Voting Districts in Iraq and Lebanon: Drawing Battle Lines
Dear readers: I will be traveling to Syria in the next several days, where I will live for 12 months as a Fulbright scholar to work on a new book - Oxford Press, country study of Syria, 1918 to present. I will try to keep "Syria Comment" going from Damascus. It will take me a few weeks to get settled there and figure out the capabilities of blogging over slow telephone connections!
Michael Young has written an important article comparing the electoral systems of Lebanon and Iraq. He argues that the only way to reassure minorities, i.e. Christians and Druze in Lebanon and Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, is either to mandate minority representation as in Lebanon or to confine parliamentary election lists to the local level and not national. Here is a small bit of his argument. Read the whole thing:
The Americans and Perelli made a spectacular blunder (in Iraq)in backing a single-constituency system. Allow me to refer to another multi-communal (though not multiethnic) Middle Eastern state, Lebanon, to explain just why.
In 1943 Lebanon adopted a "consociational" system, where the religious communities are represented in parliament and in the national bureaucracy according to a ratio not necessarily reflecting their demographic weight. The idea is to give all groups a protected stake in the state. Today, that ratio is 50-50, so that although Christians are a minority, they nevertheless have half the seats in the legislature, and still hold the presidency. Everyone understands that if communal representation in parliament were decided by majority vote, even based on proportional representation, the minorities would consider this the beginning of an irreversible slide, and would probably abandon Lebanon, resort to violence, or both. This is the essence of what is known as the minority syndrome—the belief that any loss of power by one's own group in a multi-communal society will ultimately lead to the eradication of that group.
However, in recent years, Syria's Lebanese allies have periodically warned Christians against going too far in their opposition to Syria by threatening to resort to an election system that would make Lebanon a single constituency. Somewhat similarly to the proposal in Iraq, such a system would mandate the formation of contending national slates of candidates, so that, in fact, the majority Muslim electorate would have a decisive say in choosing all Christian candidates (even though half the seats in parliament would still be reserved for Christians). Precisely for that reason, and fears that it would alienate Christians and other minorities, notably the Druze, the project remains controversial (and as noted above, is mainly resurrected as a means of intimidation).
For similar reasons a single constituency in Iraq is bound to alarm Arab Sunnis there. The Sunnis see nothing but peril in a plan that gives considerable power to the majority Shiites and that, worse, unlike the Lebanese structure, does not set a fixed ratio of Sunni seats in the future parliament.
Landis response to Young:
Great article Michael. I have been thinking a great deal about the contradictions between US voting policy in Lebanon and Iraq. The whole thrust of election reform in Lebanon is to reduce the size of the districts and lists, which America theoretically supports in order to reward its friends there. In Iraq it is doing the opposite to reward its friends. Not smart. Not just because it is inherently contradictory and seems so self-serving to anyone who thinks about it, but because it will backfire, as you so rightly point out. You did a great job in laying this out.
Actually I disagree on Lebanon: Taif expanded the electoral district to the Muhafaza (from the qada), and the US has not really taken position on this at all, at least none that I can remember. In fact I haven't heard the US sound out on electoral districts in one way or another.
In Iraq I think the motive was partly to implement a system that would reflect the proper distribution of communal power--it was, after all, a plan proposed by the UN, not the US, initially. There was a vague effort at sticking to a Western notion of elections there, but also calculation of course. The problem, I think, is that they missed the real problems with that.
Yes, But the solution to Lebanon in the long-term is to get guarantees for minority representation, which can only be done through some sort of districting laws that favor local representation.
Ultimately, the national pacts, and ta'ifs, which set rigid numbers for religious power-sharing are destabilizing, because they become fixed and set battle-lines. When demographics change, as in the Lebanese case, the parliamentary percentages do not.
In the long run 50-50 is not a solution for Lebanon because it does not reflect the correct distribution of people and would need to be renegotiated every 10 years with every census, as it is in the US. If the US were using the Iraq model for Lebanon, there would be a Shiite Prime Minister, etc.
The US supports Christian power in Lebanon. It did in 58, 82, and with UN resolution 1559. That is not the stated goal, as you say, but it is the result that everyone in the region understands and the practical result of its interventions, so it doesn't really matter whether it puts it in black and white, I suspect, or comes out in favor of the "qada" rather than the "muhafaza." The minorities want the qada returned and maybe that is a good thing as you suggest. But to get that, they will have to give up 50-50.
The US has been debating minority-friendly districting for decades. During Clinton's administration, the proposal to allow districting for black localities in order to guarantee minority representation was raised. Republicans have always gerrymandered in order to wipe out black representation by swamping them with white conservative neighborhoods. Ultimately, the American people rejected the idea of minority set-asides because it undermines everything the US stands for - it just happens to mean Blacks get screwed unless they learn how to play the American game and internalize the dominant culture so they won't feel alienated.
The important thing is to find a solution that is equitable in the eyes of the majority of Lebanese and will stay equitable over time. Strict percentages can never do that.
The US has come out against ethnic set-asides time and again, perhaps for good reason. I understand the Levant is different from the US because so much more is at stake in the ethnicity-religion game. Nevertheless, as a supporter of true liberalism and individual rights, it is hard to come up with another solution that doesn't somehow work at cross purposes with the principles you want to inculcate.
If you remove the 50-50 ratio, you will have mass Christian emigration, nothing less. The end of what remains of multicommunal Lebanon.
If the US supports Christian power today, I have yet to see any evidence of it. 82 was not an effort to back "Christian power", but a desire to hit 2 birds with one stone: get rid of the PLO and put in a friendly government to Israel. There was almost no Christian component to that that I could see, except that the ally of the moment happened to be Gemayel. Had it been Nabih Birri, nothing would have changed. Indeed, one of the first things the US told Gemayel (Amin) after he took power, was that he should open up to the Muslims.
As for 1559, let's be serious. What makes it a "Christian" policy? It's an effort to screw the Syrians, sure, but I have seen no evidence, nor do I think there is any, that Bush and Chirac were thinking of the Christians. If anything, it was ecumenical, as Chirac showed by consulting with Jumblatt and probably basing some of his views on how the Syrians treated Hariri (to whom Bashar directed a direct threat that included Chirac, when compelling him to vote in favor of an extended mandate for Lahoud).
By the way how does this: "The US has come out against ethnic set-asides time and again for good reason: square with this: "The US supports Christian power in Lebanon". It's not a contradiction, but shows quiet separate dynamics. If the US supported Christian power, they'd do everything in their power to support the pillar of what remains of Christian power in Lebanon: confessional set-asides.
Take care, M