Compromise and concessions: Lebanon’s new electoral law
After an eight-year suspension of the polls, a constitutional crisis and extensions of the Parliament, Lebanon finally has a new electoral law. The move paves the way for parliamentary elections next spring, the first since 2009.
The new law is based on a proportional representation system. It includes reformist ideas that have been raised by civic groups, to improve parliamentary political representation. It also meets the aspirations of Christian parties, who want Christian voters to vote for Christian candidates rather than a mixed vote.
The new law claims to reduce sectarianism, but one of the key problems with it is that it does in fact bolster divisions.
This is because it reduces mixing and increases the independence of different communities. The prospect of democratic electoral battles fought over political issues rather than purely sectarian choices has diminished.
Perhaps one of the major disappointments concerning the new law concerns women in politics. Members of Parliament were unable to approve a quota system for women, as promised by many political forces.
Lebanon has one of the lowest levels of representation of women in politics. Men and women have equal rights when it comes to standing for election. But Lebanese women are deprived of real political chances because of sectarian parties’ reluctance to be represented by women.
In addition to the quotas, there is also the issue of the voting age, which MPs did not succeed in reducing to 18.
Some claim the new law reduces sectarianism — but one of the key problems is that it actually bolsters divisions.
The age of voting remains at 21, with some concerned that there are more Muslim than Christian voters under that age. This argument is a poor one, however, and represents a great disappointment to the young men and women of Lebanon.
Lebanese laws allow young people to join the army — and risk their lives in fighting — at the age of 18. The likes of Hezbollah have recruited youths aged 16 and 17 to fight and die in Syria. And yet people of that age are still not entitled to vote.
On top of this, Lebanese laws and all sects allow Lebanese men and women to marry at an early age but deny them the right to vote.
Some will say that the adoption of the electoral law is better than a vacuum, constitutional crisis and regular extensions of Parliament, and this is true. It is also true that the adoption of the law was achieved through compromise, concessions and political settlements.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. She can be reached on Twitter @dianamoukalled.