Lebanon’s new electoral system

This is a guest post by Steven Verbanck

Lebanon finally has rewritten its electoral so that parliament can be renewed in 2018 (the sitting parliament was elected in 2009). The best explanations I’ve found so far are on Blog Baladi, Moulahazat, and Executive Magazine. Until I’ve found a translation of the text of the law itself, I have to rely on these sources.

1. Lebanon makes a major electoral system change by changing from multiple non-transferable vote (MNTV) to (open) list PR with average magnitude of 8,5 (128 seats in 15 districts, range 5 to 11).

It’s in line with a more general trend: many countries once started with MNTV but when elections become more partisan, search for ways to make the outcome less risky. One way to do this is to reduce district magnitude, with many countries ending up with M=1 (FPTP). In Lebanon the endpoint was the qada as district (law of 1960 and Doha law of 2008: 26 districts). Designing even smaller districts is too difficult given the predetermined allocation of every seat to a specific religious community.

The districting still bears the mark of majoritarian thinking: they avoided merging districts that differ too much in their religious makeup.

Introducing a proportional system makes the outcome less risky in competitive districts (51%-49% -> 3-2 instead of 5-0) but on the other hand, in districts who were until now won overwhelmingly, competition become viable (80%-20% -> 4-1 instead of 5-0)

Specifically, they have chosen single quota largest remainder as allocation mechanism between lists. The quota is also threshold and the quota is recalculated with the vote total of the lists still in the running.

2. The intraparty allocation of seats to candidates is rather complex because they combine proportionality between parties with the prefixed allocation of seats to religious communities and to sub-districts (= nada).

A voter is not restricted to candidates of his own religious community but can only give a personal vote to a candidate of his sub-district. It’s unclear to me if a voter has the option of a list vote without a personal vote for a candidate of that list.

All candidates (irrespective of their list or their religious community & sub-district) are ordered according to their personal vote share in their sub-district (not the absolute number of personal votes to balance sub-districts of different sizes).

Seats are then awarded one by one to the candidates in that order. As soon as a list is awarded all its seats, all lower candidates of that list are defeated and as soon as a religious community & sub-district is awarded all its seats, all lower candidates of that religious community & sub-district are defeated. Or put in another way: a candidate loses if enough higher placed candidates of his list have already won to fill the vacancies of that list or if enough higher placed candidates of his religious community & sub-district have already won to fill the vacancies of that religious community & sub-district.

For lower-placed candidates this can be somewhat erratic and unpredictable: you can end up defeated because your list or religious community & sub-district has already enough winners, while lower placed candidates overtake you because their list and their religious community & sub-district still have vacancies. (This will even more be the case if personal votes are concentrated on the first candidate on the list: the differences in personal votes between lower candidates then becomes less meaningful but stays relevant for the allocation.)

For the last vacancy, there can be only one winner because there is only one list left with one vacancy and only one religious community & sub-district left with one vacancy, no matter how few votes that candidate received. (Compare with Romania 2008 where the Hungarian party won the last seat, the only seat of the expatriate district for Africa & Middle-East with only 2% of the votes in that district.)

I have no idea what happens if there is no such candidate: does the seat remain empty? (Compare with Mauritius where sometimes no candidate meets the requirements for the best loser seats.) This problem, proportionality in two dimensions (rows and columns, parties and preset religious communities & sub-districts) can be solved in a better way .)

14 thoughts on “Lebanon’s new electoral system

  1. >”…with only 2% of the votes in that district”
    Interesting, not least because before the 2016 reforms the Australian Senate system was supposed to be the only electoral system in the world where candidates could get elected with less than one-tenth of a normal Droop quota.
    I suppose a result like the Romanian Hungarian party can be rationalised as representing unrepresented Hungarian-Romanian voters elsewhere in the world. Doesn’t this sometimes happen in The Netherlands too – a party presents separate lists in all (12?) of the electoral regions, it polls just over 0.6667% and wins exactly one seat, and that seat goes to the highest-polling candidate of the highest-polling regional list, who might have 1% of the party”s vote?


  2. Interestingly, the switch to list PR mirrors that in Jordan, which JD and I wrote about some months ago . I’m no expert on the Lebanese political party system, but I would ask whether you think that the possibility that the process of ‘SNTVization’ that we talk about in that article could happen in Lebanon as well, given the tendency for the Hare quota to benefit small parties.


