USFC Electoral Law: Another year of gerrymandering

by issamkayssi

In 1982, Major-General Ghazi Kanaan was appointed as Syria’s military intelligence chief in Lebanon. Hafez al-Assad, whose troops first entered Lebanon in 1976, would go on (along with his allies) to win the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Until 2002, Kanaan would act as Assad’s (the father and then the son’s) viceroy in Lebanon. Kanaan was the power broker of Lebanese politics: he was said to have had the last word on many key decisions during that era.

The agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War, the Ta’if Accord, stipulated that electoral districts shall be the six muhafazat. Parliamentary seats shall be divided equally between Christians and Muslims, proportionately between the denominations of each sect, and proportionately between the districts.

Under Kanaan, Lebanon witnessed its first post-war parliamentary elections in 1992. Four years later in 1996 it would have its second, and in 2000 its third. Each of these elections had a different electoral law.

At the American University of Beirut (AUB), for each of the past three years, exceptional electoral laws have been dictating student elections to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC). Since 2012-13, students have been directly voting-in their USFC student representatives.

The electoral districts for the USFC are the university’s six faculties. The number of seats allocated to each faculty in the USFC was weighted based on the number of students of each faculty way before 2012. The largest faculty, Arts and Sciences (FAS), was given five seats for example. Small faculties like that of Health Sciences (FHS) were given two seats each. These weights carried on into our era of exceptionalism (post 2012).

Back on the national level, the 1996 Law, which was enforced by the Lebanese government as an exceptional measure, divided the muhafaza of Mount Lebanon into several electoral districts while leaving the others untouched. Opponents of this statute argued that the division was designed to favour certain candidates of one group over those of another. The 2000 Law, also known as Ghazi Kanaan’s Law, was also accused for its gerrymandering of votes to ensure favorable results for Syria’s allies. Districts, like that of North Lebanon for example, were re-arranged to engineer such results.


Ghazi Kanaan and Lebanon’s electoral districts under him

On the university level, the 2015 Law, to be used for the elections on Friday, November 27 (the first time it has been held on a Friday), was recently announced. Yesterday, Outlook dedicated the whole of its second page to presenting this law, but even what the official student newspaper published was inconsistent between the the diagram and the text that accompanied it.

This is probably because the 2015 Law was announced twice this year. On November 10 the administration sent an email stating that all eligible students of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) could nominate themselves and vote for three seats in the USFC. On November 16, another announcement was made, and all eligible FEA students would now only be able to nominate themselves for one of the three seats with the two remaining seats open to engineering undergraduate students only – thus excluding architecture/design and graduate students – but voted on by all. The reason for this change was not included in the announcement.

When comparing the 2015 USFC Law with its predecessors, many questions can be raised. The 2012 Law dictated that, for FEA, one of the three USFC seats was for architecture/design and graduate students and the remaining two were similarly exclusive for engineering undergraduates. The two voting pools did not mix. The 2013 Law added another exclusive seat to engineering undergraduates. The 2015 Law not only eliminated the seat allocated for architecture/design (and graduates) but also turned the formula on its head! A special “reservation” for seats was given to engineering undergraduates. Usually quotas, if ever used in electoral laws, are created for groups that constitute some sort of minority, but the engineering undergraduates actually constitute the vast majority of FEA.


The USFC’s electoral composition

The case of FEA in the 2015 Law is one of bizarre change from the 2012 and 2013 laws. This does not mean, however, that the previous laws made much sense. Like the parliamentary laws on the national level, it is hard to find a consistency in any iteration of the AUB laws. The 2012 Law divided the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) into five different voting pools based on student status. FAS sophomores, for example, can run and vote for 1 USFC seat. While the seats of the Olayan School of Business (OSB) remain open game to all: sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate can run and vote for up to three seats. The addition of an exclusive engineering undergraduate seat to FEA in the 2013 Law was complimented with making the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences (FAFS) a free-for-all faculty (like OSB), with the reasons never officially announced.

The absurdity of the changes made in the electoral laws at the AUB in the past three years channels the spirit of the late Ghazi Kanaan. While the parliamentary laws under the late Major-General were designed to ensure favourable results for those Syria looked favourably upon, it is up to students, on the university level, to find out to which political group/s this year’s USFC law (and those that precede it) benefit(ed). The answer to the question, in the case of the 2015 Law, may be found by investigating what happened in the six days between the two announcements of November 10 and November 16.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student