The Legislature

Lebanon Table of Contents

The Chamber of Deputies (sometimes called the parliament) has many responsibilities, but electing the president is its most important. Despite its legislative role, traditionally the Chamber of Deputies seldom has been involved in law making or policy formulation. The Constitution details the duties and procedures of the Chamber of Deputies and grants it considerable authority in such matters as budgetary oversight and amending the Constitution. But because of the strength of the presidency and the power of the zuama, the Chamber of Deputies generally has been a fragmented, inefficient body, playing an insignificant part in Lebanese politics. In effect, it has merely been an extension of the executive, rather than a separate, co-equal branch of government.

Deputies are elected every four years by popular vote, but only within the strictures of the confessional system. Each slot is assigned to one sect or another according to its size in any district. It should be noted, however, that party politics have played almost no part in Lebanon and candidates campaign as part of a "list" sponsored by a local zaim. In other words, competition within districts is intrasectarian, in which, for example, a Greek Catholic from one list would campaign against Greek Catholics from other lists. Even though it is possible to vote across lists, typically lists have been elected in toto. To ensure the success of his list, a zaim often enters into complex alliances with zuama supporting other lists in other districts. As a result, one zaim may support another zaim in a neighboring district but oppose him in another district.

Because of the 1975 Civil War and the subsequent political disintegration, as of late 1987 there had been no election since 1972. Elections have been somewhat chaotic, often characterized by the strong-arm tactics of qabadayat, vote buying, and general disruptions. Elections have been conducted in stages, as much to allow voters to return to their home towns to cast ballots as to permit the redeployment of security forces to limit disturbances.

Money, of course, has been at the core of this system. Regardless of confessional association, candidates have tended to be men of wealth, often landlords, lawyers, or businessmen with family connections to the local zaim. Not surprisingly, candidates have frequently spent large sums to win elections. Once in office, although he was still beholden to the zaim, a deputy could further his accumulation of wealth. In addition, this system has perpetuated the promotion of parochial interests over the national welfare.

Despite its obvious unrepresentativeness, little reform to this system has occurred. One important factor maintaining the system has been the government's voting regulations, which encourage an individual to vote in his home town or village, regardless of how long he may have lived elsewhere. This policy reinforced the political hold of the zaim and, at the same time, discouraged the emergence of modern political parties.

Several other features characterized the Chamber of Deputies in 1987. By custom, its speaker (also referred to as its president), who was selected by the deputies, was a Shia Muslim. He presided over a body of fairly well-educated men, many of whom were related to one another. To be eligible for election, an individual had to be at least twenty-five years of age; still, most members of the Chamber of Deputies were over fifty years old. Only one woman, Mirna Bustani, had ever served in the Chamber of Deputies, and this was under unusual circumstances. Her father, Emile Bustani, a deputy, died in office, and, being an only child, Mirna was appointed to complete Emile's term in the 1960 Chamber od Deputies.

To accommodate the six-to-five formula for representation of Christians to Muslims, the number of deputies has always been a multiple of eleven, although the number has varied over time. In 1951 the Chamber of Deputies was increased from fifty-five to seventy-seven members, in 1957 it was reduced to sixty-six, and in 1960 it was raised to ninety-nine. In the latter year, the Chamber of Deputies was made up of thirty Maronites, twenty Sunnis, nineteen Shias, eleven Greek Orthodox, six Druzes, six Greek Catholics, four Armenian Orthodox, and three members of groups minority.

Rather than trying to hold elections amid the chaos of the 1970s and 1980s, the Chamber of Deputies chose to renew its members' terms every two years until "appropriate conditions" would allow a free election. Moreover, it had not even been possible to hold by-elections to fill seats of deceased members. In the mid1980s , government officials discussed appointing new deputies to these seats. In addition, during this time a national consensus developed to modify the formula of representation so that seats would be evenly distributed. Furthermore, some officials proposed that the size of the Chamber of Deputies be increased to 120. Nonetheless, by 1987 none of these ideas had been implemented, and, as a consequence, of the ninety-nine deputies elected in 1972, only seventy-seven remained.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress