Friday, May 2, 2008

Needed in Lebanon II

In a June 2005 oped, this blogger listed a number of unfortunate issues with Lebanese electoral rules including:

“Beyond the fact that this arrangement enshrines sectarianism and ensures the perpetuation of religious and ethnic divisions, there are numerous issues with this "democracy" - the last official census in Lebanon was in 1932 (it is too explosive to arrange one); the Christians estimated at 40% of the population have half the seats, as do the Muslims, estimated at 60% of the population; absentee voting is not allowed, disenfranchising the (very many) Lebanese who live outside Lebanon; you can only vote in the village or town your forefathers were born in, thus requiring that people travel to their birth place at least twice during elections - once for voter registration and the other time to vote;, the minimum voting age is 21 (alienating the many in the 18-21 age group); many who have been born and lived their entire lives in Lebanon may not vote as it is extremely difficult in Lebanon to become a naturalized citizen, etc., etc.”

A recent commentary in the Daily Star, “Electoral reform in Lebanon begins with respect for human rights - commencing with a census” elaborates on the districting issues, article reprinted below. Just one of many changes needed in Lebanon for it to move forward...

It is hard for foreign observers to grasp that the districting for general parliamentary elections in Lebanon is not guided by any recent population census that draws the demographic map and measures the demographic changes in and between villages and towns on a continuous basis. For what looks today like a heavily populated district could become less populated tomorrow, and vice versa.

It is strange but true: There has not been a general population census in the country since the year 1932. That census was ordered under the law of November 24, 1931, and organized by Presidential Decree No. 8837 of January 15, 1932, signed by President Charles Dabbas. It was carried out house-to-house where the actual residents were counted and then registered. That process gave rise to the population lists in each administrative district. Those lists subsequently became basic to the electoral lists.

After the 1932 census served its intended purpose, no other census was ever conducted, which amounts to a gross violation of human rights for the Lebanese. To begin with, many rules of Lebanese law have been chronically violated, to wit:

1. The rule that the population lists are not static: The names of persons who no longer reside in the village or city quarter must, by law, be stricken off the population list in such quarter and transferred to the list of their new residence.

2. The rule that electoral lists must consist of the names of those citizens who resided in the electoral district for six months or longer: As the population lists are, by law, supposed to be made current, the electoral lists are extracted from the population lists and reflect similar dynamics.

More significantly, the constitutional and human rights rule of equality enshrined in Article 7 of Lebanon's Constitution and Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires that democratic representation be directly and proportionately related to the resident population of each district.

The sad truth is that the population lists in Lebanon are not kept current and, consequently, the electoral lists do not reflect the actual residents of the various districts.

As a result of the normal demographic changes that took place over the past three-quarters of a century since the census of 1932, the names of large numbers of Lebanese citizens do not appear on the population (and consequently the electoral) lists of villages and cities where they actually live and work but on the lists of localities where their grandparents and their great-grandparents did. Hence they cannot vote in the parliamentary elections of their natural districts. Furthermore, they are not entitled to vote in local elections and are without say in the conduct of local government.

It is generally thought, in line with a definite trend observed worldwide, that vast demographic shifts have expanded the population of cities and contracted the population of villages in the country side. This has not been recognized in Lebanon, where a largely fictitious distribution of the population continues in general to be based on the results of the 1932 census.

The political, democratic and human rights consequences of this strange state of affairs are far-reaching. For example:

Citizens are denied their legal, constitutional and human rights to participate in the democratic process through voting in the districts where they actually live.

Lebanese citizens are assigned, often against their free will, a tribal-like affinity to the birthplaces of their grandparents and great-grandparents, where they suffer from the feudal-confessional political bosses who thrive on the forced political allegiance they secure through their domination of the local instruments of government.

Electoral districts are based, one way or the other, on administrative districts that were established centuries ago under the Ottoman Sultanate, and, hence, are not necessarily representative of the modern-day demographic map of Lebanon.

It is generally believed that city dwellers may exercise a greater freedom of political choice than residents of the countryside. This may not be necessarily true but a voter stands a better chance of emancipation from domination of the feudal-confessional political bosses if he or she severs their paper link, through the population lists, to the homes of their ancestors.

In all events, the laws and the Constitution of Lebanon, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must be fully upheld. The first step to electoral law reform is a general population census to be conducted on a regular basis, in intervals or no longer than 10 years. The results of such census will determine the size of the base and the democratic representation in each electoral district, both for parliamentary and local elections purposes. More specifically, only the names of the actual residents for six months or longer may appear on the electoral lists and be entitled to vote.

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