I’d like to introduce a project that I’m involved in, called “The Lebanese Campaign for a Senate”. The campaign’s website serves as a hub for relevant policy news on the subject of bicameralism, as well as a discussion forum on the merits and challenges of establishing a Lebanese senate. Content is being added to the site on a daily basis, so please feel free to visit regularly and explore the various resources.
Why a Senate?
Most Lebanese agree that the current political framework in Lebanon — with its confessional quotas in parliament, gerrymandered districts, and archaic electoral law — is in urgent need of reform. The call to eradicate political sectarianism is an oft-heard refrain in the rhetoric of Lebanon’s political elite, yet few concrete steps have been taken in the service of this goal since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.
The establishment of a senate in Lebanon would represent an important step towards dismantling the structures of political sectarianism. This, in and of itself, is hardly a radical idea. Both the Lebanese Constitution and the Ta’if Agreement (which ended the civil war) call for the establishment of a senate. Article 22 of the Constitution stipulates:
“With the election of the first Parliament on a national, non-confessional basis, a Senate is established in which all the religious communities are represented. Its authority is limited to major national issues.”
What the Constitution envisages is a legislature with two chambers, as is found in the vast majority of countries in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia. The parliament would be elected on a non-confessional basis (i.e. with no predetermined quotas for the representation of different sects), while the senate would serve as the representative body for Lebanon’s eighteen confessional communities. The goal of parliament, therefore, would be to express the will of the majority, while the role of the senate would be to protect the rights of the minority. By decoupling sectarian representation from the parliament and transferring it to the senate, so the theory goes, a space would be opened up for the vital expression of a politically-defined majority.
From Theory to Practice
While the notion of a senate has been kicking around for a long time, there has never been a full-fledged government- or civil society-sponsored initiative to explore the idea in depth… until now. In recent weeks, President Michel Suleiman has called for the creation of a National Commission to Abolish Political Sectarianism, and one of the principal strategies under discussion would be the creation of a senate.