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The Boutros Electoral Law in Lebanon Proposal

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Updated: Aug 1st, 2020


In the recent past, questions have emerged in Lebanon about how to implement comprehensive and practical electoral reform to ensure a fair representation in the parliament and to make certain that elections are held in a free and fair manner. According to Salamey (2013), Lebanon has experienced a great deal of civil strife, notably the 1975 Civil War, which has been blamed on poor electoral laws that leave a section of the society feeling discriminated against. Every time the country comes close to having a solid electoral reform, controversy would emerge due to what Gleis & Berti describes as personal interest (Gleis & Berti 2012). While some people feel that the country should have laws that promote government by majority, others feel that there should be a proportionate system where the interests of all, including minorities, are taken into consideration during the elections.

The political elites have the responsibility of coming up with electoral laws that would protect country. Past events clearly demonstrate that the only way of ensuring that the country remains politically stable is to install electoral laws that society will consider fair and representative, as well as effective in meeting the expectations of all citizens. The political elites must realize that they are in leadership positions, and as such are expected to offer direction on this divisive issue to help protect the country.

Since 1957, a number of electoral law reforms have been proposed to help eliminate gerrymandered laws believed to helping those in power maintain their control. Some of these laws were so poorly designed that certain scholars even blamed them directly for the 1975 Civil War. In May 2006, then Prime Minister Fouad Siniora appointed a 12-member panel of experts, headed by Fouad Boutros, to come up with fresh electoral reform measures (Salamey 2013). The commission, commonly known as Boutros Commission, came up with a number of proposals designed to manage the interests of all citizens. The goal of this paper is to determine how relevant Boutros Electoral Law is in offering electoral guidance that is acceptable and unifying.

Analysis of Boutros Electoral Law

Electoral law reform

According to McQueen (2016), the stability of any country requires legitimate power that is recognized and validated by the public, whether under a dictatorial or democratic form of governance. The people must feel that leadership represents their interests and they must sense that they are considered part of the governance. In a democratic system of governance, the most important factor that those in power must consider is the election process. Given that the people are given the mandate to choose their leader, there must be a system that ensures their views are heard and respected in an electoral system. This is the case in Lebanon, where people are given the responsibility to elect their leaders.

However, Ekmekji (2002) says that the country has faced a number of challenges since the 1940s, as they try to balance the interest of a highly diversified group of people who make up the population of this country. There is a divide along religious lines, for example, and other demographic factors that cause polarization during every electioneering period. The country has never had a system where the entire population feels that they are effectively represented, which is why a number of regimes have in the past formed various commissions to address the concerning issues as a way of enhancing political stability in the country.

The Boutros Electoral Law Reforms Commission was established to address these concerns. At the time it was commissioned, Lebanon was still using a confessional system where Maronite Christians were guaranteed the country’s presidency, Sunni Muslims were guaranteed premiership, while Shiite Muslims were guaranteed to sit as Speaker of the House (McQueen 2016). This was a delicate arrangement, meant to ensure that every group felt they were fully represented in the government. However, Salamey (2013) says that a section of society feels that this form of government is out of touch with the realities of a modern democracy.

The main problem is that although many people are opposed to this structured form of leadership, they have been unable to agree on the best model going forward—one that would be accepted nationwide. There is also the issue of which model would be best for electing representatives into the parliament. The system has been subject to many changes, but there is yet to be a universally accepted system of electing representative to parliament. These are the most significant challenges that Lebanon now faces; they are the primary the primary reason why the Boutros Electoral Law was commissioned.

Important Principles of the Law

Along with the new reform law there emerged a number of new regulations, based on a variety of principles. To understand the principles on which the proposed draft law was based, it is important to look at the electoral policies it proposed.

Mixed electoral system

The Boutros Electoral Law proposes a mixed-electoral system (majority and proportionate; muhafazat and qadaas), which has been considered as its most important principle. Commissioners realized that having a system that focuses solely on majority or proportionate may be unsatisfactory because that was the major reason why previous electoral laws have long-since remained controversial. Embracing a majority system would be seen as creating opportunity for tyranny of the majority, where the voice of the minority remains forever muted.

On the other hand, giving more emphasis to a proportionate system, where elections are based on small constituencies, may raise controversy as it will be viewed as giving undue power to the minority. As such, the commissioners came up with something that lies between these two extremes. In the mixed method that was embraced by this commission, an amalgam of these elements was considered more appropriate for addressing the different needs of voters. This commission believed that the mixed method brought together advantages of both muhafazat and qadaas systems, where weakness of one system would be addressed by the other system. As McQueen (2016) asserts, it was a compromise of the two systems that was deemed controversial in this country.

