Can 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 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.
After 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.