Reading into the Lebanese Parliamentary Elections

The electoral law is considered to be the most important constitutional law, according to which the authorities responsible for enforcing the constitution are formed, based on the principle that whatever is considered an obligatory to fulfill becomes an obligatory in itself, yet in Lebanon, sectarian quotas and political leaders have a different opinion. For three terms, the Lebanese parliament extended its legal term, with elections never taking place since 2009, thus prolonging the constitutional crisis in the country. This extension has no legal justification except for security reasons.

With the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, which Hezbollah was and still a major party aiming to put it down, most Sunni forces in Lebanon supported it, which in turn would have had a negative impact on Hezbollah and the party's allies in particular, by losing part of its popularity after entering the war in Syria. On the one hand, Hezbollah dragged Lebanon into the Syrian crisis at a time the Miqati government adopted a policy of distancing itself from what was happening in Syria. This resulted in carrying out security operations inside the Lebanese territory and showing no respect to the will of the Syrian people for freedom.

Among the reasons behind the extension were the demands of political forces to amend the 1960 law in force, especially the Christian political forces in Lebanon. The Proportional Representation Law, was first proposed under the government of President Najib Miqati, until the adoption of “The Election of Members of the House of Representatives Law" on 16 June, 2017. For the first time in the history of the Republic of Lebanon, the parliamentary elections will take place on 6 May 2018 in accordance with the so-called "Proportional Representation Law", instead of the previous law, known as “The Majority Law”.

The new Proportional Representation Law was accompanied, for the first time, by allowing the vote of the expatriates. Six seats were approved in the House of Representatives for Lebanese residing outside the country, equally divided between Christians and Muslims. These seats will make the total number of seats of the House of Representatives 134. It is worth-mentioning that that the number of Lebanese who are entitled to vote abroad are 900,000, of whom 10% only will vote, according to the registration records. The principle of the preferential voice was also be adopted on the basis of judiciary rather than the constituency at which the voter votes, which contributes to strengthening sectarian and political quotas.

It is worth mentioning that Lebanon has not witnessed a regularity in its electoral laws as well as in the implementation of its constitution since its independence in 1943, which underwent amendments and reforms, most notably the Taif Agreement following a civil war that lasted 15 years, in which many internal and external powers played a role.

Keeping the Percentage Law system, and preference votes and other issues in mind, several negative implications, some think, might arise: The imposition of cooperation and forming coalitions between the winning parties, in the event that the winning party does not have a majority to form the government. The Proportional Representation system has rarely been able to achieve a stable majority within the House of Representatives. Thus, the government lost its effectiveness and its ability to survive. This also creates a lack of consensus, thus a crisis in the government, in the event those who win the elections, and at the same time lack a majority to form a government, fail to cooperate with each other. Adding to this is the difficulty of applying the Proportional Representation system under sectarian divisions, as well as the difficulty of counting the votes in the Proportional Representation system as well as in light of the sectarian representation.

The biggest problem happened after 2005, following the departure of the Syrian army from Lebanon, that is the problem of the Hezbollah weapons, which replaced the Syrian army, controlling the state and preventing it from extending its authority over all territory. Sectarian and security complexes increased in number. Each clan had its army and military wing, threatening the state, people, infrastructure, economy and even neighboring countries. Today, the Proportional Representation Law for parliamentary elections and the proposed division of electoral districts came in the interest of Hezbollah and its allies, to enshrine the dominance of the party over all electoral and political joints. Under the Proportional Representation Law, the preferential vote was added, based on which the electoral seats are distributed.

Regardless of the positive and negative characteristics of the new electoral law, some believe that it is possible to have surprises in the next elections, even within the limit of 20-25 percent, in light of the inability of many political forces to repeat what happened in the 2009 elections, thus forming a large parliamentary bloc that exceeds what it actually has of popularity on the ground, especially the Future Movement.

While those who reject this law, Sunni Muslims in particular, believe it has many disadvantages, including the absence of unity of standards among the various constituencies, the lack of proportion between the number of voters and parliamentary seats, and its failure to reduce the voting age to the 18 years old. Christians see in this law the most representative of them, as the names of nominees will not be dictated on them by the strongest parties in their districts.

Although the Proportional Representation Law asserts representation for each electoral bloc, whether sectarian or political according to the size of supporters. For example, if any list receives 30% of the votes, it receives 30% of the seats in the electoral district. Unlike the majority system, the Muslims who have more than two-thirds of the parliament cannot have more than a third of its seats; rather, this is a taboo which is no longer discussed. The Taif Accord had already stated this point.

As for what will be done today (the Proportional Representation Law), the political alliances will have a role in reshaping the map of political forces and elections. For example, for the Sunni forces represented by the biggest Sunni bloc, the Future Movement, observers believe that the electoral repositions that Hariri made based on this new electoral law, reflect his desire to maintain his alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement in each constituency and renew his relationship with the Lebanese Forces in a limited manner. This satisfies Arab and foreign capitals who wish to restore the relationship between him and Samir Jajaa. On the other hand, he will maintain his relationship with his strong ally, the Progressive Socialist, the strongest representative of the Druze in Lebanon.

But what about his position on Islamists in Lebanon, who belong to the Sunni community Lebanon, Harrir’s own community, and how will he forge his alliances? What about his alliance with Islamic forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood? How will he deal with the rising popularity of Minister Ashraf Rifi in Tripoli, the second capital of Lebanon, and the center of the weight of Sunnis in Lebanon? What about his role regarding the issue of detained Islamist militants (Sunnis), where the Sunni community sees a hand for Hezbollah in this regard, which has a dominance over military courts entrusted with these issues

The general amnesty for prisoners, including Islamist detainees, was of interest to Hariri at some point, as well as for many Islamic political forces, such as the Islamic Group, and the families of the detainees, yet the issue became vague, after the general amnesty did not include those who had blood of the Lebanese army on their hands. This possibly means pardoning drug traffickers and criminals from other sects. The issue of the arrest of Sheikh Ahmed al-Asir and his supporters and other cases related to Islamist detainees from the north, Bekaa and Sidon is highlighted, although evidence documented at the military court reveals Hezbollah’s involvement in Sidon in triggering this incident.

It seems that the issue of Islamist detainees is not important when compared to the greater goal of Saad Hariri to get what he could of votes, with the least possible losses under the new electoral law, to pave the way for his return to the presidency of the Lebanese government.