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Butros proposals include lower voting age, diaspora role.

Byline: Anthony Elghossain

Summary: While the electoral districting for the 2009 parliamentary elections based on a slightly modified 1960 electoral framework is more or less known, the broader electoral order will be shaped by parliamentary deliberations regarding the package of reforms put forth by the National Commission on Electoral Law.

Editor's Note: This article is the second in a three-part series profiling the reform package proposed by the National Commission on Electoral Law in the draft law presented to cabinet on June 1, 2006. The particular reforms discussed in each article are clustered according to the topical arrangement of the three sessions of the National Conference on an Electoral Law Tailored for the Nation.

BEIRUT: While the electoral districting for the 2009 parliamentary elections based on a slightly modified 1960 electoral framework is more or less known, the broader electoral order will be shaped by parliamentary deliberations regarding the package of reforms put forth by the National Commission on Electoral Law.

The commission, a government-appointed panel of legal and political figures headed by former Minister Fouad Butros, labored over the course of nine months in 2005-06 to produce a comprehensive electoral framework, but the Doha agreement that ended an 18-month political stalemate has split the issue of reforms from districting and has in effect made each proposed overhaul subject to parliamentary discussion.

Proposed overhauls discussed at the second session of the National Conference last Wednesday include the lowering the voting age in Lebanon, granting franchise to the Lebanese expatriate community, instituting a candidacy quota for women and facilitating the voting of minorities and disabled persons.

Article I of the first chapter of the Butros draft expresses the commission's proposals regarding the broadening of mainstream suffrage in Lebanon. The article reads as follows: "Every Lebanese who has attained the age of 18 years, whether or not resident on Lebanese territory, shall be entitled to vote in accordance with [Article 23 of the Lebanese Constitution]."

These reforms represent a drastic departure from the current electoral order, which limits voting to Lebanese citizens above 21 and restricts the voting arena to Lebanese soil.

It should be noted that, in theory, many expatriate Lebanese already enjoy the right to vote in parliamentary or municipal polls, but there currently is no mechanism for polling abroad, and this has linked expatriate voting to the ability or willingness to travel back to Lebanon and cast a ballot.

Articles 115-117 of the Butros draft focus on the voting process for Lebanese citizens residing abroad, with the process dependent on expatriate registration on voter rolls, the utilization of embassies and consulates as polling stations and the coordination of the Foreign Affairs and Emigration Ministry, although a specific approach to diaspora polling would be determined by the proposed independent electoral commission or any other regulatory body chosen by Parliament.

A possible reform mentioned in other contexts by members of the commission who worked on the Butros draft was automating the voting process in Lebanon.

Such a step would require the standardization of ballot sheets but a precise mechanism for such an overhaul has, again, been left to the discretion of the yet-to-be created independent electoral commission.

Politically speaking, lowering the voting age in Lebanon has traditionally proven to be a controversial issue since the Muslim community in the country has a wider "population pyramid," or younger demographic make-up than the Christian community, while expatriate voting remains contentious since most Lebanese abroad originate from the Christian community.

As in other areas of reform, the commission chose to straddle the issue, attempting to reconcile politically divergent matters in order to promote legally constructed reform proposals. On the other hand, some reforms are agreed upon almost unanimously, like easing the voting process for the elderly and disabled communities, despite a slow move toward implementation.

With regard to the representation of women in Parliament, the draft law requires a 30-percent quota of women candidates for each electoral list competing in districts subject to proportional voting.

Even if the Doha agreement's adoption of modified 1960 electoral districting and a majoritarian voting process has effectively ended the prospect of adopting this reform as it exists in the Butros draft, since proportional voting is limited to mohafazat (governorates), the issue has been raised openly and, given the atmosphere at the National Convention, will likely feature strongly in deliberations over the next electoral set-up in Lebanon.

The reforms detailed here are by no means exhaustive, nor are they likely to be adopted as an entire package, yet it appears that a joint proposition made by MP Ghassan Tueni and MP Ghassan Mokheiber will push for a parliamentary discussion regarding each of the proposed measures, amid a broader realization of the Doha agreement.

The author can be contacted at Anthony.Elghossain@dailystar.com.lb . For more information on electoral reform, please visit www.lebanon-elections.org .

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Jun 17, 2008
Words:824
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