Lebanon’s New PR Electoral System: Undermining Proportional Outcomes in a Proportional Representation Electoral System

This is a guest post by Amal Hamdan

In May 2018, parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in Lebanon using a PR electoral system for the first time. The last parliamentary elections in Lebanon were held in June 2009. Since then, parliament has extended its own term twice. After years of deadlock over electoral reform, Lebanon’s two main rival political alliances, the March 14 and March 8 blocs, passed a law in June 2017 abolishing the Block Vote [MNTV–ed.] electoral system, used since 1958 for legislative elections, and introduced Open List Proportional Representation (PR) (Law No.44). An analysis of key technical aspects of the new law – namely, the formula used to distribute seats to lists and an informal threshold for list eligibility – suggests that it was designed to enhance the chances of candidates within the March 14 and March 8 blocs to be elected and diminish the possibility of electing candidates outside these alliances. Lebanon has been politically polarized between the March 14 and March 8 blocs since 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri which led to an end of Syria’s hegemonic grip over Lebanese politics. The main political factions comprising the March 14 alliance are the Future Movement (FM), the Sunni community’s main political representative; Maronite Christian Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces (LF); and the Christian Kataeb party. The March 8 bloc comprises the main Shia political parties, Hizballah and the Amal Movement and their mainly Maronite Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement. Until 2009 Druze leader Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) was also part of the March 14 bloc but has since withdrawn, further reinforcing Joumblatt’s ability to play political kingmaker in Lebanese politics.

128 parliamentarians will be elected in 15 new ‘major’ electoral districts. Many, but not all, of these 15 districts are comprised of minor constituencies [qada]. Each voter casts a ballot for a list of candidates; voters have the option to cast one preferential vote for their favorite candidate, as long as the candidate is on the same list they have chosen. There is a key restriction on candidates’ preferential vote: if the major electoral district is comprised of more than one minor constituency, voters can use their preferential vote only for candidates within their minor constituency, and not any candidate in the major electoral district.

The new electoral law adopts the Hare Quota Largest Remainder (HQLR) formula to distribute seats to lists. Under the HQLR, the ‘price’ of a seat, in the currency of votes, is determined by dividing the total valid votes cast in a district by district magnitude (number of seats allocated in the district). This provides the quota or price of a seat. Under Lebanon’s PR system, for every whole quota a list has won, it receives a seat. If there are unfilled seats, they are allocated to lists with the largest remaining votes.

Only lists that receive one full whole quota are eligible to seat allocation; any lists that receive less than 1.00 or a full simple whole number are disqualified. One full whole quota or the threshold for lists to qualify for seat allocation varies across districts from 7.69% of votes (Mount Lebanon 4) to 20% (South Lebanon One). Table 1.1 identifies the major constituencies and the effective threshold in each district for lists to qualify for seat allocation. The minor constituencies or qada within each major district are in brackets.

Table 1.1

Major Constituency Effective Threshold of List Votes
South Lebanon One (Sidon; Jezzine) 20%
Beqaa Two (Rashaya; West Beqaa) 16.67%
Mount Lebanon Three (Baabda) 16.67%
South Lebanon Two (Tyre; Zahrani) 14.29%
Beqaa One (Zahle) 14.29%
North Lebanon One (Akkar) 14.29%
Beirut One 12.50%
Mount Lebanon One (Jbeil; Kesrewan) 12.50%
Mount Lebanon Two (Metn) 12.50%
Beqaa Three (Baalbeck-Hermel) 10.00%
North Lebanon Three (Zgharta; Bcharri; Koura; Batroun) 10.00%
Beirut Two 9.09%
South Lebanon Three (Bint Jbeil; Nabatieh; Marjayoun-Hasbaya) 9.09%
North Lebanon Two (Tripoli; Minnieh-Dinnieh) 9.09%
Mount Lebanon Four (Chouf; Aley) 7.69%

 