Voting age

One issue that the commissioners considered of great concern was the lawful voting age for its citizens. Existing laws set the age for voting at 21 years old and older. However, the commissioners felt that it was necessary to reduce this to 18 years to be in line with other major democracies around the world. They believed that at 18 years old, one is capable of making independent and rational decisions about leadership of their country. According to Assi and Worrall (2015), this new regulation was meant to address concerns of the youth who were claiming that existing laws were biased against them. Lowering the legal age to vote was meant to demonstrate to the youth that the government is open to involving them in defining the future of the country.

Independent electoral commission

When the commission was tasked with the responsibility of developing new electoral laws, one of the major concerns it needed to address was widespread bribery, claims of rigging, and buying of the media to sell the propaganda of one segment of the political class. These are some of the issues that had in the past led to civil strife, and the Boutros commission was careful to come up with steps to address them. After broad and thoughtful consultation, the commission agreed that it was necessary to create an independent electoral commission that would be responsible for monitoring elections, including the campaign process and media financing. The commission would ensure that politicians do not incorrectly use media to manipulate or mislead the public. The commission was expected to oversee the electoral processes, from the registration of voters to voter education, and remain in charge of the actual voting process then announce the final results of the election. The commission also suggested that the independent electoral commission should be appointed by various stakeholders to ensure that their different interests would be taken into consideration in all activities inherent to the electioneering period.

Pre-printed ballots

The Boutros Electoral Law proposed that the ballot papers should have the names of all the candidates, and the symbol of their political parties, pre-printed for the purpose of making the voting process simpler and faster than what was current practice at that time. Common practice was for voters to write the name of their preferred candidate on the blank voting paper. This was a standard method in many democracies around the world, specifically meant to address the challenges faced by illiterate and semi-illiterate people who were unable to write the name of their preferred candidate on the paper. The new rule would help reduce cases of tainted voting that were very common. It was also necessary to help ensure that voting remains a secret process. The symbols, in fact, would be easy to identify, even by those who were illiterate, and cases where a voter may need assistance to choose a candidate would be significantly reduced.

Gender quota

Lebanon, just like many countries around the world and especially in the Middle East, sees men dominating most positions of leadership (Fakhoury 2009). This happens not only in political leadership but also in the corporate world where men make up the majority of chief executive officers and act often as senior managers. The need for equity in leadership led the commission to come up with a gender quota system that did not exist before in the country’s election system. The Boutros Commission proposed that women should be granted 30 percent of the seats in parliament (Fakhoury 2009). This was viewed as a deliberate attempt to achieve a one-third gender rule. These women were to be directly nominated after the election by individual political parties. This rule would ensure that a significant number of women would sit in parliament, possibly championing certain issues that applied more specifically to women in Lebanese society. According to Gleis and Berti (2012), this gender quota rule made the major assumption that women would frequently be underrepresented in the House. As such, the rule was meant to try and address the under-representation.

Non-resident voting

Lebanon has faced a number of challenges in the past in part related to civil strife, which has pushed a good number of citizens to migrate to other countries around the world. A number of Lebanese currently reside in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, and Australia. Others migrated to regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, and United Arab Emirates to seek political asylum or for other distinct personal reasons. The electoral laws that existed when the commission was appointed did not give these people in the Diaspora any opportunity to participate in their home country’s electoral process.

The commissioners felt that these people are still citizens of this country, and unless they revoked their citizenship, they had the right to vote during the general election. It maintained that it was the government’s responsibility to create appropriate avenues through which non-resident citizens could vote. It proposed that the electoral commission should identify countries or cities where there are significant populations of Lebanese and come up with a formula that would enable them participate in the elections. It also encouraged having the Lebanese who lived in places where it is logistically impossible to organize elections to travel to the country specifically to vote before traveling back. It also proposed countrywide same-day voting to enhance validity and acceptability of the election results.

Disallowing currently serving ministers to run for parliament

At the time when the commission was appointed, serving ministers were not barred by law to run for a political office. In fact, H̲azīn (2000) notes that it was easy for the ministers to win elections not only because of their financial muscle but also due to their influence in the electoral process, secured by their position in the government. The law was meant to eliminate cases where electorates misuse their offices to ensure that they are elected into parliament. A study had indicated that cases of ministers misusing government resources to ensure that they were elected were quite common (Salamey 2013). As such, the commission wanted to find a way to address this problem. It created a requirement for these ministers to leave office early enough in case they wanted to run for political offices. The law was meant to protect public resources and to ensure that those in power do not get personally involved in the election processes.

Outstanding questions

The implementation of Boutros Electoral Laws has not been realized despite the fact that it received approval not only from a section of the society in Lebanon but also in the wider international community, including the European Union. It is important to look at one outstanding question that may help in understanding the reason why this law has never been implemented since its 20016 implementation. The following is the fundamental question that needs to be answered when analyzing Boutros Electoral Laws.

How relevant is Boutros Electoral Law in offering electoral guidance that is acceptable and unifying?

