Slightly more than half of Lebanon’s voters turned out in what was billed as a “hotly contested election.” It was obvious that the votes would be counted in a transparent way, given that supporters of each alliance were willing to pay to fly Lebanese voters in from around the world to participate at great expense. But much like the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, where Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral votes that were counted to Bush, Hizballah’s losing coalition received more total votes than the pro-American winning coalition, leaving the potential for lingering conflict over “unfairness.”
The underlying system has many deep problems that continue to plague the country, causing sectarian division and corruption. Lebanon could learn a lot from its neighbor Israel in administering a proper election. Lebanon has no government ballots. Party activists generally hand the heads of families (or the voters themselves) a slate of names on a piece of paper and those pieces of paper are often put directly in the ballot box, leaving little room for personal choice.
Far worse, Lebanon’s electoral system actually apportions seats by religion. Seats in each district are specified by sect: Greek Catholics, Orthodox, Maronite, Sunni, Druze, Shia, etc. If an American were told in advance that their congressional delegation would be composed of, for example, a Jew, five Christians, a Muslim, a Hindu and an atheist, he or she would be offended if it didn’t sound like the beginning of a tasteless joke. Candidates should run based on the force of their ideas, not how their parents pray.
Further, the fixed Lebanese sectarian system actually builds up the divisions between groups instead of reducing them, and has been a rallying cry for those who feel disadvantaged, sparking unrest. If South Africans—particularly White South Africans who had everything to lose—could put behind their despicable history of segregation to embrace a one-person, one-vote proportional representation system, so too can the Lebanese.
The elected Lebanese parliament members are fully vested in this system and so no change will come about in Lebanon unless international pressure calls for a true proportional representation system in Lebanon as in Israel or South Africa, combined with a final and permanent end to any group carrying arms, including Hizballah. Only then do the problems of Lebanon’s sectarian strife have the opportunity to fade.
[The resignation of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell] is surprising news, which seems to have caught everyone off guard. He doesn’t appear to have shared this news with his ambassadors, who were in Washington last week for a global chiefs of mission conference. His deputy is also slated to retire soon, which raises question of near term leadership on European policy at a time of challenges there.
[Wess] Mitchell was a strong supporter of NATO, particularly in Eastern Europe where he will be sorely missed. His departure comes follows the resignation of senior Pentagon officials – Robert Karem and Tom Goffus – working on NATO along with Secretary Mattis. Without this pro-alliance caucus, NATO is now more vulnerable than at any time since the beginning of the Trump administration.