Besides the threshold, an additional provision in Lebanon’s PR electoral law favors well-established alliances such as the March 14 and March 8 blocs and strongly reduces opportunities for less established, smaller parties or electoral alliances from winning seats.  Under the new law, the Hare quota will be calculated a second time excluding the votes won by a list or lists that did not achieve the electoral quotient. A hypothetical example of three lists competing in the newly-created South Lebanon One constituency, which has a total of five seats allocated to its minor constituencies, Sidon and Jezzine, demonstrates how provisions in Lebanon’s PR electoral law decreases chances of candidates not running on major ballots from winning. The following table provides seat and confessional allocation in South Lebanon One:

South Lebanon One ‘Major’ Constituency
Minor Constituency (Qada) No. Seats and Confessions
Sidon Qada 2 Sunni
Total Seats in Sidon Minor District 2
Jezzine Qada 2 Maronite
1 Greek Catholic
Total Seats in Jezzine Minor District 3
Total Seats in South Lebanon One 5

To calculate the threshold for a list to qualify for seat allocation, the total number of valid votes cast for all lists in the South One district are combined and divided by district magnitude. Assume there are three hypothetical lists competing in the South Lebanon One district. The number in the brackets next to each candidate indicates the candidate’s preferential votes.

Lists Contested in South Lebanon One Major Constituency
Minor Constituency and Confession List A List B List C
Sidon Qada      
Confessional Seat Sunni A1 (25,460) Sunni B1 (13,512) Sunni C1 (7,543)
Confessional Seat Sunni A2 (23,041) Sunni B2 (5,266) Sunni C2 (4,289)
Jezzine Qada
Confessional Seat Maronite A3 (10,792) Maronite B3 (15,648) Maronite C3 (7,399)
Confessional Seat Maronite A4 (5,403) Maronite B4 (13,285) Maronite C4 (4,338)
Confessional Seat Greek Catholic A5 (5,220) Greek Catholic B5

(14,914)

Greek Catholic C5

(6,498)

List’s Total Votes 73,917 64,826 33,168

Note: The total votes won by each list exceeds its total preferential votes because voters have the option of voting for the list without casting a preferential vote for a candidate (Article 98, Clause 1)

 

The first step is to calculate whether lists are eligible to qualify for seat distribution; only those with at least one whole quotient will be eligible.

Step 1. Calculate the electoral quotient:

Electoral Quotient: (73,917 List A votes + 64,826 List B votes + 33,168 List C votes) = 171,911 ÷ 5 seats = 34, 382

Step 2. Calculate if lists won a whole quotient by dividing each list’s total votes by the electoral quotient:

List A: 73,917 list votes ÷ 34, 382 electoral quotient = 2.15.

List B: 64,826 list votes ÷ 34, 382 electoral quotient = 1.88.

List C: 33,168 list votes ÷ 34, 382 electoral quotient = 0.96.

Since List C won less than one whole electoral quotient it is disqualified – even though this list won 19.29% of total votes cast. Since a list has been disqualified, a second electoral quotient using the HQLR formula must be calculated to distribute seats to eligible lists.

 Step 3. Calculate the second quotient:

 Formula for second quotient: Qualifying Lists’ Votes ÷ District Magnitude.

Second Quotient: (73,917 List A votes+ 64,826 List B votes) = 138,743 ÷ 5 seats = 27,749.

The price of a seat dropped from 34,382 to 27,749 votes. Arguably, the provision to calculate the price of a seat twice is aimed at lowering the cost and enhancing the March 14 and March 8’s blocs chances of sharing seats (presuming these alliances remain in tact).

Step 4. Distribute seats to qualifying lists.

This is determined by dividing the qualifying lists’ total votes by the second electoral quotient.

 List A: 73,917 ÷ 27,749 = 2.66 = 3 seats.

List B: 64,826 ÷ 27,749 = 2.33 = 2 seats.