    • it would be ironic if that were so,, seeing how Japan’s four and a half decades of SNTV saw numerous complaints that the system favoured small parties and independents. If you looked like polling just around one quota, your supporters just plumped for one candidate and didn’t face the headaches the LDP’s vote-managers faced, trying to divide their supporters evenly among two or three nominees. Various proposals were kicked around to adopt party lists in the multi-member Lower House constituencies, but these went nowhere from 1947 to 1993 (ironically, even after SNTV was replaced with open-list PR for the at-large seats in the Upper House, some time in the Seventies I think). But lists don’t substantially favour larger parties relative to SNTV if you have largest remainders and small districts. The Japanese (like the Jordanians) would have been better off copying the Finnish/ Brazilian/ Chilean system, with D’Hondt (perhaps with some minimal threshold such as 10%, below which list-ranking order prevails over numbers of personal votes).


    • At first, I indeed included such a remark (pointing to Colombia until 2002) but then I saw on http://www.executive-magazine.com/cover-story/visualizing-the-voting-process-new-2017-elections-law-lebanon that the simple quota is also the threshold (and the quota is then recalculated with only the vote total of the above-threshold-lists) so that a race for remainder seats only (a split of a 1.4-quota list in two 0.7-quota candidates) is not a productive strategy


      • Thanks Bancki. One of the ironies of using the Hare Quota as the legal threshold (ie, discarding totals less than 1.00 quota) is that it is very generous to small contenders when there are many seats (ie, 150 and 0.667% for the Dutch lower house) but brutal when the number of seats is small. Someone posted once (here?) an example from a Dutch colony – Antilles, maybe? Sorry, but the search function on this blog is incomplete – where the largest party with around 40% won three seats out of three because the threshold (Hare quota) was 33.33% and its two rival parties each had just under that level.
        This may be my Australian assumptions coming to the fore (ie, “give voters a choice among allied parties but encourage parties to form their alliances before the people vote, rather than afterwards”) but I find it curious that more List-PR countries don’t use d’Hondt (or even Imperiali) with a 5% threshold while allowing alliances. The Netherlands sounds like it would benefit from the German “three ballots maximum, then a plurality wins the premiership unless and until an absolute majority agrees upon a different premier” rule.


  3. Two additions and a correction :

    1) The biggest district (Aley+Chouf) has 13 seats (not 11)

    2) On the list vote option : Voting is according to french traditions : each list has a separate ballot, inserting one ballot in the envelope (and trowing away the other ballots) constitutes the list vote, crossing one candidate on that ballot is the personal vote inside that list (L’Orient – Le Jour, 14 June).

    3) Lists can be incomplete, they do not have to present a candidate for every vacancy, but a list must have 1) at least a candidate in every subdistrict (but not for every religious community having seats in that subdistrict) and 2) at least a number of candidates equal to 40% of the seats available and 3) at least 3 candidates (L’Orient – Le Jour, 20 June).

    So it is possible a list is awarded a seat earmarked for a religious community for which that list does not have such a candidate. I have no idea what happens then : is that seat reallocated somehow to another list which does have such a candidate available? Or is it filled afterwards in a by-election? Or does the seat remains empty until the next general election?


    • The division between “mark the [sole] ballot-paper” versus “select [or: select and mark] one of several ballot-papers (with or without an envelope)” seems to cut across other differences in electoral systems. From memory, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Spain use the former (as do Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, UK, USA, etc) while France, Israel, Sweden, Switzerland use the latter. Ironically, Israel’s legal system closer to the British common-law countries than to most of Continental Europe (a legacy from the Mandate era, I suspect); and you would assume, all else being equal, that Swiss would use the same voting mechanics as Germans and Austrians do. I suppose history and path-dependence are particularly strong in this area.


      • Tom, this is not my area, but my understanding is that Israel has a very mixed legal systems, with elements of common law, civil law, and however one might characterise the Ottoman legal system. The latter two were intermingled under the British Mandate, while the civil law aspect was introduced by the first politicians of the State of Israel, who wrote legislation very much in the civil law style of codes, which was presumably what most of them were most familiar with.


      • Mixed systems are actually quite common, but they have not been studied very much as a group. One Israeli scholar writes:

        With all the influences of the common law, we are not a purely common law country. What are we? To which family do we belong? Are we legal orphans? It seems to me that we belong to the legal system of ‘mixed jurisdictions.’ Other members of our family are, inter alia, Quebec (French and English influences), Scotland (French and English), Louisiana (French and American), South Africa (Roman-Dutch and English), Sri-Lanka (Roman-Dutch and English), and Cyprus (Greek and English).

