By Wassim Mroueh
BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel announced Monday a draft electoral law prepared by the ministry for the 2013 parliamentary elections, describing the system of proportional representation it adopts as the only way to save Lebanon.
Under the draft law, Lebanon would be divided into 10 to 14 medium-sized districts. The districts would be larger than a qada, which was adopted in the last parliamentary polls in 2009, but smaller than the governorate.
“Salvation in Lebanon lies in proportional representation,” Charbel told a news conference at the Interior Ministry, noting that the system would allow minorities to be properly represented and encourage all sides to take part in the polls.
Charbel boasted of meeting the three-month deadline that he set to draft the law, which was accomplished with the help of a committee of specialists – some of whom have taken part in the 2009 poll.
During the conference, the minister described the process of preparing the draft law, noting that the committee examined all previous draft laws put forward and adopted important elements from them.
The minister had handed the draft law to President Michel Sleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
“The draft law that we made is not similar to any other law, neither in form nor in content … and all its [articles] can be applied,” he said.
The draft law lays out a version of a preferential voting system whereby voters select an electoral list and vote for two members from the list. The first vote determines how many candidates from each list are elected and the second vote determines who from the list takes office.
The draft law requires a complete list such that the number of members on each list matches the number of seats up for election in the district.
All electoral rounds held so far in Lebanon have been based on a winner-takes-all system.
The draft law calls for adopting pre-printed ballots and notes that each party list must be have at least 30 percent candidates of the opposite sex. The pre-printed ballots will be prepared by the Interior Ministry, and will feature the name of the list along with the photos and names of the candidates.
Charbel said the draft law proposes the formation of an 11-member committee to supervise parliamentary elections in coordination with the Interior Ministry, noting that its decisions could be contested before the Shura Council.
The 11 members will be chosen from the judiciary, professional associations and electoral experts, along with representatives from the civil society, and would include women.
“It is not an independent committee … it will be impossible for the committee to handle everything independently from the Interior Ministry … this is wrong,” Charbel said.
“It encountered many problems during the 2009 polls. [Back then], we informed [committee members] that they are independent … but we kept receiving calls from them during the elections day asking how they should handle matters,” Charbel explained.
“That’s why the Interior Ministry will have a minimal role to help, but the committee will have all the prerogatives to supervise elections.”
Charbel said that following the 2013 polls, there will be enough time to form a “truly independent” committee to implement the proper mechanism to run the parliamentary elections of 2017.
Forming an independent committee to run elections is a major demand of many civil society and electoral reform groups.
The draft law would enhance transparency and “just competition” through mechanisms to control campaign spending and expenditures on campaign advertising, Charbel continued, noting that the law would boost the prerogatives of the committee tasked with supervising elections on this matter.
Charbel also noted that the draft law outlines a detailed mechanism enabling Lebanese expatriates to take part in the polls, along with the establishment of a joint committee from the interior and foreign ministries to implement this mechanism.
The draft law calls for measures to enable the physically disabled voters to cast their vote, Charbel added.
Charbel noted that for the first time, a schedule setting deadlines for candidacy, withdrawal from contest and joining lists would be formed.
Asked why the draft law hasn’t adopted the entirety of Lebanon as one district, Charbel said that such a districting would marginalize Christians.
“Christians constitute 35 or 36 percent of voters on the voters’ list, and a maximum of 20 percent vote. Thus, their votes will have no value when the entirety of Lebanon is adopted as one district,” he said.