I recently read an interesting profile of ex-Minister of the Interior Ziad Baroud in Al-Akhbar English (which, by the way, you should all be reading on a daily basis). The last two paragraphs, in particular, caught my eye:
As part of his interest in electoral law, Baroud is in contact with Bahij Tabbara, a former Lebanese minister. Together they are preparing a proposal on proportional representation, an electoral system many believe would undermine the current sectarian structure governing Lebanon. Baroud says their proposal “is not about a political party, tendency, movement or coalition,” but simply a campaign calling for proportional representation and hoping to raise awareness about the issue. Baroud confirms that they have not gone into the project’s details, but he feels that Tabbara is an intelligent person who will help move the project forward.
Although Baroud hopes to see proportional representation implemented in Lebanon, he is pessimistic about its acceptance among Lebanon’s political elite. He predicts that the prevailing political groups will never agree to such electoral reforms, because their direct or indirect interest are heavily vested in the status quo.
Is this true? Baroud is right that many of the bigger parties have no interest in changing the existing majoritarian system, but I think that a few important players would be far better served by proportional representation (PR), while at least one major party is probably agnostic on the issue.
In particular, Prime Minister Mikati would stand a much better chance of increasing the size of his legislative bloc if majoritarianism were to be replaced by a proportional scheme for the 2013 elections. With Hariri’s political relevance being depleted by the day, in fact, all of Lebanon’s “independent” Sunni politicians (particularly Mikati and Safadi) would seem to have a good shot at making inroads into Mustaqbal’s share of Parliament under a PR system.
On the other hand, any party that anticipates winning its seats by a margin short of a landslide is probably going to be against PR. This applies not only to Hariri’s Future Movement but also to Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and the rest of the Christian parties. All of these groups (as I argued in an article from a couple years ago) won their seats in the 2009 elections by decent margins (in the 55%-65% range) but not by total landslides. This means that under a PR system, they would likely lose seats in those same districts to their opponents. (See also this post for more reading on electoral districting in Lebanon and PR).
Meanwhile, if Hizbullah’s support in 2013 is anything like it was in 2009, they would have very little to lose from a PR system. In fact, they might even gain seats under this scheme, by running resistance-friendly candidates against Hariri’s people in the districts that the latter won by a narrow margin.
(Note: the same could be said of Aoun. While losing seats in districts like Jbeil and Kisrawan, the FPM might pick up seats in Beirut and elsewhere, particularly given all the new political capital that has accrued to the party as a result of its visible successes in the areas of telecommunications and energy.)
In sum, I’m not particularly optimistic that PR will be implemented in time for 2013, but my lack of optimism has less to do with the fact of entrenched political interests as it does with political inertia. Still, it would be nice if it happened.