Lebanon and the proportional representation system in the draft law of the 2013 parliamentary elections

16 Jan 2012

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Under the High Patronage of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Lebanon Gen. Michel SULEIMAN, a full day conference entitled "Lebanon and the Proportional Representation System in the Draft Law of the 2013 Parliamentary Elections" was held on January 9, 2012 at the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel, Beirut. The invitation was addressed by H.E Gen. Marwan Charbel, Minister of Interior and Municipalities and organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the support of the Norwegian government.

The conference was held in the presence of H.E President SULEIMAN and was attended by H.E Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the ministers Marwan Charbel, Ali Hassan Khalil, Alaaeddine Terro, Nazim Elkhoury, and Banos Manjian.

The diplomatic presence was widely noticed by Excellences' ambassadors of foreign and Arab countries as well as stakeholders and sponsors of highly recognized UN and international commissions and agencies. Members of the Parliament also attended the conference, such as Mohamed Hajjar, Ghassan Moukhaibir, Nawwaf Almousawi, Alain Aoun, Walid Khoury, Ahmad Fatfat, Marwan Hmadeh, Marwan Fares, Khaled Zahraman, Antoine Saad,  Fouad Alsaad,  Joseph Almaalouf,  Sami Gmayel,  Farid Alkhazen, Ali Fayyad, former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Ziad Baroud and former Members of the Parliament Adnan Traboulsi and Bchara Merhej.

Various non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives, Human Rights activists and political parties also attended the conference amid specialized and dedicated NGOs (LADE, CCER, LCW, LTA...).

Moreover, Universities and academic institutions represented by academics, professor and students of political science largely attended. Furthermore, directors of research studies and polling centers, lawyers, chief editors and journalists participated. It is worth noting that more than 450 people attended the conference whereby it enriched the sessions with debates and discussions and stood as an added value for the success of the conference.

The conference agenda comprised of a three statements at the opening session. The first statement was addressed by Mr. Robert Watkins, the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme. Mr. Watkins confirmed the support of the UN and the UNDP in partnership with all international stakeholders and agencies to the Lebanese state and its pursuit to attain free democratic elections. He was thankful to the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities for keeping her promise in preparing a draft law for the 2013 parliamentary elections, hence, leaving more than a year for the implementation of reforms once adopted by the Lebanese Parliament.

According to Mr. Watkins, the UN and other international partners are only concerned with the technical support of the elections that to be held to the highest international standards assuring that the political components of the selection of electoral districts and the voting system are to be decided solely by the sovereign Lebanese institutions.

The Minister of Interior and Municipalities H.E Gen. Marwan Charbel emphasized in his statement on the importance of the draft law and the reforms stated. H.E Charbel believes that the Proportional Representation System is the only system that preserves a just and genuine representation and reveals the country's unity.

H.E Charbel pointed out the importance of presenting the draft law to the public, thus, reforms stated can be prepared and implemented ahead of time and not left till the last minute prior to the 2013 elections. H.E Charbel is keen that with the Proportional Representation System,democracy will prevail and sectarianism will demolish.

In his statement, H.E President Michel Suleiman stressed the fact that the current electoral law of 1960 used in the last elections in 2009 is outdated and incoherent with the coexistence accord and the national pact. President Suleiman said that Lebanon is in need of an electoral system that ensures a healthy representation for the entire component of the society and undermines partisanship. His Excellency highlighted the necessity for establishing an independent authority or body to monitor "two fundamental issues: managing the elections process and controlling spending".

The draft law includes many important reforms: the introduction of pre-printed ballot papers, the creation of a Supervisory Commission on elections, and increased participation and representation of women, youth, and registered voters residing outside the country.

The first session entitled "The key reforms of the draft electoral law and the implementation mechanism" was moderated by Dr. Fahmiya Sharafeddine, President of the National Committee for the follow-up on Women Issues. The panel encompassed Dr. Farid El Khazen, Member of the Lebanese Parliament (Reform & change bloc), Mr. Sami Gemayel, Member of the Lebanese parliament (Katae'b party) , Ms. Suzanne El Khoury Youhanna, Acting Director of the Personal Status Dept. at the MIOM and Ms. Yara Nassar, Executive Director of LADE.

The discussions tackled the subject of lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 and the right of the military personnel to vote on Election Day. The right of the Lebanese expatriates to practice in the upcoming 2013 parliamentary elections and the issue of women's participation and representation in the elections were important subjects debated amongst the addressees.

The Draft law calls for each list to include a 30 % of women; this proposal was positively welcomed by women's NGOs as a starting point. It was pointed out that the Proportional Representation system might be a popular idea but the law's details need to be cleared out. The speakers welcomed the reforms indicated in the draft law concerning the electoral funding and expenditure ceiling, and monitoring electoral media and advertising.

Dr. Arda Ekmekgi, Member of the National Commission on the Electoral Law (Dean of Arts & Sciences at Haigazian University) was the moderator of the second session on "The Role of the Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign (SCEC). The panelists were H.E Mr. Ali Hassan Khalil, Minister of Public Health (Amal Movement), Judge Ziad Ayoub, Judge at the State Council, Dr. Khalil Gebara, member of the 2009 Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign.

This session demonstrated the importance of having a supervisory commission and the necessity to develop its role and function. The panelist acknowledged the draft law of altering the name of the former commission from the "Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign" to the "Supervisory Commission on the Parliamentary Elections" thus; giving the supervisory commission wider functions and jurisdictions.

The speakers stressed on the independence of the commission and its composition. Moreover, opinions varied whether the commission should coordinate with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities at this stage (2013 Elections) or to be fully independent in the future (2017 Elections).

The third session entitled "Proportional Representation System and Electoral Districts"was moderatored by H.E Mr. Nazem ElKhoury, Minister of Environment. The panel comprised Dr. Ahmad Fatfat, Member of the Lebanese Parliament (Future Movement), Mr. Akram Chehaib, Member of the Lebanese Parliament (Progressive Socialist Party), Dr. Ali Fayyad, Member of the Lebanese Parliament (Hizboullah), Mr. Joseph Maalouf, Member of the Lebanese Parliament (Lebanese Forces) and Gen. Elias Khoury, Director General of Political Affairs and Refugees at MOIM.

The debaters agreed upon the inevitability of having a new electoral system that would develop and improve representation and strengthen the role of the Lebanese Parliament. The Proportional Representation system is one of the systems that would establish and enhance the role of political parties and the national political agenda in Lebanon.

Proportional Representation system will produce political platforms and create parliamentarian blocs hence, achieving democracy and having better representation. The panelists debated on the preferential vote and whether members of the political parties and voters in Lebanon are aware and prepared for such a practice. Furthermore, questions were raised whether the preferential vote is counted on the electoral district base or "Kadaa" province base as there will be a notable difference.

The speakers presumed that the Proportional Representation system recognizes Al Tae'f accord in protecting coexistence and national unity through Islamic/Christian Partnership and fair representation. There was an important debate over the impact of Proportional Representation System on minorities' representation and political alliances.