Determining the relevance of this electoral law reform is important as the study seeks to determine why it has never been implemented. The government expended resources and spent money to come up with this law, and it is concerning that it has never been put into practice. To answer the above fundamental question, it is important to respond to the sub-questions below.

Why are the politicians reluctant to implement this law?

According to Assi and Worrall (2015), one questions that has been lingering over the Boutros Electoral Laws is the reason why the political elites have avoided its implementation after much effort and many resources were put in its enactment. The politicians had a legitimate reason to avoid implementation, and that reason emerged soon after the law was handed over to the government: the war with Israel. The war was then followed by a series of political crises that created instability across leadership entities of the country; however, many people expected that the law would be implemented in the 2009 elections. It was strange when the politicians agreed instead to enact the ancient 1960 electoral laws, which had in the past been heavily criticized.

Majoritarian voting in qaada had been criticized as being ineffective in its representation of the country’s population, but politicians preferred it over the newly enacted electoral reform laws (McQueen 2016). One aspect of the law that politicians rejected was the pre-printed ballots: in many democracies around the world, the candidates’ names are pre-printed on the available ballot papers, in alphabetical order, so the electorates only have to tick when voting. Many politicians argued that in pre-printed ballots, those whose names appear at the top have undue advantage over those whose names come later or even last on the ballot paper.

A study by McQueen (2016) shows that some of the politicians were opposed to the idea of barring serving ministers from seeking parliamentary elections. They felt that such a regulation would affect their political careers. There was also the contentious issue of gender quota. Some politicians felt that this was an unnecessary rule because women were not barred from seeking elective political seats. For these reasons and others concerns, politicians decided to go back to the 1960s electoral laws instead of implementing the more modern Boutros Electoral Laws.

According to Assi and Worrall (2015), the political elites feared the power of young voters.

What are the pros and cons of this law when implemented the way it is?

The proposed reforms had a number of pros and cons worth noting. It was evident that the proposed laws would reduce misuse of public resources by government officers running for political offices. Cost of the election itself, and the election process in general, would be simplified under this new system. It was also likely that cases of tainted voting results would be reduced or eliminated. McQueen (2016) says that this law absolutely ensured that women were adequately represented in the parliament. One of the main weaknesses of this proposed law was that it did not seem to consider adequately the fact that women can also work their way out in elective politics.

What are the possible amendments that are necessary to make this law popular among the political class?

Based on the major weakness of this proposed law, as stated above, the main amendment necessary would be to create elective positions for women instead of having them nominated post-election. It would also be necessary for the commission to come up with other laws instead of barring sitting ministers from engaging in elective politics.

The Variables

In this paper, the researcher put into consideration two variables, both independent and dependent. The independent variable was the following:

  1. Implementation of the Boutros Electoral Law in Lebanese parliamentary elections.

The above independent variable may have an impact on the following dependent variable

  1. An electoral system that is fair, acceptable, and able to unify the country politically.

In the above discussion, it has been determined that the proposed electoral laws would have a major impact on the country’s electoral system. It would help move toward fair representation of the people, reduce cases of electoral malpractices, and promote unity across the country. As such, it can be concluded that implementing the independent variable (Boutros Electoral Laws) would help in achieving attributes of the dependent variables.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Lebanon has gone through a long process trying to come up with appropriate electoral law reforms that are fair, acceptable, and able to unify the country politically. The proposal given in the Boutros Electoral Law was considered one of the best electoral law reforms that this country has ever enacted over the past six decades. However, it is unfortunate that these proposals have never been implemented. The politicians should consider implementing this proposed law instead of completely rejecting it, even if that means making some amendments before installing the law. The following is an inventory of recommendations that should be considered.

  • Parliament should engage all relevant stakeholders in reviewing the Boutros Electoral Law Reforms.
  • Any possible amendments should be made after a consensus is achieved.
  • The proposed Boutros Electoral Law Reforms should then be ratified to help reform the elections in the country.

List of References

Assi, A & Worrall, J 2015, ‘Stable instability: the Syrian conflict and the postponement of the 2013 Lebanese parliamentary elections’, Third World Quarterly Journal, vol. 36, no. 10, pp. 1944-1967.

Ekmekji, A 2002, Confessionalism and electoral reform in Lebanon, The Aspen Institute Publishers, Beirut.

Fakhoury, M 2009, Democracy and power-sharing in stormy weather: The case of Lebanon, Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden.

Gleis, L & Berti, B 2012, Hezbollah and Hamas: A comparative study, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

H̲azīn, F 2000, The breakdown of the state in Lebanon: 1967-1976, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

McQueen, B 2016, ‘Lebanon’s electoral system: Is reform possible’, Middle East Policy, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 71–83.

Salamey, I 2013, The government and politics of Lebanon, Wiley & Sons Publishers, Hoboken.

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