Quite likely there will be no change before 2013 elections. But given the news that the Romanian parliament’s attempt to change that country’s electoral system to FPTP has been ruled unconstitutional, here is another country where this system has at least been debated recently.
Apparently FPTP was used in Lebanon in 1960, before the adoption of a list-based multi-seat plurality system (in which each list must conform to the district’s pre-arranged sectarian balance among its candidates).
Various news reports have noted that last week’s accord regarding the Lebanese political standoff included electoral reform. One report I heard (via Mosaic; it might have been from Dubai TV, but I do not recall) referred to reinstating the electoral system from the 1960s, but with some new “special provisions” (or words to that effect) for the division of Beirut and other large districts.
I have not had time to search for more detail. Anyone out there more up to speed than I am on this?
The panel of the High Court reviewing a petition from The Movement for Quality Government in Israel to demand a State Commission of Inquiry on the summer, 2006, war in Lebanon, rejected the petition in a 4-3 vote. As Haaretz reports, the Justices nonetheless criticized the government for creating a much weaker panel to review the actions leading up to and during the war, which the petitioner sought to replace with a more independent State Commission:
The High Court’s abstention does not indicate its contentment with the way in which the government made the decision, nor does it give its seal of public approval for appointing the committee…
I wish I could say this was a surprise. After months of claiming otherwise, there is now growing evidence that the IDF General Staff itself selected targets throughout Lebanon to be hit with cluster munitions.
The attempt to fight a war against a popular militia with air power was foolish enough. Using cluster bombs to do so is criminal. There is no other word for it. Cluster munitions are designed for their effectiveness at killing large formations of enemy troops, because each shell contains hundredes of bomblets that disperse in a wide area. Used in towns and cities, they kill civilians. This is the very opposite of the “precision” targeting the Israeli government officials claimed to be using during the summer war in Lebanon. In fact, a reserve officer states that his orders were to “flood” the areas being targeted.
These are the words of the head of an IDF rocket unit in the recent Israeli war in Lebanon. He also describes the use of incendiary phosphorous shells on towns, and the firing from Multiple Launch Rocket System platforms that were known to be highly inaccurate–a margin of error of up to 1,200 meters.
So much for the claims of “proportionate” force and “precision” targeting.
It never would have occurred to me, but these names–that of US House Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) and Lebanese President Emil Lahoud–are variants, and reflect a “distant” family relationship. (I wonder if Joe Lahoud is also related?)
This tidbit of information is contained within a JPost article that begins:
From an essay by Gershon Baskin in the Jerusalem Times, republished at the Meretz USA blog:
The problemâ€™s roots can be found in the policies that were developed and implemented in the days of Chief of Staff Ehud Barak (1991-1995). Barakâ€™s concept, mirroring what he saw in the United States following the first Gulf war was that Israel needed a small, intelligent and sophisticated fighting force. Translating that concept into policy and planning meant investing huge sums first and foremost in the air force, in modern technologies, and in scaling down the reserve forces, depending on elite units of the regular army. Since 1991, Israel invested the major parts of its military budgets into these areas and scaled down the dependence on ground infantry units. The overall dependence of Israel on the air force during the beginning of this war was not because the Chief of Staff came from the air force, but because that was the entire military concept of the IDF since Barakâ€™s time. This concept is good perhaps for the United States when it attacked Kosovo, or even when they launched the attack against the Saddam Hussein regime, but is it the right concept for Israel? Perhaps, if Israel had to go to war against another army it would be right, but it appeared to the quite wrong regarding a war against a guerilla fighting force.
This gives the US too much credit for its own reliance on air power. In Kosova, the US military had a guerrilla army on the ground on its side (and was indeed fighting an adversary that was a state). And in Iraq, the strategy was woefully unprepared for dealing with the inevitable emergence of the post-Hussein resistance. We could probably tell a similar story of strategy unprepared for the situation encountered in Afghanistan.
The post is one of a series at Meretz USA on the aftermath of the recent fighting.
When [Defense Minister Amir] Peretz took office four months ago, Hezbollah and the missile threat were at the bottom of the priority list senior IDF officers presented him, Peretz says.
In private conversations over the past few days, Peretz said officers did not tell him there was a strategic threat to Israel, and did not present him with all relevant information about the missile threat.
From a Haaretz story, mostly about opposition calls for a full commission of inquiry (and it would be no insiders-investigating-themselves commisson like the 9/11 Commission) into the political as well as military dimensions of this war.
A meeting of the Lebanese government on the disarming of Hezbollah south of the Litani River was canceled on Sunday following an announcement by the Shi’ite organization that it was not willing to discuss the subject.
Amazingly, there still exists a blog of hyper-optimism called Iraq the Model. But in a recent Salon article, Charles Freeman, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Bush I, sums up what the phrase really means:
The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad.
Indeed. As I noted repeatedly back in the early days of this now-year-old blog,* the Iraqi political system created under the botched US occupation of that deeply divided country is, at best, a majoritarian system. And, in the context of such societal divisions, that is just a polite word for tyranny of the majority. When the main political parties of that majority also happen to have militias, the emphasis goes on tyranny.
And that pretty well describes the situation Hezbollah has created in Lebanon. The Shiite community in Lebanon is not yet the majority, but it is the plurality. And demographic trends will make it a majority before long.
The current Lebanese political system–such as it is–remains conscociational. The declining Christian community is no longer guaranteed an effective majority of the important political positions, as it was before the civil war, but it is still guaranteed 50% of the cabinet and legislature. This is not sustainable in the longer run. The emerging political-system model for Lebanon looks a lot like Iraq: Majority rule for the dominant Shiite parties, with some subordinate power-sharing with the various other groups–in both cases a Sunni Arab minority and a major “other” in the form of the Christians in Lebanon and the Kurds in Iraq–and armed militias all around. In Lebanon, the other organizations aside from Hezbollah disarmed, but is that sustainable as the Shiite population grows and inevitably agitates for Lebanese institutions that reflect that reality?
And that’s what the “democratic” scenario for each country looks like. Some model indeed.
* If you missed the discussion, click on Iraq above and scroll. You won’t have to scroll far: There are few posts after the elections of January that empowered SCIRI, DAWA, and the Sadrists under the constitution ratified the previous fall.
So the IDF appears to be finally getting what officers admit they should have asked for from early in this operation – when it became clear that Hizbullah could not be defeated by non-stop airstrikes. The man to thank for the shift, it is said, is Defense Minister Amir Peretz who, for the first time since this war began, seems to be setting the national agenda.
It was Peretz who last Thursday ordered the IDF to begin preparing for a push to the Litani, sparking harsh criticism from some politicians across the spectrum. Today, however, that has changed. Almost everyone, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, has lined up behind the defense minister and his conquering-the-Litani plan.
As diplomacy drags on, does this newfound unity at the pinnacle of the Israeli cabinet on tactics mean that the government is playing a smart strategy (perhaps for the first time since this current war began)? That is, was the vote to authorize a major ground offensive, and then to hold off on its immediate implementation, a means to focus the negotiations at the UN on terms more acceptable to Israel? Israel’s key demand is that the Lebanese army must be supported by an international force with “operational capabilities.”
Kadima MK Otniel Schneller met Olmert Thursday and quoted him as saying that “a new proposal is being drafted, which has positive significance that may bring the war to an end. But if the draft is not accepted, there is the Cabinet decision.”
Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Kadima), Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), and Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) cast the abstaining ballots.
Yishai said after the meeting that he thought the IDF should hit at Lebanese infrastructure and bombard villages from which Katyusha firing on Israel was emanating before sending in more ground troops.
Paz-Pines has consistently voted against expanding the operation since the fighting began, and Peres expressed concern in the meeting that expanding the operation would hinder diplomatic efforts aimed at bringing about a significant change in Lebanon’s political reality.
Tension within the cabinet on such a critical issue is a good thing in and of itself–contrast that with the lack of pluralism within Bush’s war-planning cabal. But in this case, the mix of international and internal pressures yielded an immediate action–massive aerial bombardment –that effectively delayed the initiation of the only action that was ever realistic for either defeating Hizbullah or forcing an active international role. (And yet Yishai remains wedded to the initial strategy, as if Israel’s destroying yet more infrastructure somehow will produce an outcome consistent with Israeli demands.)
Was the cabinet incapable of agreeing on a major ground offensive initially? Or was there actually a consensus that Olmert’s “shock and awe” would somehow cause either Hizbullah to yield, or force Lebanon’s army and the UN to come to the rescue without sacrificing–or at least signalling a clear readiness to sacrifice–large numbers of Israeli soldiers? I have no idea. But it is clear that internal criticism has grown. The criticism includes an essay by columnist Ari Shavit, who writes for a leading Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. Shavri says today that “Olmert cannot remain in the prime minister’s office.” The piece begins begins with a stinger:
Ehud Olmert may decide to accept the French proposal for a cease-fire and unconditional surrender to Hezbollah. That is his privilege. Olmert is a prime minister whom journalists invented, journalists protected, and whose rule journalists preserved.
