The ambitious draft law published by the Boutros Commission is officially on ice. The law actually passed by Lebanon’s parliament is a sad shadow of the original, having been stripped of some of the most potentially far-reaching reforms, such as lowering the voting age, allowing Lebanese living abroad to cast absentee ballots, mandating a fixed proportion of female candidates, and replacing the majoritarian representation system with proportional representation.
Of all the proposed reforms, this last one would have been the most seismic. By doing away with the simple first-past-the-post system which all but guarantees the permanence of Lebanon’s hegemonic and highly sectarian parties, proportional representation would have opened the doors of Parliament to policy-based startups and independent candidates. New voices, new faces, and new surnames would finally grace the local news sections of Lebanon’s papers. This was the idea, at least.
So much for fantasy. What we got instead — assuming that our dysfunctional Parliament will even be able to apply the reforms that were passed — was a commitment to allow anyone to vote using their ID card or passport (rather than the special voting card), the creation of an independent electoral council which will supposedly monitor campaign finance and media behavior, and, of course, a promise to plan ahead so that 2013’s elections will more closely resemble the vision articulated by the Boutros Commission.
Marcel Ghanem interviewed Interior Minister Ziad Baroud on Kalam al-Nas last Thursday night, and it was all the young lawyer could do to put on a brave face and pretend that things would really be different this time around. I spoke recently with a member of the Aoun-led Change & Reform Bloc, who confirmed to me that none of the major players (Hizbullah, Amal, Mustaqbal, PSP, etc.) had been ready or willing to allow the most far-reaching reforms to pass. “Politics, at the end of the day,” he sighed, “is about control. And in a democracy — even a dysfunctional non-democracy like Lebanon’s — the name of the game is elections. Lose control of the elections, and you will lose the game.”