Beirut’s municipal elections: formal rules, informal arrangements and incongruous reforms
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010
Many questions are under discussion these days surrounding the municipal elections, one could argue that it’s kind of late to launch such fundamental political debates knowing that we’re only a couple of months away from the election day.
- lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
- introducing a quota for women (20%)
- introducing a system of proportional representation.
- allowing expats to vote in Embassies.
- modifying the administrative division of Beirut.
Preceding each election, the Minister of the Interior, Ziyad Baroud, tries to push for some reform even though he is handed the files a couple of months before the elections. He failed to do much for the parliamentary elections in 2009. The only notable changes he made concerned spending and media coverage (and removing the only “dynamic” feature of the Lebanese electoral system: multiple electoral days), and they had no legal effect whatsoever. So I wonder what he’s going to pull off this time. Not much, I’m sure.
I won’t be discussing all the points I mentioned earlier in this little post. I’d rather stick to one point, that of modifying the administrative division of Beirut. This question is particularly interesting because Beirut is by far the country’s largest, most populated and wealthiest municipality, but also its weakest (the executive powers are shared with the Muhafiz and the municipality has no say on the downtown that was handed to a private company). One could add that its importance lies in what it represents to people. It is often referred to as the “heart” of the country, a “reduced version” of the country, its most “advanced region”, the “symbol of coexistence”…
The current mechanics: between formal rules and informal arrangements
- The Ministry of Interior prepares the voting rolls regardless of the will of the voter or the place of their residence. People are registered on the voting roll of the place their father was registered, unless they modify their “family” registration number (which is also done by the Ministry of Interior according to a lengthy and complicated procedure).
- It calls for the election of 24 representatives, regardless of their communal belonging. No seat is reserved for a specific locality or community.
- Candidates run individually and those who gather the most votes fill the 24 seats.
Now these are the legal rules. Rafic Hariri added some informal arrangements. None of them are legally binding. They are informal rules of the game that are followed because their sponsor has the clout and the power to enforce them. His power comes from his wealth, from his patronage network, from the active mobilisation of his community (on whom he can impose these rules) and on the fact that he proposes to the Christians an offer they cannot refuse (if he didn’t enforce the parity rule on his voters, he could impose a mostly or even totally sunni municipal council). So here are the informal rules that Rafic Hariri devised, and that his son Saad Hariri has espoused:
- People have to vote for complete lists.
- The lists are composed of 12 muslim and 12 christian candidates.
- The list’s sponsor chooses the head of the municipality and all the other candidates.
Ziyad Baroud, Minister of (incongruous) electoral reform?
- Adopting a closed-slate system.
- Adopting the proportional representation system.
- Allowing expats to vote in Embassies.
- Lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
The whole idea behind Ziyad Baroud’s proposition is that he will be introducing positive reform to the election system, setting an example that would be later extended to the parliamentary elections. This idea is based on the assumption that the proportional representation system is the fairest, the most progressive and the most adapted to Lebanon (three assumptions that are actually easy to refute with a simple simulation game). In practical terms, the Minister of the Interior would be comforting any list that Hariri is backing (not that he needs it) because he will be imposing closed lists on people (the most difficult task for a list sponsor to acheive). But the other effect of the proportional representation is that it will probably prevent the outcome of communal parity, and by doing so, it will be encouraging on the long run communal mobilisation (this is from where Hariri’s power hails, if other leaders want to join, they have to replicated it, the system of proportional representation with no communal quotas will reward them for that) and proportionate communal representation (a simple simulation game would show that too).
The following post will deal with the Orange proposition.