Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The FPM, Election Law and Christian Representation

I hesitate before I say anything regarding the election law in Lebanon. Most people are probably sick and tired of the endless television debates and arguments over this issue. Besides, if you are concerned that the preoccupation with the election law is diverting attention away from other more urgent national issues (as I am), then you would hesitate even more before you enter the fray. But I will overcome this hesitation and make one observation about Christian representation under the alternative proposals.

It is well known that under the Lebanese constitution, parliamentary seats are divided equally between Christians and Muslims (64 each). This is not questioned by anyone. But most Christians feel they are not getting their fair representative share in parliament, because the current electoral districts enable Muslim voters to choose a majority of the 128 MPs - including many Christian MPs. At the root of the problem is a growing demographic imbalance between Christians and Muslims. According to 2012 voter data, eligible Christian voters constitute about 38 percent of the total electorate.

To deal with this problem, some have advocated a radical change in the election law whereby each religious community elects its own quota of 64 deputies. This would result in an even split in the relative weights of Christian and Muslim voters (thus sidestepping demographic changes once and for all). But that , it could be argued, would lead to discrimination and inequality among citizens and turn the country into a sectarian federation. Many Lebanese object strongly to such a radical change and consider it unconstitutional and even dangerous.

This leaves the law proposed by the Mikati/Hizbollah/Aoun government (the13 districtss proportional law), and the one proposed by M14 Christian parties (the 50 districts law). In the absence of sufficiently wide agreement on a new election law, the one which governed the 2009 elections (aka the 1960 law) will remain in effect.

Logically, you would expect all Christian parties  including General Aoun's FPM to support the alternative that most improves the relative weight of Christian voters from the current demographic share of 38 percent. Actually, that is not the case. The FPM party is strongly opposed to the fifty-districts proposal. It prefers the one proposed by the government, which is worst for Christian representation; even worse than the 1960 law. Here are the numbers, calculated on the basis of the 2012 voter data base and the number of seats allocated for each district under the three alternatives:

      Relative Weight of Christian voters

                                In electing all 128 MPs         In electing Christian MPs

50 Districts Law               43.55 %                                        73.00 %
                              (equiv. to 55.74 MPs out of 128)      (equiv. to 46.72 MPs out of 64)

1960 Law                          42.63 %                                         63.30 %
                              (equiv. to 54.56 MPs out of 128)      (equiv. to 42.63 MPs out of 64)

Gov. Law                          42.70 %                                         59.42 %
                              (equiv. to 54.66 MPs out of 128)      (equiv. to 38.03 MPs out of 64)

One has to conclude that the motive behind General Aoun's support for the government proposal is to enable the March 8 coalition led by his  Hizbollah allies to win a majority in the next election, even at the expense of better overall Christian representation

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