        I would add most other countries in Southern Africa to that list with the exception of Mozambique. Obviously countries like Cyprus also have an Ottoman layer to their legal system. Some scholars would add Sweden. The date at which a Roman law country big-r Received Roman law and the extent to which they were influenced by the Code Napoléon makes a huge difference. The reception dates for Scotland and Sweden are similar. The German civil code has massive Napoleonic influence, the Swedish code not so much. Which empire owned you has a huge impact.

        Lastly while Roman law sounds like it comes from the Classical period it actually derives from the Justinian Code and is throughly Byzantine (non-pejorative sense). That is also true of Ottoman law.


      • My anecdotal impression is based on having skimmed a few Israeli statutes and found their drafting style surprisingly similar to the common-law style of the greater Anglosphere.
        French: “The ballot, if placed inside the official envelope, is valid.”
        German: “The ballot is valid if it is placed inside the official envelope. The contrary applies if it is not.”
        Australian (since circa 1990): “(1) A ballot-paper that has been placed inside an official envelope must be taken to be valid. (2) A ballot-paper that has not been placed inside an official envelope must not be taken to be valid.”
        English: “For the purposes of this Act, a ballot-paper (a) if placed inside an official envelope – shall be deemed to be valid, (b) if not placed inside an official envelope – shall be deemed to be invalid.”
        US: “Any ballot-paper that shall have been placed, pushed, crammed, or in any other manner whatsoever inserted, inside an official envelope shall be deemed to be valid for all intents and purposes under the laws of the United States of America; provided, however, that any ballot-paper that shall not have been placed, pushed, crammed, or in any other manner whatsoever inserted, inside an official envelope as aforesaid shall be deemed to be invalid and without effect, for all intents and purposes under the laws of the United States of America.”


      • jd

        The Ottomans tended to adopt Byzantine public law and early sultans explicitly used Byzantine titles like ‘basileus’ and ‘caesar’. Private law was personal, dependent on your religion and was administered by religious courts. The sultan could override a court decision or replace the court members (Orthodox, Muslim, Coptic, Jewish, Armenian, etc etc) but rarely did so. The sultans continued appointing and dismissing patriarchs of Constantinople in the same manner as Byzantine emperors. The Byzantines never adopted a succession law as part of a belief that only God could make an emperor. The Ottomans maintained that succession system until 1922.


    • I am all for quotas for groups that would otherwise go historically un[der]-represented, but it seems to make much more sense to apply the quota at the “declaring candidates elected” stage rather than at the “how many candidates each party or group must nominate stage” (as in Lebanon, if I’ve got the new system right) or at the “how many candidates each voter must vote for stage” (as in Italy and, I think, elections by British Labour members of the party’s NEC). Let parties nominate whom they want, let voters tick or number whom they want, and then, once the number of male Eastern-Rite Marionite candidates elected reaches its 32% maximum (or whatever), summarily declare all remaining male Eastern-Rite Marionite candidates defeated. Put a minimal burden on the electoral staff rather than a heavier burden on the parties or a very heavy burden on the voter (who may completely spoil his or her ballot by guessing wrongly).


    • Hi Bancki: Voters have the option of casting a vote only for a list and do not need to indicate their preferential candidate; if they do cast a preferential vote for a candidate, it must be a candidate from their subdistrict, their qada, and not anyone on their list. The seat will not remain empty or filled by a by-election: it will be filled by a candidate running for that confessional seat from the list that has one the most seats – only if has already not been allocated. Because of the constraint of the confessional system, there is a possibility of very erratic seat distributions. If a list has decided to not field a candidate for a religious community in certain districts, this is usually the result of behind the scenes bargaining between the political parties in order to ensure the election of a ‘traditional’ politician from a political family so as not to cause offence. For example, in the 2009 elections Hizballah did not throw its support behind any list in the city of Sidon, which at the time was a single electoral district. It was allocated two Sunni seats. Sidon is the home of the late Sunni Prime Minister Rafik Hariri- and his sister Bahia traditionally stands for that seat. Her running mate was an ally of her brothers, billionaire Fouad Sinioara. Although there is no love lost between Hizballah and Sinioara, the former respect Bahia Hariri.So they did not throw support behind an opposing list.


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