Vote for chaos: Lebanon’s poll reforms baffle voters

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  • The multilayered system, which took years of negotiations before it was agreed on by the country’s various parties, will be used on Sunday in the country’s first election for nine years.
  • In an arrangement that should benefit independents and reformers, yhe majority system has been replaced and the threshold needed to win election lowered

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s new electoral system, introduced to improve parliamentary representation for the country’s many sects, is creating widespread confusion among voters.

The multilayered system, which took years of negotiations before it was agreed on by the country’s various parties, will be used on Sunday in the country’s first election for nine years.

The system merges proportional representation with quotas for each religious group to maintain Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance among the 128 seats in Parliament.

Under the new arrangement, the majority system has been replaced and the threshold needed to win election lowered — an arrangement that should benefit independents and reformers, and ease the grip on power of the country’s main clans.

Voters will cast ballots both for their favored list of candidates and a preferred candidate on that list. Lists offer a mix of candidates from different parties and religions that are agreed in advance.

 

Electoral districts

Lebanon is now divided into 15 major electoral districts, made up of 27 subdistricts. Some electoral districts are mixed religiously, while others consist of one religion.

For example, the first district of Beirut is purely Christian, while the majority of the second are Sunni. The third district of the North is an all-Christian district consisting of Maronite and Greek Orthodox voters, the same as in the second district of Mount Lebanon, where the voters are Christians.

Voting for both a list and a preferred candidate has shuffled traditional political coalitions into unlikely temporary electoral alliances, creating widespread confusion among voters.

Abu Hassan, a voter from Hermel in his 60s, told Arab News he was unhappy with the new system adopted in June last year.

“How can they oblige me to choose the whole list, with candidates I don’t like and know are not serving the region and are not available there? I want to vote for a candidate from my family, but he is on another list, and I don’t want to vote for his peers on the list.”

Electoral expert Kamal Feghali said many politicians, and even analysts in the media, are still using the language of “majority” rather than “proportional.”

He said that the impact of current alliances is “contradictory.”

Many lists have gathered together candidates who would normally be political rivals, while a father and son have become candidates on opposing lists.

The only two parties kept apart in the 77 electoral lists are the Future Movement of Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Shiite Hezbollah.

The northern district of Akkar highlights the contradictions thrown up by the system. There the Christian Free Patriotic Movement shares the same list with the Sunni Islamist “Islamic Jama’a” against the Future Movement and the Christian Lebanese Forces.

In another case, the Shiite parties Hezbollah and Amal are allied to the Free Patriotic Movement in Baabda district in Mount Lebanon against the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces, but in another district of northern Lebanon the Free Patriotic Movement is allied with the Future Movement against Al-Marada movement of the MP Suleiman Frangieh, the Syrian Nationalist Social Party and Lebanese Forces.

Despite a political alliance, the Progressive Socialist Party and Future Movement share the same list only in the Western Bekaa district.

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