Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.

Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.



Monday, August 8, 2016

Sectarian Proportionality: Oxymoronic Reform

Many well-intentioned people are calling for modifying Lebanon’s electoral system to one based on the principles of “proportionality” (an-Nisbiyah النسبية) and “one-man, one-vote”. 

Proportional representation is an electoral system in which candidates or parties gain seats in parliament in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. Under the one-man, one-vote principle voting districts for a legislature need to have about the same population size. The idea behind the rule is that one person's voting power ought to be roughly equivalent to another person's voting power within the state, AND one’s person’s vote to be reflected in a fair and equal representation of each individual voter in parliament.

The devil being in the details, however, below are some of the built-in contradictions between the proportionality and the one-man, one-vote principles on one hand, and the sectarian foundation of the Lebanese entity on the other. A lack of awareness of those contradictions denotes either ignorance or ulterior motives on the part of those calling for proportional and one-man, one-vote representation. If it is ignorance, these people need to inform themselves better. If it is some other motive, then they need to be more honest, speak up clearly and declare their otherwise commendable goal of sacking the sectarian basis of government in Lebanon.

1- Proportionality is extremely difficult to implement in a sectarian system. For it to work, any district that is not drawn along sectarian lines would immediately violate Lebanon’s sectarian basis of government. Any district that is heterogeneous would require two seats for the principle to be applicable. For the sake of example, if a district is majority Christian and has only one seat in parliament, you would be forcing the Muslims in that district to be voting for a non-Muslim representative, which violates the sectarian setup of the country. If you then must assign a second seat to satisfy the Muslim minority in that district, you would in essence be splitting the district in two, one Christian and one Muslim, each of which would obtain a separate representative. You might as well redraw the boundaries and create two districts. In other words, for Lebanon, you would need to draw the boundaries of the districts according to two implausible criteria: They each need to have a homogeneous sectarian population (all Maronite, all Druze, etc.), AND they need to be all of equal population size.

2- The Lebanese constitution gives مناصفة (fifty-fifty) to the Christians (i.e. half the seats in parliament) even if, by any account, Christians no longer make up 50% of the population.  So, in order for proportionality and the one-man, one-vote principles to apply in Lebanon, you would have to artificially create more Christian districts to meet the fifty-fifty rule, and those districts would in reality represent less than 50% of the people. In other words, you would have to invent virtual Lebanese citizens who would be Christian by faith, to whom you would ascribe parliamentary representation.

3- Lebanon’s parliamentary representation and so-called democracy are a fallacy. Rather than being a “demo”cracy in which the object of government is the individual, Lebanon’s form of government is a plutocracy-oligarchy-theocracy hybrid.  Since the core of the Lebanese system of government is the religious-tribal identity, rather than a national identity, then the one-man, one-vote and proportionality principles cannot be implemented. As a Lebanese individual thinks of himself or herself first as a Sunni or a Maronite or a Druze, and second as a follower of a local, village, tribal or religious boss, and only then beneath these other layers of identity, as a Lebanese, then the one-man, one-vote and proportionality principles are just an absurdity.

In other words, those calling for the proportionality principle should start by eliminating the sectarian basis of the constitution and the country, and that requires a major upheaval because the Lebanese, in their primeval underdeveloped state of societal and political development, remain attached to their religions and religious bosses like stink on a monkey. 

But are there alternatives that may provide for a modus vivendi between archaism (religious-tribal identity) and modernity (individual identity)? Below is a modest proposal that has been on the market for a while, but which has found no currency because the establishment (religious and tribal) sees it as a threat that would undermine its monopoly over power.

In the Lebanese system, the object of government is NOT the individual; rather, it is the religious community. Lebanon, as a political entity, is NOT constituted of individual persons; it is constituted of religious communities that willy-nilly were forced into a vague federation around 1923.  Individual rights do not really exist in Lebanon; they are subsumed under the rights of the religious community to which any one individual is forced to belong from birth. Within each religious community, individual rights are merely assumed or vaguely referenced, but are rarely, if ever, enforced. Parliament in Lebanon is more like the Upper Chamber or Senate of genuine democracies in which considerations of history, legacy, and social makeup recognize alternate elements alongside the individual citizen as constituents of the state and as sources of legitimacy and authority. In Lebanon, parliament is not a House of Commons or House of Representatives representing individual voters free of their religious affiliations; it is a Senate representing only the religious communities.

The solution therefore, perhaps, lies in a bicameral system – a people’s assembly (House) AND a religious communities’ assembly (Senate). In the former, one may apply the one-man, one-vote and proportionality principles regardless of sectarian identities, while in the latter only the religious consideration is the criterion for representation. For example, in the English system, the House of Lords gives consideration to the monarchy and the nobility, while the House of Commons represents individual citizens. In the American version, the Senate considers the States as a parallel constituent alongside the individual citizen who is represented in the House of Representatives. By population, the largest state (California) and the smallest state (Alaska) each gets two senators in the senate. In Lebanon, a Senate would represent the religious communities, say 2 or 3 representatives per community regardless of its size, while the House would represent individual voters without any consideration of religious identities. Obviously, the sectarian virus is so ingrained in the Lebanese ethos that even with a bicameral parliament you’d still have to face the sectarian monster. How do you draw the districts without regard for religious identity? How can “secular” candidates run for elections if the voters insist on associating them with a religious or sectarian identity? Those perhaps would be smaller devils to deal with piecemeal. For now, the country needs a miraculous leap out of the swamps of backwardness and into the light of modernity.

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