Frances GuyAmbassador to the Republic of Lebanon, Beirut
The Maronite bishops are locked in conclave to (s)elect a new Patriarch. Press speculation is rife. But I was struck by a comment in one of the leading newspapers the other day suggesting that the bishops had three choices: go with the one that had the most support; go for a consensus candidate; go for one imposed from outside (i.e. in this case, the Vatican). It rather sums up Lebanese politics as a whole.
Instinctively as someone brought up in a majoritarian culture I can't see what is wrong with going with the person who has the most support. And I am struck that schools in Lebanon seem to work on that basis when electing class representatives. But I acknowledge that when everyone is a minority, and some minorities are bigger than others, you might be wary of having the one with the most votes winning all the time. Does that mean that a consensus candidate needs to be the lowest common denominator? or less effective?
No, I don't think so. If we go further and think about different electoral systems, then the single transferable vote (STV) system is actually about ensuring that the people who are elected are those with the biggest consensus behind them. In short, you get to express your first choice - so freedom to be clear in sticking to your principles however little general support they might have - and then you get to demonstrate your second choice and so on. Those getting more of the second and third choices will be the ones who get elected. Theoretically they should have widespread support even if they lose passionate loyalty. And it can make for dramatic politics - look at the elections for the leadership of the British Labour Party.
I don't know what system the Maronite bishops will employ. I hope they can avoid the third option of a solution imposed from outside. That kind of solution seems to have become the bugbear of Lebanese politics. Electoral reform could be back on the agenda once parliament re-opens. Time for a serious look at proportional representation, at the STV?