A Lebanese Senate? Who Will Pay For It?

According to the latest news, discussions should resume this week in order to reach consensus on a new electoral law. A “hybrid” electoral law (as the Lebanese jargon has it) submitted by Speaker Nabih Berri apparently stipulates the election of half of Parliament based on proportional representation and the other half under a winner-takes-all system. Berri’s proposal also calls for the creation of a Senate that would be elected according to the so-called “Orthodox Law”.

My argument is that the Lebanese state cannot afford to establish such a political institution, let alone the intricate task of defining its specific duties. Below my doubts:

  1. Not sure the Treasury has enough money to fund a Senate. I don’t only mean the building. I mean the wages of the Senators, their convoys, their security, their pensions, their privileges. Not only do the Lebanese MPs demonstrate poor legislating performance, but also they cost too much in comparison with other countries. Moreover, I doubt the taxpayers (= us) are ready to pay more taxes to sustain a Senate whereas (1) the whole taxation system is antiquated and no serious reform seems to be in view; and (2) the current government contends that there is no cash in order to update the salary scales.
  2. Creating a Senate will create a new form of social distinction. We already refer to our politicians as sa’âdat an-nâ’ebma’âlî al-wazîrfakhâmat ar-ra’îs; we already have beyks and shaykhs and zu’amâs… all of whom are Roi fainéants (I wanted to write “wankers”). So do we really want to add another nobility of shaykhs bearing self-important titles and performing vain tasks?
  3. Not sure our legislators will be able to delineate the duties of each Assembly clearly and unequivocally without having one encroaching on the attributions of the other. Determining accurately the role and responsibilities of the Senate in a bicameral democracy is a very demanding endeavor that requires much meticulousness. We do not seem to be fully aware of how sensitive the shift from a unicameral democracy to a bicameral one is; we take the whole issue so lightly as if it were a mere change of protocol. It is not.
  4. In a bicameral system, the legislating process will be even slower and more inefficient than it already is. That means: more foot-dragging, more compromise, less work done, therefore a doomed governance.

For the record, Lebanon has already had a Senate alongside Parliament for a year and a half upon the promulgation of the Constitution on May 23, 1926. It was abolished on October 17, 1927 precisely because the governors realized it was too expensive, too slow, and too weak.

It is such a pity that we keep discussing issues that were resolved 85 years ago.

Rest In Peace, Beirut, Mother of Laws

Rest In Peace, Beirut, Mother of Laws

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