Elections, Lebanon, Reform

Ziad Baroud on the Lebanese Elections

super-ziadCan there be any doubt that Interior Minister Ziad Baroud is the best thing to happen to Lebanese politics in a very long time? I went to hear the minister give the keynote address at a workshop on the Lebanese elections hosted by the Carnegie Middle East Center, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS), and the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Baroud ObamaBaroud blew me away (no pun intended). I’d heard him speak on television before and have followed his career since he was a civil society activist with the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform and a member of the Boutros Commission, but I came away even more impressed by the man after hearing him speak in person. (You can all stop pinching yourselves; yes, I am in fact praising a member of the political establishment). The minister spent the better part of an hour explaining the deficiencies of the Doha electoral law and gesturing towards the specific reforms that need to be introduced as soon as possible after the new chamber is elected. He characterized June 7th as a “by-election”, given that the vast majority of contests were settled in Doha (by virtue of the electoral law adopted). For there to be any semblance of democracy in Lebanon, Baroud explained, an electoral law based on proportional representation is the only solution.

ifesAfter the minister spoke, there was a very interesting presentation by Richard Chambers of IFES, who discussed mapping of candidates and lists by district. Here are some relevant factoids from the talk:

(1) The highest ratio of candidates to seats is in the district of Dinniyeh-Miniyeh, where no fewer than forty candidates are running for three seats.

(2) The largest number of candidates running in a single district is sixty-nine, for Zahle’s seven seats. This will be the so-called ‘Mother of all Battles’, the D-Day, the Guadalcanal, the Waterloo of Lebanon’s elections.

(3) In Batroun, believe it or not, there are two Gebran Bassils running for election. One is the current Minister of Telecommunications and son-in-law of Michel Aoun. The other one is… not.

(4) The ‘Beirut 2’ district is no longer uncontested. One of the agreements in Doha was that this district would be split between March 14 and March 8. This is no longer the case.

(5) In many districts there are two clear lists (loyalists vs. opposition), however in several districts the picture is considerably murkier. This murkiness is the product of two factors: (a) While the candidate registration deadline was yesterday at midnight, there remains some time before the candidacy withdrawl deadline , at which point we will finally know who is actually running; (b) Given that the coalitions have not finished hammering out their internal alliances, it seems that everyone who is vying to be considered on a party list has submitted his/her candidacy, pending the final decision.

What this means is that in some districts there are too many candidates from a given coalition to put together a list. In Beirut 3, for example, there are too many potential March 14 candidates, just as there are too many potential opposition candidates in Keserwan; some people are going to have to be cut.

(6) Finally, there are (rather amazingly) no uncontested seats thus far in this election. In 2005, by contrast, there were seventeen uncontested seats. Of course, this number may change once the withdrawal deadline comes and goes. (Update: This is no longer true. Nazareth Sabounjian withdrew his candidacy in the North Metn district, leaving Hagop Pakradounian as the uncontested winner.)

For more information on Mr. Chambers’ presentation, check the IFES website over the next few days.

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25 thoughts on “Ziad Baroud on the Lebanese Elections

  1. #(1) I’d have put a zzzein in that S…

    #(3) So, it will be “G. Bassil Aoun”, and “G. Bassil Beit-min” in Batroun?

    Posted by mj | April 8, 2009, 4:11 pm
  2. color me envious. I received an email about this and wished that I were in town, especially if Baroud came in costume.

    love the summary of Chambers’ presentation, too!

    Posted by adiamondinsunlight | April 8, 2009, 5:10 pm
  3. Well, he is interior minister. Why can’t he do anything about it? (i mean personally. i realize that the politics are difficult)

    Posted by Joe M. | April 8, 2009, 7:06 pm
  4. Joe,

    As interior minister, he is part of the executive branch of government, not the legislative branch. His job is to implement the law that was passed by the parliament. He had a strong hand in drafting the original draft law (on the Boutros Commission), but the big parties passed on it. So he has to play the hand that he was dealt.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 8, 2009, 7:16 pm
  5. Hey,

    Actually Hagob Pakradunian is uncontested in the Metn and is already a de facto winner in the next election.

    best regards

    Posted by babagannouj | April 8, 2009, 9:55 pm
  6. Hi babaghannouj

    Yes, that development took place after the workshop. So there is now 1 uncontested seat.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 8, 2009, 9:57 pm
  7. so you’ve become a ziad baroud groupie… all this because he served you some standard technocratic soup.

    yes, he was in the boutros commission, he was the one that threatened to withdraw his participation if the sectarian batrak’s recommendations weren’t taken into account. A highly admirable boy indeed.

