Friday, January 8, 2010

Democracy Rankings

A global democracy ranking system has been completed and puts Lebanon 79 out of 97. That is below Venezuela (77) and Kuwait (76). I am not a huge fan of league tables but it does give you some perspective...for the full table click here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Electoral Reform Lebanon

I have just finished a piece for the think tank the Foreign Policy Centre on electoral reform in Lebanon. The piece focused on why there was such a misunderstanding of the Lebanese elections by the Western media and on the desire for electoral reform in Lebanon.

Electoral Reform in Lebanon

In June 2009 Lebanon held its first 'free' election since 1972. On the conclusion of the elections Western media and political analysts were particularly guilty of premature celebrations and hyperbole, regarding the Western backed March 14 coalition election victory. These past elections were not a battle in which: "President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran"(1) or Western ideals of liberal democracy triumphed against Islamic totalitarianism. This confusion was immediately evident after the winning March 14 coalition soon began to fracture and Lebanon fell into all too familiar political paralysis. The reason for this misplaced euphoria by Western pundits was due to an essential misunderstanding about the battle being fought on the Lebanese political playing field. These elections were largely void of political ideology and were centered on the fight to represent certain sectarian groups, especially so for the Christian population, and the protection of patrimonial networks. Consociational politics have been deliberately established in Lebanon to ensure the protection of minority groups and ensure power sharing. But the politics of sect are not seen as sufficient by the Lebanese and there is a strong desire among civil society actors to change this consociational politics. One method being pushed, in this battle of "bad governance against good," is electoral reform. Reformers are trying to ensure that in the creation of a new election law for the 2013 elections two mechanisms are introduced: Proportional Representation (PR) and the creation of a Senate.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Appeals to the Constitutional Council

The election results were accepted by all sides but suddenly the losers in this election, and in some cases even the winners (indirectly), have decided to challenge the results. A barrage of electoral disputes have been delivered to the Constitutional Council hours before the deadline by both sides. An-Nahar has published the full list of those candidates that have complained to the Council:

Candidate Rachid ad Daher against MP Hadi Hobeich

Candidate Nicola Sahnaoui against MP Michel Pharaon

Candidate Eddie Abi al Lamaa against MP Salim Salhab

Candidate Emile Kanaan against MP Ibrahim Kanaan

Candidate Elie Karameh against MP Edgar Maalouf

Candidate Elias Moukhayber against MP Ghassan Moukhayber

Candidate Sarkis Sarkis against MP Nabil Nikola

Candidate Kamil Maalouf against MP Joseph Maalouf

Candidate Rami Oleik against MP Abbas Hachem

Minister Elias Skaf against MP Nicola Fatouch

Former MP Salim Aoun against MP Elie Marouni

Former MP Hassan Yaakoub against MP Okab Sakr

Candidate Rida al Mays against MP Issam Araji

Ambassador Fouad al Turk against MP Toni abou Khater

Candidate Adnan Arakji against MP Nouhad Machnouk

Candidate Ajaj Haddad against MP Issam Sawaya

Former MP Mikhail ad Daher against MP Hadi Hobeich

Candidate Ghassan Rahbani against MP Michel El Mur

Candidate Ghassan al Achkar against MP Sami Gemayel

Friday, June 19, 2009

Electoral Reform and Proportional Representation

The most popular politician in the country, if not the region and if Obama was not around who knows... Ziad Baroud has put his full weight behind Proportional Representation (PR).

It is clear that the current electoral system is not politically viable and a entirely new system will have to be adopted. The Boutros Commission proposed a semi-PR system and although rejected for the 09 election will be taken up again and debated for the 2013 election and a form of PR is expected to be used in the 2010 election (for a guide on different electoral systems).

So to PR:
"The principal of PR is that the seats in a constituency are divided according to the number of votes for party lists, but there are considerable variations in how this is implemented," Pippa Norris the election supremo summed up the PR electoral system.

So why are those interested in electoral reform in Lebanon going all starry eyed for PR, as opposed to the current first past the post (AKA plurality)?

Plurality emphasizes governability while PR focuses on the inclusion of the minority voice.

John Stuart Mill has outlined clearly, very shortly after the PR system was proposed, a wonderful defense of its virtues:

"When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson's choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all; when the nominees of the leaders would have to encounter the competition not solely of the candidate of the minority, but of all the men of established reputation in the country who were willing to serve; it would be impossible any longer to foist upon the electors the first person who presents himself with the catchwords of the party in his mouth, and three or four thousand pounds in his pocket. The majority would insist on having a candidate worthy of their choice, or they would carry their votes somewhere else."

Was the PR system made for Lebanon I hear...