The next step is to distribute seats to candidates. Seat distribution to candidates across lists will not be straightforward in Lebanon since PR will be implemented alongside a confessional quota. The next section demonstrates how implementing a PR electoral system alongside a confessional quota will likely lead to anomalies in seat distribution and consequently, anomalies in representation.

The Potential Anomalies in Seat Distribution under Lebanon’s PR Electoral System

Lebanon is comprised of 18 officially recognized religious communities, known in Lebanese jargon as confessions or sects. These 18 sects are mainly Muslim and Christian denominations, although there remains a small Jewish minority. None of these 18 confessions are a majority, making Lebanon a country of minorities. All 128 parliamentary seats are reserved for 10 Muslim and Christian confessional communities. One seat is reserved for ‘minorities’, meant to represent the remaining communities not designated seats.

To distribute seats to candidates in qualifying lists, each candidates’ percentage of preferential votes is calculated; then all candidates are ranked in a single list from highest to lowest percentage and seats are distributed accordingly. However – seat distribution will also need to take into account the confessional allotment of seats and their allocation to minor constituencies: if all the seats reserved for a confession have been filled, a candidate can be disqualified even if he or she is ranking higher than their opponent. A candidate may also be disqualified if all the seats allotted to their minor constituency have been filled. Drawing on the hypothetical example from the South Lebanon One district where List A won 3 seats and List B won 2 seats clarifies these points and demonstrates how potential anomalies in representation could arise in Lebanon’s new PR electoral system.

Step 1.  Calculate each candidates’ percentage of preferential votes.

This is done by dividing the number of preferential votes won by a candidate by the total preferential votes cast for all candidates, regardless their confession, from qualifying lists in each qada separately. For example, the formula to calculate candidate Sunni A1’s percentage of preferential votes in the Sidon minor constituency is calculated by dividing their preferential votes by the total preferential votes won by candidates in qualifying lists in Sidon alone, rather than the major constituency:

% of Preferential Votes: Candidate in Qada ÷ Total preferential votes for all candidates in qualifying Lists in Qada.

Sunni A’s % percentage of preferential votes: Sunni A preferential votes ÷ Total preferential votes from qualifying lists in Sidon = 25,460 ÷ 67,279 = 37.84%

The following table calculates candidate’s percentage of preferential votes in each minor constituency in the South Lebanon One electoral district.

South Lebanon One District
Minor Constituency (Qada) List A List B
  Candidate No. Preferential Votes % Preferential Votes Candidate No. Preferential Votes % Preferential Votes
Sidon Sunni A1 25,460 37.84% Sunni B1 13,512 20.10%
Sunni A2 23,041 34.25% Sunni B2 5,266 7.83%
Total Preferential Votes in Sidon Qada  

67,279

 

 

Jezzine Maronite A3 10,792 16.54% Maronite B3 15,648 23.98%
Maronite A4 5,403 8.28% Maronite B4 13,285 20.36%
Greek Catholic A5 5,220 8.00% Greek Catholic B5 14,914 22.85%
Total Preferential Votes in Jezzine Qada  

 

65,262

 

Step 2. Rank all candidates from both constituencies from the highest percentage of preferential votes to the lowest.

Candidates’ Ranking According to Percentage of Preferential Votes, South Lebanon One District
Rank Candidate Minor Constituency % Preferential Votes
1 Sunni A1 Sidon 37.84%
2 Sunni A2 Sidon 34.25%
3 Maronite B3   Jezzine 23.98%
4 Greek Catholic B5   Jezzine 22.85%
5 Maronite B4   Jezzine 20.36%
6 Sunni B1 Sidon 20.10%
7 Maronite A3   Jezzine 16.54%
8 Maronite A4   Jezzine 8.28%
9 Greek Catholic A5   Jezzine 8.00%
10 Sunni B2 Sidon 7.83%

 

Step 3: Distribute seats to candidates.