    Posted by alhaqid | April 8, 2009, 11:15 pm
  8. Alhaqid,

    Could you elaborate?

    Posted by Nidal | April 8, 2009, 11:30 pm
  9. Alhaqid,

    Yes, please elaborate. Can you furnish some news reports?

    Perhaps you are referring to the formal objection lodged by Baroud within the commission’s report, an objection that was entirely reasonable and actually runs counter to the Christian sectarian logic (which is typically in favor of smaller districts). Baroud argued that the Mount Lebanon muhafaza should NOT be split into two and his reasoning makes sense.

    Standard technocratic soup? At this moment, I would argue that accomplished and patriotic technocrats are what this country needs; we have had our fill of revolutionaries.

    Baroud’s objection can be read here.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 7:29 am
  10. somehow i knew you were gona mention this letter. Actually, this was published when the Boutros commission finally published its final draft. This objection of ziad baroud was published in annex to it in newspaper such as annahar (of june 2 2006) as an objection (of which i agree with him), but this is not the episode i was referring to. That was after Baroud went back to the commission after his suspension of his participation and continued working with it.
    But then again, i guess you have your beliefs and hopes in neutral — but somehow “patriotic” — technocrats, and telling you that patriotism in Lebanon has its ideological routes, more sophisticated ones than that of the local “revolutionaries” and that sectarian bkerkeh is one of these, wouldn’t change your mind.

    Posted by alhaqid | April 9, 2009, 9:08 am
  11. Everything has ideological routes. All things being equal, therefore, I prefer a figure like Baroud in the interior ministry. What is your specific criticism of him? Do you know something about him that I don’t? How did Baroud serve as a conduit for the sectarian objections of Maronite officialdom on the Boutros Commission, and how did the draft law reflect these objections?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 9:35 am
  12. dude, this is my last post before an 8 hours absence because of work, so don’t take it as a grudge eclipse.
    baroud threatened to resign at one point from the boutros commission. the pretext mentioned by the press and that baroud DIDNT refute (his technique is mostly silence) was that the batrak’s suggestions weren’t taken into consideration. That was before this letter you published. Its not something i know in private, for i would’nt share what i know in private like that with strangers just to make a point without abling them to reply. I would have said it was private otherwise at least.
    All this to say: don’t be fooled by the so-called neutrality of technocratic authority, especially when it gets to these high positions. So, what i don’t like with this kind of figure, is that it presents itself as neutral and give an excuse for the un-neutral conflicting power to keep things working in sensitive positions they didn’t momentarily agree upon to keep their hegemony unquestioned in a sensitive time. You’ll see that these dumb and undemocratic elections one day would be called “clean elections” because they had the seal of baroud. Much like the ministry of culture and its minister ghassan salameh was celebrated for organizing the “francophonie”, a major eveent, when in fact it was PR for Rafic Hariri. What i expect from baroud? a press conference warning against the mis-use of his name. Or at least, to tell us what is happening in his ministry in terms of corruption.(ill wait till he finishes his mandates for the two, giving him an extra chance)
    But he wont do that, for he is still young and has a lot to achieve in his professional technocratic career. good day

    Posted by alhaqid | April 9, 2009, 9:59 am
  13. Qn,
    Your answer above is not satisfactory. He is a minister controlling one of the most important miniseries. If he wanted, he could apply the law he wanted regardless of the legislation. Or he could resign in protest of the legislation he is being fed. It’s too simplistic to just say that his hands are tied.

    You know, we have a family friend who was in the last government. And he would tell us that he didn’t like the government one bit, but that he had no choice and could not resign. It was obvious bullshit.

    I think the sign of a worthy politician is their ability to make hard choices in the face of political pressure. When I see a politician making statements, but not following up with strong political acts, i tend to believe that their actions speak louder than words.

    Posted by Joe M. | April 9, 2009, 10:46 am
  14. Joe,

    Ministers don’t invent laws. Take a look at the Constitution. Laws are passed by Parliament. Ministers are supposed to execute the laws created by the government. He can’t just apply the law he wants. If he could, what would be the point of having a parliament?

    Sure, he could resign in protest of the legislation. But the reason for his appointment was to oversee an election that — despite its deficiencies — would still be run according to higher standards than any other election ever held in Lebanon.

    The election will be held on one day; the ID card has replaced the voter card; there are controls over media and financing; there is, at the very least, some semblance of oversight.

