By Annie Slemrod
BEIRUT: A draft parliamentary election law announced Tuesday calls for proportional representation, larger electoral districts, a minimum quota for female candidates, and voting by Lebanese nationals abroad.
The draft law was presented at UNESCO Palace by the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform, a group that represents more than 88 civil society organizations. In tandem with the draft parliamentary law, which suggests a broad range of reforms, CCER also released a draft law on the formation of an independent electoral commission that would govern local and municipal elections.
Under the terms of the draft law, parliamentary polls will be conducted by closed party list, in electoral districts containing around 20 representatives each. These new districts have not been finalized, but CCER proposes four distinct options. Two proposals divide the country into six electoral districts, another option splits it into five districts, and a final option creates nine districts.
A booklet distributed by CCER said these medium-sized electoral districts are a transitional phase and could lead to the elimination of voting districts altogether for parliamentary elections.
All lists must be composed of at least one-third female candidates. This gender quota will only be implemented for four election cycles. The voting age is lowered to 18 from 21, and the minimum candidate age is set at 22. It is currently 25. Members of the military are allowed to vote, although they will do so several days before the general public.
Several measures to ensure ballot secrecy are included in the draft law. These include the printing of an official ballot, the elimination of sect as a method of identification on voter rolls, and the requirement that votes be counted in a central location at polling places, rather than in private.
Under the proposed law, voters who have lived out of their home districts for at least four years must continue to vote for lists in those districts; however they may do so from polling places close to their current residencies. Married women can choose to vote in their home districts or those of their husbands.
Lebanese who live outside of the country but retain Lebanese citizenship are entitled to vote.
Other topics covered include campaign finance and the requirement of media to give equal time to all political parties. A separate draft law proposes the creation of an independent electoral commission that would supervise national and municipal elections. The commission is to be made up of members of civil society, and CCER has suggested two ways of electing them.
Previous attempts at electoral reform in the country have been largely unsuccessful. The government-appointed National Commission for a New Electoral Law, known as the Boutros Commission after its chairman Fouad Boutros, in 2006 released a draft law that proposed major changes to the electoral system.
It recommended lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, mandating a minimum percent of female candidates on the muhafaza (governorate) level, and extending the vote to expatriates. It also suggested a semi-proportional representational system.
As part of the May 2008 Doha accord that ended six months of political deadlock, most of the Boutros Commissions’ recommendations were dropped. Instead, Parliament passed a law in September 2008 that was an amended version of pre-Civil War 1960 legislation.
The 2008 law created one election day instead of several, and put limits on candidate spending.
Oussama Safa, a leader of CCER, said in a statement Tuesday that CCER wants a new electoral law and the establishment of an independent electoral commission before the end of 2011.
The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2013.