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 .)

FPTP in Lebanon?

There has been debate about adopting first-past-the-post in Lebanon. For that matter, there has also been a debate about PR.

Quite likely there will be no change before 2013 elections. But given the news that the Romanian parliament’s attempt to change that country’s electoral system to FPTP has been ruled unconstitutional, here is another country where this system has at least been debated recently.

Apparently FPTP was used in Lebanon in 1960, before the adoption of a list-based multi-seat plurality system (in which each list must conform to the district’s pre-arranged sectarian balance among its candidates).


Various news reports have noted that last week’s accord regarding the Lebanese political standoff included electoral reform. One report I heard (via Mosaic; it might have been from Dubai TV, but I do not recall) referred to reinstating the electoral system from the 1960s, but with some new “special provisions” (or words to that effect) for the division of Beirut and other large districts.

I have not had time to search for more detail. Anyone out there more up to speed than I am on this?

Israeli Supreme Court rejects plea for broad probe of war

The panel of the High Court reviewing a petition from The Movement for Quality Government in Israel to demand a State Commission of Inquiry on the summer, 2006, war in Lebanon, rejected the petition in a 4-3 vote. As Haaretz reports, the Justices nonetheless criticized the government for creating a much weaker panel to review the actions leading up to and during the war, which the petitioner sought to replace with a more independent State Commission:

The High Court’s abstention does not indicate its contentment with the way in which the government made the decision, nor does it give its seal of public approval for appointing the committee…

IDF admits it targeted civilian areas with cluster bombs

I wish I could say this was a surprise. After months of claiming otherwise, there is now growing evidence that the IDF General Staff itself selected targets throughout Lebanon to be hit with cluster munitions.

The attempt to fight a war against a popular militia with air power was foolish enough. Using cluster bombs to do so is criminal. There is no other word for it. Cluster munitions are designed for their effectiveness at killing large formations of enemy troops, because each shell contains hundredes of bomblets that disperse in a wide area. Used in towns and cities, they kill civilians. This is the very opposite of the “precision” targeting the Israeli government officials claimed to be using during the summer war in Lebanon. In fact, a reserve officer states that his orders were to “flood” the areas being targeted.

“Insane and Monstrous”

What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs…”

These are the words of the head of an IDF rocket unit in the recent Israeli war in Lebanon. He also describes the use of incendiary phosphorous shells on towns, and the firing from Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms that were known to be highly inaccurate–a margin of error of up to 1,200 meters.

So much for the claims of “proportionate” force and “precision” targeting.