and the redrawing of districts in concert with the parliament’s confessional quota.

Taking all this into consideration, it behooves us to consider those power structures and tactics that underlie our elections.

It should also be recognized that as much as the electoral law is crucial to determining the outcome of an election, electoral behavior will have an equal say on the outcome, if not more.

More to the point, how parties and candidates manage their campaigns, mobilize and persuade voters, manipulate the media, shape opinions, and buy votes are largely ignored. (The law was delayed an entire year to include a few reforms, but no reforms were discussed or considered on the law)

Many of these tricks are unknown by the wider public. (For example, a candidate must be able to deposit $100,000 in a bank: a condition that excludes most of the people in this poor economy, and this requirement was never made public)

While this article will not highlight all the methods that parties and politicians employ to win elections, it does look into the clientelistic relationship that links parties and candidates to voters whereby parties or politicians provide services or jobs to voters in return for their political loyalty.

While some people vote based on their sectarian beliefs or ideological convictions, many others support one party or candidate over another based on the services provided to constituents or the cash handed out on election day.

In fact, this provision of services and even outright vote buying goes hand in hand with the majoritarian electoral system that was in place. That is, once parties agree on how to gerrymander electoral districts to their own liking under a majoritarian system, they only need to mobilize a certain number of voters from within these districts to be elected.

PR should in theory make gerrymandering harder, particularly with large districts in which every vote counts.

Such a system would make vote buying and the provision of services much more expensive, meaning political parties would be forced to develop new strategies to mobilize voters.

However, the new Lebanese electoral law has managed to sustain some key facets of clientelism, namely the preferential vote, relaxing electoral spending limits, inflating the number of registered election delegates, and permitting charitable organizations to offer quid pro quo services during elections.

With the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, LCPS conducted focus groups with voters in regions across the country, taking into account gender, age group, sect, income level, and the competitiveness of the district.

Some of the key findings are synthesized here.

For one, while most participants would like to vote for parties and candidates with national political visions, most opt for existing sectarian parties out of fear of other groups.

Hence, many participants made their electoral decision out of a perceived need to protect their own community based on the myth of being threatened as a confessional group— in terms of both physical and resource-based security—by other groups.

Two, citizens expect their MPs to provide them with targeted services, jobs, and other favors, especially since state institutions have failed in designing and implementing policies that make public goods available for everyone, such as jobs opportunities, free and quality education, and universal health coverage.

MPs, on the other hand, prefer to provide targeted goods to individuals and families rather than design policies that serve those communities and regions which are most in need.

According to focus group participants, politicians give high-value goods as rewards for active, long-term support from dedicated partisans, especially those who have leverage over large groups of voters. In some instances, politicians provide services to voters with influence, even if they are not party loyalists.

High-value goods mainly include jobs and scholarships, and to a lesser extent, payments for medical care.

Political parties also threaten to deny or withdraw these services from voters who fail or cease to support the candidate or party in question, especially in areas where residents are highly dependent on one powerful party to provide employment and educational or health services.

By comparison, low-value goods such as food and petty cash are distributed to weakly affiliated and persuadable voters with limited resources and significant material needs. These goods are sometimes provided on a regular basis, particularly if the party has a strong distribution system, but appear more frequently and in greater quantity in the months leading up to elections, as a form of vote buying.

Parties enlist community leaders such as mayors and mukhtars as brokers (who happen to be tribal elders in most of the cases, especially in rural and periphery areas) to identify and approach persuadable voters in their communities for the purposes of vote buying.

It is important to note that in most cases, services are not supplied voluntarily by parties, but are demanded by citizens themselves. Parties also target large families as they have more votes to deliver than smaller ones.

The former electoral law 25/2008 made these abuses ‘legitimate’ as it stipulates under article 59 that ‘financial donations including service provision or payment of money to voters such as in-kind and cash donations and support to individuals, charity, social, cultural, family, religious organizations or other, or sports clubs and all non-public institutions shall be prohibited during the campaign period, except for those granted by candidates or institutions owned or run by candidates who have been doing so on a regular basis for not less than three years prior to the commencement of the electoral campaign.

This counter-intuitive law not only legitimizes clientelism, but also provides an advantage to long-term clientelistic-based parties and candidates over newcomers to the system.

While some contend that clientelism does provide services to citizens when the state falls short in doing so, it is argued that the state—managed by the same governing elite—is prevented from doing so, giving political parties the opportunity to manipulate the election in their favor by effectively holding voters hostage. In this way, clientelism undermines both democracy and development.

For one, the notion that citizens are able to elect their representative or hold them accountable has been undermined as a result of this clientelistic network, where now it is parties that reward or punish voters for their vote choice.

This behavior has impacted development as the political elite have no incentives to provide or ensure development for the country since they managed to be elected by buying votes and providing some services to specific groups of people in their districts under a majoritarian system.

Clientelism cannot actually improve voters’ socio-economic condition beyond dolling out some cash or favors to voters, which provides only a temporary boost in income. In fact, we argue and it should be recognized that the opposite is true, namely that these campaign strategies impoverish people by denying them services that they ought to have access to as a right.

Note: I contend that we have No political parties in tiny Lebanon: they are all funded and directed by foreign State governments. The same goes to local news media.




September 2021

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