Therefore, I’d like to re-post a comment that one reader, “RedLeb”, left in the “Abolishing Political Sectarianism” discussion. It stirs the pot quite nicely. Here it is.
I think the first step in abolishing political sectarianism should be limiting the power of the executive. The cabinet is currently too powerful, which is why everyone wants to be in it. This creates paranoia among the different communities, who feel that if the ‘other’ sect takes over the executive, they will be oppressed / enslaved / sold to Martians.
Creating an independent judiciary that can actually curb the executive is an important first step. Let the judiciary appoint judges, and place the police under its jurisdiction. There has to be a period where people can see an politicians tried and convicted so they feel confident in the law.
Electoral reform is also a starting point. We have to get to the point of one-man-one-vote. I’m more in favour of single candidate districts, than making Lebanon one large constituency. The latter promotes big party politics, while the former promotes more independent politicians. That will mean taking a census so as to create electoral districts with equal number of voters. And voting should be based on residency, not some mythical ‘place of origin’.
Expats should be allowed to vote, but there should be some residency requirements. For example, only voters who have resided in Lebanon in the past 5 years may vote. If that seems harsh, you could allow immediate family extend residency status (so if your mother still lives here, legally, you do to). Basically, I want to avoid living with the consequences of a 4th generation Leb’s vote who only showed up here for one summer.
I prefer presidential systems to prime ministerial ones. Let parliament be elected by purely local factors. Having a president directly elected by the people allows the nation to speak as a whole. Having a cabinet appointed by the president ensures efficiency. Plus it limits collusion between the executive and the legislative.
The road to non-sectarianism is fraught with paranoia, and steps would have to be taken to make communities feel they will not be left unprotected.
Initially, you could make the presidency rotate between sects (of course, I would hate to imagine the battle over which sects those are, what the sequence is, who goes on first). Or before the presidential system, you could have rotation of the sectarian troika.
Or better yet, have a national election to vote in a sectarian troika that has to run on the same ticket. (Isn’t it incredible that neither the President, Prime Minister, or Speaker of Parliament is elected by a direct national vote? This is NOT a coincidence.)
Over time, I believe political parties will adapt and become non-sectarian in nature. But initially, it would help to force them to open up by imposing limits on single-sect domination within the party. For instance, they cannot have more than half of their electoral candidates from a single sect.
A sectarian senate would also help build confidence. Give it the power to veto, but not create, legislation or even executive decisions. I have misgivings about this, because it can easily become a House of Lords and a permanent fixture of the political landscape, and not the temporary crutch I would like it to be.
And of course, you would have to deal with Hezballah. I am a supporter of the resistance, but I also recognize that getting any sect to give up its privileges while the Shia have all the guns will not engender confidence. And while it might be enough for some, ‘Trust Hassan’ is not an option.
This could be done by getting Hezballah to stop being a purely Shiite party and include other sects in its ranks and in the executive council. Or by institutionalising Hezballah within the Lebanese state and bring over it some state authority.
And finally, I don’t think anyone in the political class truly wants to end political sectarianism. It is what made them and keeps them in power. I doubt even Berri wants it because, whatever numerical superiority fantasies he may have, he would be superfluous in a non-sectarian regime.
Hezballah may be the odd man out on this score, and the importance given to political sectarianism in their new open paper actually surprised me. But they themselves would have to change if they wanted a (peaceful) change to the system. And I don’t know if they are willing to do that yet.