SAT 15 - 12 - 2018
Date: Apr 21, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon: Preferential vote shakes up electoral landscape
Sabine Darrous| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The newly introduced preferential vote will play a major role in the upcoming parliamentary elections as political sources say some parties will take advantage of it to strengthen their blocs while in other areas it could backfire and shrink the representation of traditional forces. One thing is certain, political analysts say that no party will be able to secure a sweeping win in any of the 15 electoral districts, besides the Shiite duo of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah in the southern districts.

The preferential voting system, introduced in the new proportional electoral law agreed last year, will see voters select a single candidate as well as the list they represent. The breakdown of seats is determined by the share of the vote each list receives but then who is allocated a seat is determined by how many preferential votes each candidate received. Experts have cautioned that under this system, members of the same list will in effect be going head to head in the second stage rather than the old system where lists ran as a collective.

In Zahrani-Tyre, it is expected that the Amal-Hezbollah alliance will sweep all seven seats, while they will in the worst case win all but one of the 11 allotted seats for the Nabatieh-Marjayoun district.

The party likely to suffer the most from the new proportional voting system and the preferential vote is the Free Patriotic Movement, especially since its election strategy is mainly based on coalitions and the party not running any lists formed of exclusively of party members.

“The fact that most of [the FPM] lists are made up of non-party members and are rather coalitions with popular figures strong in the areas they represent will most probably be a losing card for them,” political analyst Mohammad Alloush told The Daily Star.

Perhaps the most contentious areas will be the Kesrouan-Jbeil, Metn and Zahle districts, where there will be a “tug of war among FPM candidates in the same list,” he said.

“Instead of working harmoniously to secure the biggest turnout for the list, members who in many cases have no allegiance to the FPM whatsoever will compete against each other to secure the preferential vote for themselves,” Alloush said, referring mainly to Kesrouan’s FPM list and the shaky relationship between its members, specifically retired Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, former MP Mansour Bonne, Neemat Frem and Roger Azar.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Roukoz did not deny the suggestion and said that the FPM could have done more to better organize its lists.

In any case, the preferential vote is a new experience and we should all learn a lesson from it,” he said.

Roukoz, who is President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, stressed that the new proportional system is a positive element, “but in order to make the best of it, lists should be politically and ideologically homogeneous.”

However, he emphasized that the FPM’s “political focus” in all districts should be on reaching the electoral threshold needed to contend for seats, and added that “it is natural and the right of people to choose the candidates they want.”

The threshold is the minimum number of votes each list needs to be eligible to contend seats and is determined by dividing the number of votes cast by the number of seats up for grabs in each district.

Despite this, sources predict that the FPM, which Aoun founded, will maintain a strong presence in Parliament after the elections with roughly 20 MPs, plus three more Armenian MPs as a result of his coalition with the Tashnag party. But there is no guarantee that this bloc will maintain its size because many of the candidates running have no true allegiance to the FPM and as local figures with independent backing of constituency they may not always be loyal to the bloc in the future.

To a lesser extent, the Future Movement will experience similar disadvantages as a result of the new law. Its 32-member parliamentary bloc will likely loose eight or even 10 members, sources predict. This will be most clear in its expected inability to win the non-Sunni seats, mainly Christian and Shiite seats, in some districts as it had done before under the 1960 winner-takes-all system.

On the other hand, the Lebanese Forces, unlike its Christian counterpart the FPM, “have played it right” and took advantage of the preferential vote in a bid to boost the size of its bloc, according to elections expert Kamal Feghali.

He expected the LF to expand its seats in Parliament from eight to 11, as it has nominated one or two party members in each district, which will allow its electoral machine to divide votes fairly between its candidates.

Feghali cited LF stronghold the Bsharri district as an example of the party’s organizational capacity, where the LF’s electoral machine has divided villages and towns in a way that each area will provide sufficient votes to each of its two candidates, MP Strida Geagea and Joseph Ishak.

The new vote law has changed the entire scene of the election and the preferential vote is only one aspect of that. Being the first time it will be tested, the success or failure of each approach will be clear after May 6.

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