However, one thing should be clear: If Olmert runs away now from the war he initiated, he will not be able to remain prime minister for even one more day. Chutzpah has its limits.
In other words, Shavit’s position is that the ground offensive should go forward regardless of the then-current UN draft. And some of his criticism is indeed tactical:
There is no mistake Ehud Olmert did not make this past month. He went to war hastily, without properly gauging the outcome. He blindly followed the military without asking the necessary questions. He mistakenly gambled on air operations, was strangely late with the ground operation, and failed to implement the army’s original plan, much more daring and sophisticated than that which was implemented.
Perhaps rising internal opposition to the tactics was a precondition for Israel’s government taking the serious steps for the ground war that it should have taken on 12 July–that is, if it was to do anything at all other than perhaps very limited reprisals for the taking of the soldiers across the northern border. If this internal opposition is what it took to do the right thing, then Israeli democracy worked. Whether it worked in time for Lebanon’s ever to recover is another question.
The UN vote is at 0100, Israeli time, or just under an hour after the time of this planting.
Perhaps not the number one issue in that country at the moment, but also far from irrelevant to efforts to bridge the underlying divisions and deadlocks of Lebanese politics, once things get back to “normal.” Andy Reynolds has some information:
the proposed new election system is parallel. 77 Block Vote seats in 1-6 member districts, 51 list PR seats in 6 districts, with a sort of open (2 vote) list…while under both methods seats have to be allocated back down to the confession/sect/ethnicity and single member seat (or qada)…Yes, its really complex! Perhaps the most complex system I have ever seen. [ellipses in original]
Sounds like a bad combination of the worst features of the current system and the Palestinian system. And complex indeed!
First, some definitional considerations. Some countries are governed by more-or-less permanent “grand coalitions” that incorporate all the major ethnic or religious groups of a divided society. One example would be Lebanon (with a rigid formula that contributed to the civil war in the 1970s and again to the recent polarization). Other so-called consociational demcoracies have variations (usually far less rigid) on this sort of grand coalition.
And then there are the “emergency” grand coalitions, such as when Israeli parties formed a “unity” government as neighboring countries massed troops along the border before the Six-Day War of 1967, or when the two major parties of Canada, Britain, and other parliamentary democracies governed jointly during the World Wars.
But the examples that are relevant to the question about the new German government, as well as the just-dissolved Israeli government, are those “grand coalitions” or “unity governments” that are formed as a result of parliamentary bargaining situations that are not favorable to either a left or right-wing coalition. If elections fail to deliver a clear majority for a right bloc or left bloc (as in Germany’s most recent elections) or if a larger party decides it would be too costly to accede to the demands of a smaller party (or parties) that it needs to form a majority (as in Israel last January or Germany in 1966), the result may be the major left and right parties governing jointly.
Naturally, grand coalitions of this sort are rare. The only one perviously in Germany lasted just three years (1966-69).
Israel had a unity government of Labor and Likud (and other parties) form after the 1984 election. It re-formed after the 1988 election again did not give either party a viable means to form a government without the other. It then broke down in 1990. The current unity government, of course, lasted less than a year, when an internal leadership election in Labor resulted in the victory of a candidate who vowed to lead the party out of the coalition.
There are not very many other examples at the national level, so it is hard to answer the queston of longevity. But Germany’s first such government lasted until the regularly scheduled 1969 elections, which resulted in large gains for the Social Democrats and their forming a coalition with the liberal FDP. (The grand coalition had been formed part way through a parliamentary term when the Christian Democrats and the FDP disagreed over tax policy.) Israel’s first (non-wartime) example lasted through the next elections and included a rotation of the prime ministership midterm between the Labor and Likud leaders, before breaking down halfway into the next term of parliament. (Some German states have considerable experience with grand coalitions, but I do not know much about them.)
I would expect the current formula in Germany to last for most of the Budestag’s term (4 years), especially since it is not easy to dissolve parliament early in Germany. Outgoing Chancellor SchrÃ¶der managed to do it, but it is not as simple as in some parliamentary systems. The constitutional provisions on dissolution could be changed, though it would require both the left and right to agree, meaning both would have to prefer an early election over retention of the grand coalition.
Grand coalitions tend to be disparaged. They are hardly anyone’s first choice, but as I have argued in several previous posts in the Germany category here, they can be a good solution to short-term situations in which the electorate is conflicted about the direction it wants policy to take.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4