• Elections
    Jan 14, 2022

    Government Monitor: The Controversy over Amending the 2017 Election Law

    • Ali Taha
    WHAT’S THE ISSUE AT HAND?
    After extending its own tenure three times since 2013, the Lebanese Parliament finally passed Law No. 44 on 16 June 2017, opening the way for the holding of the 2018 parliamentary elections. The new law introduced a number of major reforms to the electoral framework that were intended to improve representation. The election law has been brought back into public debate as Lebanon approaches the 2022 Parliamentary election, with several amendments being at the center of the dispute.
     
    Election law No. 44 of 2017
    Law No 44/2017 (“the 2017 election law”) moved Lebanon away from a majoritarian system to a more inclusive, proportional system that permits preferential voting, and allows for more accurate representation, in addition to allowing non-resident Lebanese citizens to vote. Under Article 3 of the 2017 electoral law, Lebanese living abroad were given the right to vote for the 128 MPs of Lebanon’s 15 electoral districts in the countries they reside in. However, according to Article 122 of the same law, in the following elections, the Lebanese expatriate community would be allotted six additional parliamentary seats (one for each continent) to represent them exclusively.[1] Significantly, the law also introduced for the first time (Article 84) the adoption of biometric voting identification cards, which some legislators saw as necessary to open up voting “mega-centers” in the big cities.[2]
     
    The law, though carrying some important reforms, contains certain provisions that could weaken the proportional system, such as the small size of districts and the way preferential votes are cast. It also sets a high limit on campaign spending, and does not designate an independent commission for the administration of the election process, nor does it assign a women’s quota.
     
    Amending the electoral law
    On 19 October 2021, the Parliament approved several amendments to the 2017 election law. Articles 112 and 122, which stipulate the creation of a 16th electoral district for Lebanese expats, were suspended for one time only. Article 84, mandating the use of the biometric voting card, was also suspended on an exceptional basis and for one time only. Furthermore, the date of the election, which was initially set for May 8, was rescheduled to be held on March 27.[3]
     
    President Michel Aoun strongly opposed these amendments and refused to sign the bill, sending it back to Parliament for reconsideration. On October 28, Parliament voted again on the amendments to the law, with 77 MPs voting for the rescheduling of the election dates, and 61 approving the non-resident vote for the full Parliament instead of the 6 exclusive MPs. The bill came into effect as of its publishing in the Official Gazette on November 3.
     
    Disputing the changes
    The adoption of these amendments was met with opposition from the president and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), prompting a group of MPs from the party to file an appeal before the Constitutional Court on November 17. The appeal was based on five main objections:
     

    What constitutes a majority vote: Article 57 of the constitution requires an “absolute majority of all the members legally composing the chamber” when reconsidering a law upon the request of the President. This means that a majority vote of at least 65 (out of a total of 128) is required, regardless the number of MPs who have resigned or were deceased at the time of the vote. Nevertheless, the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri considered the majority at 59 MPs out of 117 instead.

    The date of the election: One of the amendments moved the date of the election from May 8, the date originally set by the 2017 election law, to March 27. According to the president and the FPM, this violates the constitution, as it is an infringement on the powers of the executive branch, which is charged with setting elections dates. Moreover, the rescheduling would tighten the timeframe for expat registration, as well as deny thousands of Lebanese—who will turn 21 in March—their right to vote, not to mention the possibility that weather conditions at this time could disrupt the elections in some areas.

    The expatriate vote: Both the president and the FPM want to uphold the original provision of the 2017 election law, which allotted six new seats exclusively for Lebanese living abroad.

    The adoption of biometric voting cards: The suspension of the article mandating biometric voting cards could damage the integrity of the election, opening the way for manipulation and fraud.

    Undermining the powers of the minister of justice, as well as the president and the Council of Ministers, in favor of the minister of interior: According to the 2017 law, the heads, members, and rapporteurs of primary and high registration committees are to be appointed by government decree signed by the ministers of interior and justice, and then approved by both the Council of Ministers and the president. The amended Article 40 limits the appointment process to the minister of interior. According to the complaint, this is a breach of Articles 64 and 66 of the Constitution.[4]

     
    Constitutional Council decision
    Upon the filing of an appeal, the Constitutional Council must appoint one of its members to draft a report on the matter within a period of 10 days. The council must then convene with at least 8 of its 10 members within five days from receiving the report, and must decide by a majority of seven votes within 30 days from the date of the appeal. Moreover, the council has the power to suspend the legislation being contested while it is in the process of considering the appeal. In case a decision could not be reached, the appeal is annulled and the legislation in question goes back into effect.
     
    The Constitutional Council failed to reach a majority decision, and therefore the amendments to the electoral law remained in effect.
     
    WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
    The election law is fundamental to any political system, as it provides the legal and operational framework for democratic representation. The dispute over the amendments to the 2017 election law raised concerns as to whether the 2022 parliamentary election could be held on time, leading to a new chapter of institutional paralysis. Such an outcome could easily exacerbate the economic crisis and further fuel political tensions at a critical time in the country’s history.
     
    BACKGROUND
    Following the October 2019 uprising, and in the context of a deepening economic crisis, many Lebanese are looking to the upcoming elections as a vehicle for deep-seated political change. This year’s parliamentary elections are seen as particularity consequential, as new political forces have emerged to contest the elections for the first time, after tens of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets over the past two years to express their discontent with the dominant political parties’ performance in government.
     
    References:
     
    Akl, Y. A. (2021, December 2). The FPM’s appeal before the Constitutional Council: How it works and how things might go. L’Orient Today.
    Elghossain, A. (2017, July 11). One Step Forward for Lebanon’s Elections. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    “Our” New Electoral Law: Proportional in Form, Majoritarian at Heart. (2017, June). The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS).
    "لبنان القويّ" يقدّم طعناً في تعديلات قانون الانتخاب. (2021, November 17). Al-Akhbar.
    Law No. 44: Election of the Members of the Parliament (17 June 2017).

    [1] The law states that ‘“six seats reserved for non-resident citizens shall be added to the total number of deputies, thus becoming 134 members in the elections that will follow the first elections to be held in accordance with this law. In the next elections, the total number of 128 members of parliament shall be reduced by six seats to be taken from the same confessions to which the non-resident seats have been allocated to in Article 112 of this Law, by virtue of a decree of the Council of Ministers at the suggestion of the Minister.”
    [2] According to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), voting in mega-centers does not require biometric voting cards, as it is possible to adopt an online preregistration process similar to the one available to Lebanese who wish to vote abroad.
    [3] On December 29, President Michel Aoun signed a decree rescheduling the date of the elections to May 15.
    [4] Article 64 of the Lebanese constitution defines the powers of the prime minister, while Article 66 pertains to the duties and prerogatives of the ministers. It stipulates that they “…shall administer the Government's services and shall be entrusted with applying the laws and regulations, each one pertaining to matters relating to their department.”
    Ali Taha political scientist and researcher at LCPS. He is involved in research focusing on areas such as public policy, governance, political participation, and energy. He is also involved in writing government monitors, organizing a series of educational webinars, as well as supervising LCPS’ Legislative Tracker an interactive online tool that allows users to explore different insights into the policy-making agenda of the Lebanese government. Prior to his work at LCPS, Ali worked as a program director at Delegations for Dialogue, and for three years was involved in facilitating research in conflict zones and tumultuous countries. He holds an MSc in international relations from the University of Amsterdam, specializing in energy politics, and a BA in political science/international affairs from the Lebanese American University.
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