|27 September, 2016

Outlook grim for effective electoral reform in Lebanon

Lack of parity between various confessional groups as an obstacle to a stable electoral law in Lebanon.

A Lebanese flag flies as smoke rises from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon June 3, 2007.

A Lebanese flag flies as smoke rises from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon June 3, 2007.

REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

27 September 2016

BEIRUT: Opaque, inadequate laws consistently prevent fair and stable elections, Hassan Krayem, a governance program manager for the United Nations Development Program, explained Monday at a talk held at the Lebanese American University. Ahead of planned elections next summer, Krayem discussed historic and current issues preventing effective electoral reform, during a lecture titled “Prospects of Electoral Reform in Lebanon.”

“We have a confessional system, and it is creating this entire problem,” explained the UNDP expert.

Krayem has managed numerous projects on economic and fiscal governance, elections, and parliamentary development at UNDP.

“The No. 1 observation in Lebanon is that there has never been stability in legislation for the electoral law,” Krayem told a room of students. “The only period that witnessed some sort of stability was from 1960-1972.”

Krayem outlined the main causes and impacts of poor electoral legislation, starting with significant issues in advancing a functional government.

However, he highlighted the lack of parity between various confessional groups as an obstacle to a stable electoral law that satisfies all groups and ensures an unbiased outcome.

Lebanon’s push to agree upon a fair, efficient electoral law has ultimately been a failure, he explained.

In the ’40s and ’50s, gerrymandering was a consistent issue, and the reforms in 1960 were considered an indirect cause of Lebanon’s violent Civil War, Krayem said. But these issues also continued after the war.

“Only 30 percent voted in the elections [in 1992] because many Christians and residents of Beirut were boycotting [them],” Krayem added. This can be contrasted with the 2009 general election which saw around 50 percent turnout.

After detailing Lebanon’s failures to produce effective electoral reform, Krayem detailed current issues that could prevent consensus on an effective solution ahead of the potential vote in 2017.

“We have agreed in Lebanon to parity in everything – in representation between Christians and Muslims to respect such diversity within our country,” he began. “However, in real demography we don’t have this ... and thus no matter what we do, there will be distortion.”

The sectarian imbalance isn’t the only contemporary issue. The global Lebanese diaspora has been barred voting rights during elections, but could have a massive impact on the outcome if enfranchised.

“Think about how many Lebanese are abroad, and I mean those who were born in Lebanon. Most of them are Christian, and they have no way to vote during the elections.”

While there will likely be challenges if elections go ahead next summer – not least due to the lack of a president – a vote shouldn’t be seen as a fix-all to national problems, Krayem said. “Elections are not an end by itself. They are a means. I don’t want elections because I love them, I want them because they create representation, a stable political system and allow for monitoring and oversight,” he concluded. “Otherwise there is no point in holding them.”

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

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