Candidate calls for system of proportional representation

By Adnan El-Ghoul
Published December 27th 2004 in The Daily Star

BEIRUT: In the midst of the debate over the next electoral law, calls from scholars and politicians are growing for a permanent electoral law or a system based on proportional representation.

The law governs how the Lebanese vote in parliamentary polls, the next of which is set for May 2005. A new law will be adopted before then.

Riad al-Asaad, an independent politician and candidate for Parliament, is promoting the gradual application in Lebanon of proportional representation, starting with the May vote.

"Regardless of the law that will be tailored by the present government, I will stand for the next elections not on the principles of winning or losing, but for the sake of participating in the elections as any citizen's right," Asaad told The Daily Star.

He said a proportional electoral law is not only a fair way to elect representatives but also a goal in itself, one which could help reduce corruption.

The corruption inherited by the regime is a result of the current electoral law, he said, adding that a new electoral philosophy is needed to end corruption.

"Others think of the new mechanism as a means to conduct the elections, while I strive for applying the law as an end, since it involves changing the culture of the election and changing people's and politicians' understanding of dealing with public affairs."

Opposition parties say the government wants to produce an electoral law that hinders their chances in the May vote.

According to Asaad, opposing parties have historically failed to bring about fundamental changes in the regime.

"Adopting one law or another within the same culture and practice by limiting the changes to the size of the electoral districts leads to nowhere," Asaad said. "The last 16 different electoral laws reproduced the same corrupt governments of certain political elites and power mongers over and over again."

Asaad called a proportional electoral law the only way out of a vicious circle.

"The new approach would end the sectarian structure of most present parties," he said. "Civic society, the cornerstone of democracy, cannot prevail without ... a new electoral law such as the proportional law."

The current law, he said, restricts the representation of parties or coalitions and lets one political elite reach decision-making positions while depriving the real majority from participating in government.

Lebanon and Syria are among just six countries worldwide with this type of majority law.


"The current law, tried in all forms of electoral districts since 1943, has failed to apply the main principle in the Constitution, which considers the people the source of all legislation," Asaad said.

He added that tinkering with electoral districts is essentially a means to deceive voters, who he said who have never had fair representation. In some cases, he said, 38 percent of voters have won 89 percent of the seats - as happened in the North in 2000.

"The dilemma is that, when we adopt wider electoral districts, the system deprives the minorities. But adopting smaller districts leads to sectarianism and tribalism," Asaad said, arguing that this deficiency proves the need for a new law, one that does not exclude anyone or misrepresent the majority of voters.

In the 2000 polls, he said, former Premier Rafik Hariri, for example, won in all three electoral districts in Beirut, blocking other politicians such as former Premier Salim Hoss and former Beirut MP Tamam Salam.

On the other hand, Asaad said, "In the Zahrani electoral district in the South, I lost because of tailored limitations; I gained over 50,000 votes, but the system prevented me from representing my supporters in other districts in the South,"

In his hometown of Zrarieh on Friday, Asaad began a campaign to promote a proposal for proportional representation developed by Abdo Saad, the managing director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information. Over 400 Asaad supporters, in addition to former mayors and candidates for Parliament, attended to discuss the advantages of the proposal.

Addressing his audience, Asaad called for justice and equality in any new electoral law.

"We thank (Interior Minister) Suleiman Franjieh for his intent to produce a law that adopts equal division of electoral districts in all areas in Lebanon," Asaad said.

Such a system, he continued, must take place nationwide.

"Considering Jezzine a special case to be protected ... while leaving districts such as Sidon, Zahrani or Hasbaya vulnerable to obstruction is not acceptable," Asaad said. "We would oppose any attempts to divide the South into electoral districts that would allow certain political parties to reduce our chances of representing the people."

The meeting issued a statement supporting a proportional electoral law as a prelude to reforming the system and solving the political, social, and economical problems.