Lebanon is set to hold its first parliamentary vote in nearly a decade on May 6, after a drawn-out political stalemate finally produced a new electoral law in 2017.The new system maintains the sectarian seat allocation in the 128-member parliament but swaps out the decades-old plurality system for a proportional list-based one. Below are the most prominent elements of the law.
The new law reduces the number of voting districts from 26 to 15. The smallest district in the south is represented by five parliament seats, and the largest, the hilly region of Chouf-Aley, has been allocated 13 seats. In each district, the seats are distributed among the various religious sects present in that area.
For example, the seven seats allotted for the eastern district of Zahleh in the Bekaa valley include two seats for Catholics and one seat each for a Maronite Christian, Shiite Muslim, Sunni Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and Armenian Orthodox Christian.
The body is responsible for making sure the campaigns leading up to the elections, and the vote itself, run smoothly and fairly.
All voters, regardless of sect, can vote for all seats in their district. In the past, they could individually choose which candidate they want to elect for each seat, mixing and matching from various parties as they wished. Under the new law, they must choose from among wholesale lists presented on pre-printed ballots.
The formation of those lists has been a key dimension of the new process. In some districts, political foes have reached across the aisle to form mutually beneficial alliances, while opposing each other in other districts. It has also forced non-traditional candidates who would have run as independents to join forces within lists, as they can no longer run individually.
There are a total of 77 lists running across Lebanon. Once voters choose a list, they can then award a “preferential vote” to one member of that list — another new element of the reformed law allowing voters to grant an extra boost to a candidate they particularly like.
In previous elections, votes had only been counted by hand. Under the new law, a manual tally will take place at polling stations, but ballots will then be counted a second time, electronically.
The new system maintains the sectarian seat allocation in the 128-member parliament but swaps out the decades-old plurality system for a proportional list-based one.
The reformed system also introduces an electoral threshold, calculated by dividing the number of valid votes by the number of seats in each district. If an electoral list does not cross the threshold, it is disqualified.
In a first phase, the qualifying lists are ranked based on how many votes they each received, and the seats are distributed among the lists accordingly. Next, to determine which candidate from each list wins each religiously allocated seat, the preferential votes are counted.
For the first time, Lebanese expatriates were allowed to vote from abroad. Around 82,000 of those who had registered cast their ballots this week, ahead of the main election day in Lebanon.
The new law has also created Lebanon’s first electoral oversight commission. The body is responsible for making sure the campaigns leading up to the elections, and the vote itself, run smoothly and fairly.
It included one representative of a civil society group, but she resigned last week in protest at “the lack of provision of necessary resources to allow the commission to carry out its tasks… and limiting its prerogatives”.
© Agence France-Presse