Positives and negatives of PR in Lebanon:

1. Easing political polarization - PR could allow for independents to come through. For instance if Mouth Lebanon was one district and there were 10 seats if Lebanese Forces and Kataeb got 200,000 votes, Change and Reform 300,000 votes and then lets say Lahoud's Democratic Renewal 100,000 and the newly created "we are going in the center of everything you say party" 100,000 votes and "We are extreme" 100,000. Change and Reform would not win all ten seats as in the plurality system but would receive 3 of the seats, LF 2 and so on (this of course also depends on the type of PR system used). Thus, the system would give representation for all those voters whose votes would have otherwise been 'lost' if it was a first past the post. It would have been easier for a Presidential bloc to have emerged as it would have allowed all 'independents' to run without having to go under a March 8/March 14 list.

2. Creation of national parties but increased sectarianism - If the above system described in Mount Lebanon was done across the nation parties would become a lot more national and not just have political representation, as is the case now, where their supporters are the outright majority. However, becuase political parties in Lebanon are based on confession this would mean that no longer would you vote for a Shia candidate if you were Christian and vise versa. The likely scenario for Lebanon would be the further entrenching of sectarianism with Christians only voting for Christian parties and Sunni for Sunni.... You would not longer get Muslims voting in Christian representatives that has been a major complaint of the Christian community.

3. Rise of extremist parties - While the advantages are that more parties can express their political views and the a fuller plurality of opinion this also comes with the disadvantage that those with more extremist views are not pushed to the center by the main parties. The "We are extreme" party no longer has to make deals with mainstream parties and can now go it alone.

4. Unstable coalitions - As stated at the start PR emphasizes the inclusion of the minority voice where as plurality focuses on governability. Thus, PR could have the potential to weaken an already fragile governmental structure. It is not clear that PR is the best system for inceasing the capacity and strength of the state. You just have to look at Italy and Israel to see how unstable coalitions can be ruinous to the creation of stable governments. Unlikely coalitions are nothing new in Lebanon but having many of these coalitions based on my enemy's enemy.... could be potentially devastating.

A web of complexity awaits the debate about PR that has more forms than Lebanon has cedars...So let the debate begin

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Paying for votes

The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) launched its perliminary findings for its finance investigation. Vote buying occurred, according to the LTA, widely in Zahle, Saida, Zghorta, Metn, Batroun and West Bekka. How much was paid for a Vote varied: Saida the price was $60-100; $800 in Zahle and up to $3,000 in Zghorta. The LTA also noted that a large amount of financial abuses were done before the campaign monitoring period began. A full report will be published at the end of the summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dispelling Lebanon Election Myths

Previously, I had a go at Noe and Young for contradictions in their analysis. Yet, their contributions in allowing people to understand the Lebanese political context and the elections are important, especially having read the some of the international commentary that is fundamentally wrong. These international commentators have created three central myths around the elections that are deconstructed one by one below. If only international commentators that came to Lebanon for the elections, or not at all, would read more Noe or Young!

1. A solid majority of Lebanese Christians voted against the list of Michel Aoun (as stated by Friedman in his candy floss covered article)

The FPM itself has 10 MPs, which is the same as the LF and Kataeb combined so the FPM is still the largest Christian party. While, the Change and Reform bloc consists of 27 MPs only beaten by the March 14 bloc itself. A solid majority of Christians did not vote against Aoun.

2. A solid majority of all Lebanese — Muslims, Christians and Druse — voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri, the son of the slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri (again Friedman)

The popular vote went 800,000 for March 8 (and FPM) and 700,000 for March 14. A solid majority of all Lebanese did not vote for the March 14 coalition. This was still a confessional electoral system and the vote was split along confessional lines, except in the Christian areas, thus "all Lebanese" did not vote for March 14.

3.Obama's speech won the elections for March 14 and that the visits by Biden and Clinton persuaded Christian voters to vote for March 14 (Simon Tisdall of the Guardian and many other international commentators)

While, of course this is not very tangible and is a simple matter of opinion I challenge this comment on the basis of where the elections were won:

Zahle that went 7-0 to March 14 a result even the most ardent March 14 supporters were not expecting. The primary reason for this win is the 70% turnout of the Sunni population that occurred because of extensive persuasion by Saad Hariri. I have been told by someone working at the Kataeb offices on election day that Hariri made a call to coax Sunni voters to go out and vote, at around 3pm they came in bus loads. The idea that this exceptional Sunni turnout was becuase they were inspired by the Obama/Biden/Clinton (OBC) brigade to go out and vote in such force is highly suspect.

In Beirut One, the other vital district, it may be more believable that the OBC brigade had an some sort of effect. Personally, I feel it is much more likely that May 7th of last year when Hezbollah took over much of Beirut and the Aoun-Hezbollah agreement over 2006 cost the FPM the five seats in this district.

In both districts and nationally Patriarch Sfeir's last minute intervention on the side of March 14 is seen as having a significant effect in persuading Christian voters to go vote for March 14. But of course for most western commentators this does not fit into the secular-democratic-Obama-miracle that is March 14 against Iran narrative they are constructing.

--This article was edited after a comment corrected a sloppy sentence on the 12th June.