Electoral Geography in Lebanon

Antoine Messarra (dir.), Electoral Geography in Lebanon: Conditions of Democratic Representation, Beirut, Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Librairie Orientale, Tome I, 2002, 376 p.

The Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation published a book entitled: Electoral Geography in Lebanon: Conditions of Democratic Representation ( Beirut , Librairie Orientale, 2002, 372 p.). This book sets a pattern as to the study of constituencies – based on the Lebanese experience which dates back to 1920 – on the principle of a unified electorate and the conditions of the common living pact.

The book is the result of group work in which more than twenty researchers participated; it includes interviews with researchers and politicians and the proceedings of two seminars held about political science in the St Joseph University on July 6 and December 1 st , 2001. Vol. II is to be published in March 2003 including the proceedings of four seminars held in various muhafazats in cooperation with Tripoli's Cultural League (13/04/2002), Zahle's Dailogue Forum (29/06/2002), Saida's Development and Dialogue Center (26/10/2002) and the Cultural Movement in Antelias (10/12/2002).

Why the geographic dimension?

Electoral studies have generally since the sixties mixed several issues: electoral lists, electoral cards, expenses, geography, etc. Then politicians say that people have different opinions and they do as they please. For this reason, the choice was to focus on geography out of a conviction that it is the core subject – before dealing with other matters – specially in Lebanon where people ought to be reconciled with geography: that is the place where citizenship is practiced and where people are linked with the land and with political action. Another reason is the lack of balanced development in the central power. The essential aim of each election is – not to be turned into ideologies forcibly integrating people – to represent people in the best possible way without forcible integration or categorization. This is the source of legitimate power thus turning the Chamber of deputies into a permanent space of dialogue, negotiation and reporting.

So the importance of the geographic dimension in legislative elections in Lebanon is justified by three factors:

1. The link between geography and the principle of a unified electorate: The introduction written by Antoine Messarra Ph.D. reads: “The Lebanese electoral system can, by the way constituencies are divided ensure – or not – the spirit of a unified electorate by virtue of which voters of various communities vote for candidates of various communities rather than having each community represented separately. The way constituencies are divided may lead to an imbalance in the Lebanese representation system and weaken the Chamber of deputies in it is ability to be a permanent and central dialogue forum. To forcibly unite regions where different communities live or to separate regions where different communities live in harmony both lead to a rupture in harmony under the pretext of preserving it.”

2. Reconciliation with geography: The Lebanese space has been partitioned as a concept and given a communitarian aspect due to demarcation lines – not only physical lines but also moral ones. Manipulating and exploiting geography for electoral purposes is no less dangerous than barricades and armed crossing points; it establishes moral and political barricades that endanger legitimacy and stability.

3. Overcoming communitarian polarization : This principle is a necessity in elections in order to avoid the supremacy of some minorities in the way constituencies are divided and to avoid the use of this polarization under the slogan of “abolishing communitarianism”.

Wisdom instead of manipulation

The head of the St Joseph University , Selim Abu s.j. said during the seminar held in St Joseph University : “It is wiser to submit to public opinion rather than manipulate it.” Gregor Meiering the permanent representative in Beirut and Amman of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation said: “The issue is not important only in Lebanon as one of the Arab countries but on a regional level. The Lebanese political system should reflect the political and social reality yet it should also change this political and social reality because Arab countries need in-depth political changes.”

Dr. Muhammad Majdhûb said: “One of the major flaws in the electoral geographic distribution is the way the country has been divided into constituencies through laws that contradict the principle of equality as stated in the introduction of the constitution (section c) and in its 7 th art. This way has always been a random discretionary policy based on personal interests. This is why the Lebanese constitutional council underlined in its decision on August 7, 1996:

- “Elections are not a true democratic expression of people's sovereignty “ unless governed by general constitutional principles namely that all citizens are equal in the law .”

- “The law should be the same to all; each vote should be given the same electoral value in various constituencies and the electoral law should be enforced in the division of all constituencies.

- “The legitimacy of the representative system is not only about equal voting rights but also about the division of constituencies in a way to guarantee equal political representation.

The book includes three chapters:

- “The geographic frame of legislative elections in Lebanon ” (Antoine Messarra, Abdo Kâ'î, Jihad Nammûr, Benjamin Seintamon, Rita Za'rûr, Jocelyne Adjizian Gerard, Antoine Ghosayn).

- “Regions, people and communities: rules of an electoral pact” (Fadi Kiwan, Wasif Haraka, Isam Sulayman, Sulayman Taqiyy al-Dîn, Shawkat Ashti, Rania Safar).

- “Stands and conclusions” (Georges Assaf, Scarlet Haddad, Boutros Harb, Abdo Sa'd, Tony Atallah, Qaysar Mu'awwad, Albert Mansur, Antoine Haddad, Talal Husayni, Nicolas Nassif).

Seven basic principles

The group research and two seminars lead to the following seven basic principles:

1. The principles of equality and geographic communication: these two principles recognized in electoral jurisprudence are approved of by the constitutional Council and should be enforced in practice.

2. The binding majority system: The electoral majority principle that combines major lists in major constituencies leads to an imbalance that should be avoided by a majority system where votes are limited to a number of candidates going from four to six.

3. Global communitarian representation: the principle of a unified electorate is not respected; art. 4 of the electoral law stipulates on the contrary that voters from various communities vote for candidate from various communities.

4. The number of deputies: any tendency to increase the number of deputies should be stopped since it is used for personal purposes rather than to serve representation.

5. Measuring representation: this measuring should be more qualitative including the concept of governance that allows more legitimacy.

6. Realism and modesty: all researches and studies that aim at setting forth a new electoral system in the current situation should be focused on factors that reduce the bad effects of the last three terms and non-democratic turns. Any power that misuses its authority makes electoral divisions secondary since the whole electoral process is endangered.

7. Electoral behavior: most studies show a great lack in this sense in the Lebanese voters.