2015-09-08

Elections Now, Regardless of the Electoral Law

When I blogged about the necessity of boycotting Lebanese elections back in 2012, I had a basic assumption in my proposition: elections are a given and they will happen in due time. But it never occurred to me, that the politico-confessional ruling class will take that basic right away and extend its own term twice until 2017. One can try to give this self-extension all kinds of justifications, but they all fall short from giving sufficient reason to this illegitimate maneuver.

Back to the basics

In a "parliamentary democracy", the People gives a mandate to elected representatives for a specific period of time. This mandate has an expiry date. The furthest this mandate can be considered valid is the constitutional term period (which is in the case of Lebanon, 4 years). Beyond it, it is automatically considered illegitimate, regardless of any legislative maneuvers (legality vs legitimacy).

By presupposing that no reason is a valid reason to skip elections or extend expired mandates, then we can discuss all other legislative and logistic details. To keep with the spirit of democracy, elections MUST take place in due time if not earlier if necessary.

Take the recent example of Greece. Following a political crisis due to the steep economic crisis, early elections were held in January 2015. The People gave a mandate to a new parliament to take it out of the crisis. After tough negotiations with the EU, the government failed to achieve its goals. So PM Tsipras resigned and called for new early elections in September 2015. Regardless of the motives and political details that led to this situation, one thing is preserved: resorting to the People is the way to get out of a crisis.

Putting the cart before the horse

In Lebanon, the current political crisis has given birth to a new popular movement, opposing the current political class and raising demands including solving the current garbage management crisis, accountability and the political demand of early (actually overdue) elections.

Critics of the movement have been accusing it of ambiguity when it comes to the political issue, especially that elections include many details, most importantly the electoral law, subject of debate for many years. The confessional nature of the Lebanese political scene has been preventing reforms to the electoral law. The current law in use is obsolete, based on the law drafted in 1960 (a bare majority law, with constituencies that fits the politico-confessional oligarchs). Many have been demanding a proportional representation law, with different types of constituencies. The major components of the "Movement of 29 August" have shown their support for a proportional representation system, without any common agreement regarding the constituencies, however, this was not included in any of the official statements.

Many consider that the movement should include electoral law reforms in its demands, to allow it to achieve real change. Although this may be true, but there are no guaranties. This is due to the fact that the current political class is illegitimate, and as mentioned before has no direct mandate from the People but has hijacked power by extending its own term. In this context, asking this political class to make electoral reforms that would threaten its own existence is quite improbable. The demonstrations and protests might be a pressure factor, however, what are the odds for a ruling class that doesn't stem from the People to respond to the demands of that People?

Understandably, the genuine holders of this opinion (as opposed to ones with ulterior motives) are eager for change. But we must admit that deconstructing the current corrupt political class will not happen overnight (or "overelections", should I say). It is going to be a prolonged struggle, and it might be more efficient to accumulate small victories than rush into making big ones.

At this time, it is crucial to re-activate the democratic process. If a reformed electoral law have been passed it would be an additional gain but even without one, having elections should be the main target. It may come at the expense of many of the demands, it may re-elect the same political class, but it makes one crucial difference: the People has set a precedence of forcing elections to correct what is considered an illegitimate situation; the power is back to where it belongs in a democracy. And that is a very important first step, that would pave the way to more focused pressure and more steps to come.

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