Due to considerations of length and format, my article about Lebanese bicameralism for The National was limited to making the simple case that establishing a senate would be better than not establishing a senate. As we’ve seen from the ensuing discussion, many different objections to this argument can and should be raised. What I’d like to do, therefore, is to have a short series of posts – interspersed with updates on the cabinet formation which is just hurtling along at breakneck speed – on different aspects of the problem, and open them up for discussion.
Here are the main objections, as I see them:
- A legislative body dedicated to protecting confessional interests only serves to entrench confessionalism.
- Replacing the current parliament with a non-confessional, one-man-one-vote system will allow some groups to dominate the government in an undemocratic fashion.
- A senate empowered to be anything more than a weak or purely symbolic body will maintain the legislative gridlock that paralyzes the current system.
In this post, I’d like to begin with the first objection. As Joe M. wrote in the previous discussion:
“I still don’t understand why you think adding an additional legislative body would be more effective at protecting minority rights than a simple law that explicitly protects minorities in “the realm of religious affairs: personal status laws, marriage, citizenship, etc…” Something in the realm of the American “bill of rights” for the protection of minority rights in Lebanon could accomplish your goals without the addition of a new legislative chamber…”
I feel that a critical part of this discussion — which is often simply taken for granted — is the question of what “confessional interests” need to be protected in the first place. Therefore, by way of approaching this objection, I would challenge readers to answer the following four questions.
- What are “confessional interests” anyway?
- How does the current system provide an effective and necessary check against inter-sect domination?
- Are “confessional interests” just a smokescreen used by political parties that have built up identities as protectors of sectarian communities?
- Is there a better way of protecting the rights of minority communities without introducing a bicameral system?
One of the best ways of approaching these questions is to imagine that Lebanon scrapped its political system altogether, and moved to hold elections using a new electoral law with the following features: no confessional quotas in a unicameral parliament (i.e. one chamber, not two); districts with an equal number of registered voters; a system of proportional representation or a mixed proportional-majoritarian system (like in the Boutros draft law); no requirements governing the confessional background of the key executive posts (President, Prime Minister, deputy Prime Minister, Speaker, deputy Speaker).
On top of this, let’s imagine that there were various constitutional reforms passed to give the legislative branch increased oversight over the Council of Ministers, and to compel the enactment of legislation in a timely fashion so that the government wouldn’t remain bogged down in gridlock all the time. In short, we’re talking about a non-confessional unicameral system with a variety of procedural reforms aimed at improving legislative efficacy and electoral law transparency/fairness.