The Lebanese Election Law Conundrum

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To get to elections while all sides stick to their demands, either a compromise deal will be required or a postponement of the vote. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Fidaa Itani

Published Thursday, May 10, 2012

Walid Jumblatt has opened fire on all fronts in the battle over the election law. That’s even before the start of election season, and even before being sure that parliamentary polls will be held in 2013 at all – and not encounter a domestic impediment that leads to their postponement or the extension of the current parliament’s mandate. From the very outset, Jumblatt set out his opinion of what his opponents are trying to achieve: to eliminate him and his role. He said the confrontation would be a matter of “to be or not to be”.

Jumblatt’s stance is doubtlessly more rhetorical than realistic. It does not reflect a sober reading of the proposals put forward for introducing proportional representation, defining electoral constituencies, and allocating parliamentary seats (with some elected by proportional representation and others in small constituencies), or such matters.

Jumblatt’s posture reflects his need to mobilize his communal constituency, and alert it that while the time has come to punish Syria, an election law which does not guarantee him the same share of parliament would mean evading that punishment.

He wants to warn his sect that its representation in parliament (as led by him, irrespective of the possibility of seats being recouped by other Druze parties) is being eroded, that this is a prelude to stripping the small sects of their clout in the Lebanese political system, and that the Druze stand to be reduced to a role similar to that of the Alawi sect (which is about equal in numbers).

To start the battle to preserve the sect’s position, Jumblatt pointed to those who reject centrism – meaning Hezbollah, of course – and began reverting to his earlier rhetoric about the party, its weapons and their role, berating it for breaching the Doha agreement and repeatedly denouncing its arms. Jumblatt’s anti-Hezbollah stance could reach new heights if Michel Aoun maintains his declared support for proportional representation.

The same battle is presently being waged by Aoun. It does not matter whether we get to the elections. Neither do security conditions in the country matter, nor dealing with its unfinished business. None of the political players are really concerned about repaying citizens for their electoral loyalty with improved living conditions or public services, let alone development. All that matters is to get back into parliament with the biggest bloc possible.

This is a life-or-death-struggle as far as the minority parties in the system are concerned, and the same obsession has begun to haunt representatives of the Christian parties.

Michel Aoun sees proportional representation as a better way of mustering his forces and the votes of his electors, as he acknowledges the extent to which his popularity has declined. This decline has nothing do with the shrewdness of the Lebanese Forces, or their ability to appeal to the Christian public or student and youth. It has to do with Aoun’s own performance and that of his parliamentary bloc and ministers, especially given his incessant clashes with the Jumblatt-Nabih Berri partnership, and also with Najib Mikati and Michel Suleiman.

Aoun has been employing every means he can to persuade the Christian public of the soundness of his choices, from speaking of a “strong Lebanon” to rediscovering Zarqawi in Iraq and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and the rest of the Arab world.

He thereby seeks to stir up a persecution complex among his Christian followers before the persecution happens – whereas not long ago political Maronitism sought to imbue its followers with a superiority complex, before it plunged the country into wholesale insanity. All this in order to secure an election law based on proportional representation.

It will be hard to sidestep Jumblatt’s fears or Aoun’s demands, and impossible to hold elections without conceding to both. Wholesale eruptions usually occur in the country when some group is bypassed without being defeated militarily.

In Lebanon, there must be fighting if we want to bypass one or more of the country’s constituent sects. To get to elections while all sides stick to their demands, either a compromise deal will be required or a postponement of the vote.

That, in turn, would amount to an admission that the system is incapable of renewing itself or resolving its internal conflicts via the ballot boxes. All it can do is select the party that will undertake the management of the country for the period to come. And this is invariably the representative of some foreign power, the country having found it impossible since 1990 to manage itself.

Saad Hariri expressed the function of elections in Lebanon perfectly when he said: “Elections in Syria (are being held) under the terror of arms, and in Lebanon they also want elections and election laws that submit to the terror of arms. We have taken a decision to confront this conspiracy against the democratic order and these renewed attempts to bring Lebanon under the tutelage of the Syrian regime and its tools.” The automatic corollary of not subjugating Lebanon to the Syrian regime, in Hariri’s way of thinking, is, of course, to subjugate it to America and the West.

Whatever the case, the impasse over the election law and the difficulty of finding common ground for a compromise presents a daunting challenge. It calls for individuals of exceptional mettle, such as the country’s head of state, or Marwan Charbel. The latter undoubtedly has options up his sleeve, ranging from Ghazi Kanaan’s law, to deferring the elections by two years.

We vest high hopes in the president and his interior minister.

Fidaa Itani is an Al-Akhbar columnist on Lebanese affairs and Islamist movements.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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