    The theory is that this is at least a foundation. Had Baroud resigned, there would have been a minor flap about it in the papers for a week, and then someone corrupt would have taken his place and the elections would have been an unqualified farce.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 11:01 am
  15. Qn,
    Just to be clear, I understand how the legislative process is supposed to work. I also understand that the current president was appointed unconstitutionally (so who cares how it’s supposed to work?).

    My point is that the minister can act if he wants to. For example, if the minister decided to implement his own policy (ideally, it would not be too distinct from what parliament would like), and if parliament wanted to stop him, the minister could quote Andrew Jackson’s famous line about the American Supreme Court decision in Worcester v. Georgia, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!”

    Posted by Joe M. | April 9, 2009, 12:21 pm
  16. Joe

    Ya akhi, we can’t complain about violations of democracy and due process on the one hand, and then say “to hell with it” when we don’t like the result.

    I’ll tell you what parliament would like. Parliament likes the current law: a very non-threatening law designed to keep everybody happy with the barest minimum of window-dressing reforms.

    What Baroud would like is this. And it doesn’t really matter what he likes because as I said before, a law is a law and ministers are not (supposed to be) above the law.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 2:43 pm
  17. take a look at this:

    or better, this one:
    “Earlier Tuesday, media reports circulated that there were political pressures on the commission’s members regarding the electoral divisions that would be noted in the commission’s electoral draft law. As-Safir reported that two Maronite members of the commission, presumably Baroud and Tabet, had protested the divisions “which were made to please the wishes of a certain political party,” referring to the Future Movement, headed by MP Saad Hariri.
    The As-Safir article added that both Baroud and Tabet insisted Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir “refuses any electoral law which is unjust and doesn’t provide the national balance within each electoral division.”

    but i guess you’re already under his spell. Since the question of Baroud giving his “seal of transparency” to the “highest standard election of them all” doesn’t shake you any bit.

    Posted by alhaqid | April 9, 2009, 6:28 pm
  18. Alhaqid

    I like how you ignored the entire article except the excerpt from As-Safir, hardly an unbiased source. The article quotes a source “close to both men” as well as the president of the Lebanese University, as saying that there were no political pressures on Baroud or Tabet, and that the newspaper was trying to turn it into a sectarian thing.

    Look, I agree with you about the dangers of having someone like Baroud around to put a stamp of approval on what will certainly be a very low standard election. (It’s like the cap-and-trade false solution in the climate change debate). But I think that we need to give credit to this guy for (a) using his position to point out, on a daily basis, everything that is wrong with the current law, and agitating for further reforms; (b) doing other things like eliminating the sect from the personal status files, etc.

    Would you prefer someone like Murr in the ministry?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 6:49 pm
  19. no, i would prefer someone like georges corm.

    and dude, a source close to both men is hardly an unbiased source to quote.

    and second, i did not even read the article before you objected, except for what i looked for in google, that is the as-safir excerpt. i don’t know how much you are informed about the local media, but between the source of as-safir and that of the daily star, i go for as-safir’s.
    Especially when as-safir distanciates itself from the hariri movement.
    Now i dont like as-safir’s language about “maronites”, but in this affair, it was indeed sectarianism they point out, even if i dont like to call it “maronite”.

    Posted by alhaqid | April 9, 2009, 7:07 pm
  20. True, a source close to both men is not unbiased either, but my point is that you are trying to paint the guy out as an undercover sectarian lackey of Bkirke. I think you’re blowing the whole incident out of proportion.

    Are you in Beirut?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 9, 2009, 7:16 pm
  21. no, i think i was the one asking you not to blow his image out of proportion. He is a mere technocrat-oriented individual (and not a technocrat, for this category doesn’t exist) with a record of sectarianism (one episode indeed, but one significant one, significant enough to not pontificate him). Blowing his image out of proportion in the Lebanese political sphere is giving more tools for the establishment of a developed “wasatiyya” (it is not a coincidence that he was on president sulayman’s quota).
    yes, i’m in beirut.

    Posted by alhaqid | April 10, 2009, 12:01 pm
  22. I’m blowing his image out of proportion? C’mon, it’s not like I said he was Superman or anything.

    Never mind.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 10, 2009, 12:14 pm
  23. A much loved man. He’s young, active, clean hands, and has the hearts of the young generation… All we wait is for the grown up politicians to die

    Posted by Jester theFool | April 10, 2009, 6:34 pm
  24. LOL – Jester theFool I loved your comment LOL!!!

    Very interesting thread guys above!
    I’m dozing off now. I will read it again sometime later…

    In a nutshell though? Ziad Baroud is peerless! 🙂
    God bless him!!!!

    Posted by IsaLeb | July 31, 2009, 7:32 pm


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