BEIT HENIA: Keserwan MP Farid Al-Khazen questioned Saturday what was behind the uproar over the adoption of proportional representation.
“Are some parties pressing for the adoption of proportional presentation for the sake of political bargaining so that its implementation becomes impossible? Or do they seek to raise the ceiling of demands?” Khazen asked.
The lawmaker was speaking at a conference convened by the Initiatives for Development Association, which Khazen heads, in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) organization. The series of seminars that kicked off in Bet Henia and Harissa were attended by several lawmakers, in addition to a number of religious and municipal figures.
Khazen highlighted a number of flaws in the law of proportional representation approved by Cabinet. “Disputes will erupt over the order of names in the lists of candidates because the probability of loss increases as we go down in the list of names,” he said.
The MP noted that adopting proportional representation would result in a municipal council possessing a tiny majority and representing differences that will paralyze its ability to work effectively. “If the aim is to test the effectiveness of proportional representation, then let the government restrict the adoption of this law to large cities where a diversity of parties and platforms exist, rather than taking the risk of applying it in all districts,” Khazen said.
He urged the government to hold the municipal elections on time, given that “a national unity government exists, an operating parliament and a stable security situation.”
Samir Farah, representative of FES in Lebanon, said that the role of municipalities in Lebanon shouldn’t be restricted to cleaning streets or caring for infrastructure, but should tackle problems like illegal construction in addition to health and educational challenges.
Touching on the municipal elections, Farah voiced concern over the possibility of postponing the polls. “Delaying municipal elections is a clear violation of the rights guaranteed by the Lebanese Constitution,” he said.
The FES official called for establishing what he called the “Electronic Municipality,” whereby the municipality can communicate electronically with citizens as well as other municipalities in an effort to improve transparency.
“Electoral reform doesn’t start with elections but deals with more critical issues like determining the geographical area that a municipality should be responsible for based on its resources,” said Ziad Abdul-Samad, head of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE).
He said municipal work should reflect developmental duties rather than the mere representation of traditional strongmen. “Due to the late formation of the government and approaching deadlines regarding municipal elections, we are striving to achieve the minimum, which is holding representative democratic polls on time,” Abdul-Samad said.
He urged Cabinet to approve the rest of reforms it rejected in earlier sessions.
In February, the Lebanese Cabinet approved the adoption of proportional representation in all districts in the upcoming municipal elections. It also approved the use of pre-printed ballots and the formation of a 20 percent women’s quota, though the reforms await ratification by Parliament to become binding.
Abdul-Samad called for the establishment of an independent committee to supervise and monitor the municipal elections to ensure the neutrality of the government and other concerned parties. He also urged the government to introduce certain changes to the law of proportional representation so that it was appropriate to Lebanon.
Concerning the women’s quota, the LADE official noted that some parties are trying to prevent women from reaching decision-making posts.
“We praise the government’s steps regarding the 20 percent female quota but we call for its expansion because we believe women are real partners in economic and social life,” he said.
Abdul-Samad also condemned tying the issue of lowering the voting age to granting expatriates the right to vote.
“We believe that the participation of expatriates in municipal elections is useless because they won’t benefit from any developmental project the municipalities may pursue,” Abdul-Samad said.
Abdul-Samad added that it would have been better if Cabinet had approved lowering the voting age to 18 but postponed its ratification.
The LADE official also called for shortening the municipal term, counting votes in polling stations, and for granting the right to vote to those in the Lebanese Armed Forces and detained individuals.