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    Time to Vote for Democracy

    Speaker Nabih Berri has called for a session on Monday to discuss a constitutional amendment which would lower the voting age from 21 to 18, but many Christian deputies have been bandying about the possibility of rejecting the amendment or boycotting the session.

    Their behavior is regrettable, because it stems solely from actuarial concerns for their own fiefdoms. To be sure, the sectarian balance in Lebanon remains fragile, as it has been for decades. In addition, these Christian members of Parliament might well be acting out of sincere concern for their constituents, believing that the measure would only further dilute the long-eroding political influence of their co-religionists.

    However, rejecting lowering the voting age is short-sighted – in fact, it reveals a near-sightedness so acute that these legislators evidently fail to see even three years ahead of today. For if they fear that lowering the voting age today would increase the political sway of the country’s Muslims, do they not realize that in three years all these individuals will be given the right to vote anyway? Can these parliamentarians not see that the growing population imbalance in favor of the nation’s Muslims is going to continue to rise, regardless of whether the voting age is 18, 19, 20 or 21? Are they really unable to read the estimates of population distribution among the youth of this nation?

    This space has long advocated reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 for reasons that to us seem painfully obvious. Simply put, many of these same leaders were parties to the 1989 Taif Accord, which calls for the change. We can all see that a voting age of 18 is also the standard in almost all of the world’s developed nations. We also wonder who can remain blind to the moral argument that if one is allowed to marry, own property, conduct business and serve in the military at 18, one should also have the right to participate fully in the political sphere.

    But these are not the issues that appear to be vexing our Christian legislators. Unfortunately, it is precisely their attitude – which is not exclusive to Christians or universal among them – that doggedly feeds the democratic deficit that has plagued Lebanon for almost all of living memory. They put the interests of their sect ahead of the interests of democracy and the country’s population as a whole.

    The absence of a voting age of 18 is merely yet another symptom of this democratic deficit – for which all politicians, Christian and Muslim, deserve blame. Looking only at the last 20 years since the end of the 1975-90 Civil War, this nation’s political elite has failed to nudge this country’s confession-based democracy even the slightest toward a political system in which Lebanon’s citizens could express themselves politically according to anything more than the religious sect they were born into.

    Yes, regardless of when or whether the voting age changes, Muslims will continue to outnumber Christians in a continually rising ratio. Our politicians, however, should not dedicate themselves foremost to upholding a system that, truth be told, has not been behind much of the stability or development that this country has witnessed in recent times. Rather, they should channel their not insubstantial political talents toward transforming Lebanon into a democracy where political allegiance can be decided based on affiliation with a political program – and one where 18-year-olds can vote.

    The Daily Star
    22.02.2010

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