Seats are distributed to candidates in descending order of their percentage of preferential votes, but with these critical caveats:

  • If the seats for a confession in a minor constituency have been filled, the remaining candidates from that confession are excluded, even if they have won higher percentages of preferential votes than candidates from other confessions;
  • once the seats allocated to a list have been filled, the remaining candidates for that list are disqualified, even if they have higher percentages of preferential votes from other lists.
  • If candidates are tied for preferential votes and are both eligible because the confessional quota in their district hasn’t been filled, the older candidate wins the seat.

In the hypothetical example, the distribution of seats to candidates according to minor constituency and confessions is the following:

List A: 3 Seats List B: 2 Seats
Candidate A1 (Sunni/Sidon)  B3 (Maronite/Jezzine)
Candidate A2 (Sunni/Sidon) B5 (Greek Catholic/Jezzine)
Candidate A3 (Maronite/Jezzine)

 

This demonstrates exactly the potential anomalies in representation under Lebanon’s new PR system: although the candidate in rank 5, Maronite Candidate B4 won 20.36% preferential votes, he or she was disqualified because List B’s two seats had been filled and consequently, the seat was awarded to the candidate in rank 7, Maronite Candidate A3, who received 16.54% of preferential votes. The candidate in rank 6, Sunni B1, was also excluded because all the Sunni seats in Sidon were filled; even if they had not been filled, List B also already been allocated its two seats.

4 thoughts on “Lebanon’s New PR Electoral System: Undermining Proportional Outcomes in a Proportional Representation Electoral System

  1. Pingback: Lebanon, welcome to open alliance lists! | Fruits and Votes

  2. A much simpler solution in this hypothetical case is to give each list its seats to its highest personal vote getters. This gives the desired allocation of seats over lists and over subdistricts/communities:
    A1 Sidon Sunni
    A2 Sidon Sunni
    A3 Jezzine Maronite
    B3 Jezzine Maronite
    B5 Jezzine Greek-Catholic

    If this does not result in the desired allocation (according to lists and to subdistricts/communities), then adjust the vote numbers of the underrepresented group upwards (all with the same ratio).

    If you proceed not by lists first, but bij subdistrict/community, then A is one seat short:
    -Two most popular Sidon Sunni candidates are A1 and A2
    -Two most popular Jezzine Maronite candidates are B3 and B4
    -The most popular Jezzine Greek-Catholic is B5.
    If you adjust all personal votes of list A upwards (with the same ratio), then at some point (from x1,24)** A3 jumps over B4 and the desired allocation is reached.

    **exactly: from B4/A3 = 13285 / 10792 (rounded up)

    This is an application of the biproportional apportionment method.

  3. Pingback: Lebanon 2018 | Fruits and Votes

  4. A real life example of such an anomaly is the seventh and last seat in the Bekaa-1 = Zahle district. After six seats were allocated to candidates, there was only one possible “cell” in the table left to receive a seat: the seat had to go to an Armenian-orthodox from the list “Zahle Options and Decisions”, so Eddie Damrajian got elected with only 77 votes.

    A method assigning seats one by one is flawed because for the last seat, there is always only one possibility left, no matter how low that candidate scored. (I wonder, what if a list does not have a candidate of the desired community?)

    With a biproportional method, two seats would be allocated otherwise. In stead of Michel George Daher (9742 votes, Greek-catholic, list “Zahle for all”) and Eddie Damrajian (77 votes, Armenian-orthodox, list “Zahle Options and Decisions”), the seats would go to Marie-Jeanne Bilezikjian (3851 votes, Armenian-orthodox, list “Zahle for all”) and Nicolas Fattouch (5737 votes, Greek-catholic, list “Zahle Options and Decisions”)

    The biproportional method prefers this solution because under the actual result, the “spread” between the lower winner (Damrajian) and the higher losers (Bilezikjian and Fattouch) is 1:50 and 1:75, while with the biproportional method, the “spread” between the higher loser (Daher) and the lower winners (Bilezikjian and Fattouch) is only 1:2.5 and 1:1.7.

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