A friend of mine recently drew my attention to the fact that the ministerial statement (al-bayan al-wizari) of Saad al-Hariri’s government contains a surprising clause: a commitment to begin developing a new electoral law for the 2013 parliamentary elections within the next eighteen months (see article no. 20) It’s not clear to me how binding this commitment is or whether Parliament can really pressure the cabinet in any way if they don’t deliver a new draft law by June of 2011, but there is officially supposed to be a re-visitation of the issue of electoral reform.
Unfortunately, there is very little understanding of what kinds of electoral systems exist, what kinds of outcomes different systems tend to produce, and what kinds of measures are necessary to implement them.
This doesn’t mean that there is a lack of rhetoric on the issue. Take, for example, Christian parties like the Lebanese Forces, the Kata’eb, and (some elements within) the Free Patriotic Movement. These groups tend to support the idea of small (even single-seat) districts where candidates are elected on a majoritarian basis (as they are, for example, in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.K. House of Commons). Parties like AMAL and Hezbollah, on the other hand, have called for a single national district with candidates elected according to proportional representation (as is found, among other places, in Israel.)
These two systems are diametrically opposed. They represent two extreme poles on a wide spectrum of electoral systems. One would think that, given the differences in the two models and the forms of government that they engender, a public debate might have emerged by now, exposing the merits and drawbacks of both sides. Of course, no such debate has really emerged, and the reason for this, I believe, is that most people (including politicians) don’t really get electoral systems. Until quite recently, neither did I, and I’m still figuring them out.
But guess what? It’s your lucky day. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has graciously allowed me to publish a report that explains, in a clear and concise manner, some of the basic principles of different electoral systems and their implications for Lebanon. I’ve seen no better short presentation of these issues that is specifically geared to the Lebanese context, so I highly urge you to download it (it’s in PDF), read it carefully, and come back and tell us all which system you’d like to see instituted.
Update: This report by Matt Nash is highly worth reading. It breaks down the numbers behind the proposal to lower the voting age to 18. If you’re curious about how many of the 18-21 year-olds belong to which sect, this report provides the figures presented by Rabi` al-Habr’s company (Statistics International).