Monday, April 11, 2005

Electoral Choices for Lebanon

Raja asked me to elaborate more on proportional representation in response to the entry below:

The electoral system we have now in Lebanon is simple majority which stipulates that the winner in popular elections is the candidate who garners the largest number of votes, even if the majority of voters voted for other candidates. Example: In an electoral district of 150,000 eligible voters, from whom only 100,000 voted, their votes were cast on the following candidates: Candidate A 30,000 votes; Candidate B 25,000; Candidate C 20,000; Candidate D 15,000; and Candidate E 10,000. Candidate A who got 30,000 votes is considered the winner, even if 70% of votes were cast on the remaining candidates.

According to Dr. Salam, a simple majority system coupled with a small electoral district (qada’a, for instance) and in the absence or weakness of political parties, leads to the “reproduction” of traditional leaderships by casting a patron-client relationship overtone on the political landscape, as well as allowing parochialism to overshadow national issues and the public good.

The simple proportional representation system allows each contending group in the elections a number of parliamentary seats which equals at best the number of votes each group garners. Usually such system would be implemented in conjunction with an electoral district, like a province, or that of a unified electoral district for the whole country. In either case, the seats for the different contesting lists would be distributed after dividing the number of votes by the number of the designated seats for each district in order to come up with the “electoral quotient.” Example: if the number of voters in an electoral district is 100,000 and the number of seats is 10, the electoral quotient would be 100,000/10 or 10,000, and let’s say that three lists were running against each other and the first list won 50,000, the second 30,000, and the third 20,000, then the seats will be distributed as follows: List 1 50,000/10,000 or 5 seats; List 2 30,000/10,000 or 3 seats; and List 3 20,000/10,000 or 2 seats.

Of course, there is more to this system than what I explained, but I hope this explanation suffices. Proportional representation signifies a mature political culture in a country as it allows diverse parties/views to be represented in parliament; encourages running for elections based on political programs and nourishes political parties; allows the engagement of many societal groups in the electoral process, such as women, ensuring the widest representation of citizens; and ultimately helps lead to the much longed for national unity.

Raja, personally, I believe in a Mixed-Member Electoral system, which merges the majority and proportional systems. This system stipulates that a portion of parliament representatives are elected based on the qada’a and simple majority and the other portion based on the unified electoral district and proportionality, which guarantees at once the representation of Lebanese by their different regions and sects and by “national” policy choices they make that are not sectarian or regionally driven.

What do you think? Again, I repeat, that proportionality as a policy option should not be put up for debate now because it is being used by the loyalist camp for their own interest as opposed for the public good; however, we should consider this option in the near future.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."


hummbumm said...

they just had proportional voting on a national level in Iraq and it ended up reinforcing a sectarian split. Both systems can work. I do think in general that the smaller district is better because at least that leads to representation at the local level, and a format for greater accountability. The proportional systems also tends to lead to coalition government which is fine but also tends to promote gridlock. See Italy for example. Winner takes all ends as in the US system works if there are other checks and balances, ie independent judiciary, executive and legislative branches, otherwise it is simple majority rule which could be problematic, especially if the vote is on a national level. All in all, given where we are now, I would rather winner takes all at the local, small district level. I think the key is the small districts because that will at leat foster contests between candidates at that level without voter fears about representation at the national level. Look at Iraq where all the Kurds voted for one list to maximize their weight in the proportional system, even though at the local level the diversity is greater.

reem said...

To add to Hummbumm's comment:

It's interesting to see that in the UK for example, the opposite debate is taking place: there is a proportional representation system, where each constituency elects an MP; the party with the most MPs then leads the country. But there is a debate going on, on whether simple majority should also be taken into account....

hummbumm said...

Yes but Reem, at the seat level it is a majority that wins: The most votes for that particular seat, and it goes labour or conservative, so that is not proportional. It is the majority system. It is not because labour won 60% of all the votes that it has 60% of the seats or whatever. they won in head to head contests, which is why there are two major parties in England, though a third has gained ground. In germany there are many more parties because of the proportional system, some of them very narrow, the greens for example.

Raja said...


it's kind of confusing, don't you think? I mean today, there are really small districts that make up a region like the metn. within these districts, the winner is the only guy who goes to parliament. therefore, the electoral system is "the winner takes all," rather than "proportional."

what confused me until now is the fact that leaders usually have "lists" for entire regions! Nassib Lahoud, for example, could sponsor a list of candidates for all the districts of the Metn. Then, when the results come out, we hear: "70% of Nassib Lahoud's list for the Metn made it to parliament, 10% of Gmeyyel's list made it and the remaining 20% were distributed to different candidates and parties.

So if you look at the regions, it really does seem like we already have "proportional" representation. The trick, I guess, is to look at small districts, rather than regions!

wow... Sometimes, I amaze myself with my ignorance of the basics of Lebanese politics!

Omni said...

This blog is absolutely fascinating-thank you for sharing all of this information!!

Anonymous said...

I wish it was that simple.

When you add sectarian representation rules, especially when there is only one position, like the case in Baalbeck-Hermel, where you have a catholic seat, then it gets a "tabbouleh..."

btw, you could find a similar example in different province/districts.


Raja said...
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