Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws in Fragmented Societies: Lebanon's 2009 Elections

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws in Fragmented Societies: Lebanon's 2009 Elections

Article excerpt

This study will assess Lebanon's 2009 parliamentary elections. Section one examines electoral alliances and electoral dynamics within the pre-election context. Section two will provide a thorough analysis of the outcome. Section three discusses the social makeup of the newly emerging legislature, and section four looks into the repercussions of these elections for Lebanon. The polls were expected to pave the way for a new phase characterized by democratic stability, cooperation and political advancement away from the country's conflict-ridden politics and communal tensions that marked Lebanese political life since 2005.

Key Words: Consociational democracy; Centripetal model of democracy; Lebanon; Lebanon 2009 elections; Ethnic coexistence; Ta'if Accord; Doha settlement; March 14 bloc; March 8 coalition; Lebanese electoral coalitions.

Elections in pluralist democracies fulfill a variety of functions including popular control over the government, alternation of leadership, and legitimation of power. On the other hand, in conflict-prone heterogeneous societies - where citizens are divided by socio-cultural and ascriptive traits such as race, ethnicity, language, religion, or region - the debate involves an additional issue: how the electoral system may contribute to the peaceful coexistence of different social or minority groups within the same polity1. Electoral systems therefore have the propensity to foster or neglect the important function of interethnic conciliation or to avoid ethnic exclusion from political power. Because of the complexity of intergroup and intragroup relations in such societies, polarization and exclusion can follow from ascriptive differences, compounded by the history, advantages and disadvantages, and divergent views of the identity of the state that are all associated with these differences. In many such societies, electoral results and ensuing governments that neglect the interests of groups outside the regime often provoke instability and violence.

The need for electoral engineering in divided societies is well established, but the disadvantages of specific electoral system designs are heavily questioned. Election experts have reviewed ways to promote cross-cutting political cleavages based on the premise that ethnic exclusion poses a threat to democracy and social peace. Two main solutions have been devised to elucidate the problem of ethnic representation: the first goes by the name consociational democracy, and the second is dubbed "the centripetal model"2. The consociational approach is essentially a regime of guarantees. It proposes that all major groups will be represented in governing grand coalitions in proportion to their numbers, as determined by election results; that, to facilitate proportional inclusion in cabinets, elections will be conducted by a proportional electoral system.

The centripetal model on the other hand suggests that in a severely divided society it is vital to promote cooperation and accommodation, which moderate candidates are more likely to accomplish than are those with completely contradictory agendas. The solution aims, then, to sustain moderate against extremist candidates. This approach does not abandon majoritarian democracy, but it aims at majorities that are cross-ethnic and at governments formed by moderate interethnic coalitions. The model's primary instrument is not a system of ethnic quotas but the provision of electoral incentives that accord an advantage to ethnically-based parties that are willing to appeal, at the margin and usually through coalition partners of other ethnic groups, to voters other than their own. The underlying mechanism is that, to appeal to voters other than one's own and to form interethnic coalitions in a conflict-prone society, ethnically-based parties must demonstrate that they are moderate and willing to compromise on ethnic issues. The consociational approach has a well-specified menu of institutions, whereas the centripetal approach is at home with a variety of governmental institutions, presidential or parliamentary, provided that appropriate incentives are built in. …

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