What outcomes of the Lebanese elections?

After several months of harsh campaign between the 8th and the 14th of March gathering, the Lebanese citizens have voted on the 7th June. The victory of the 14th March group is now clear, with 71 deputies against 57 for the opposition. Will these results open a new era for Lebanon? Nothing is less sure! Why? In viewing the election outcomes, we will observe that nothing has really changed on the political chessboard. We are firstly going to analyse the 7th of June elections and then the political consequences of the elections.
Firstly, we have to mention the high level of participation of the Lebanese citizens in the elections, the highest level in Lebanon history of 54, 08%[1]. In comparison, the 2005 legislative elections had reached 45, 80%, which was already the highest rate at the time[2]. The Lebanese have showed their will to express their political position all over the country and in a peaceful way, which is already a success in relation to the virulent and violent campaign of each groups during these lasts months. Elections, although far from being perfect, always take a special shape in regard to the regional environment, where democracies are partial or totally absent and people are not able to express their political opinion. Medias have an important role to play in broadcasting these kinds of events to the neighbouring countries, governments being unable to justify why their own people cannot vote for their representatives.
Secondly, the State of Lebanon has asserted its authority and overcome the difficulties which were threatening the elections. The most important achievement without any doubt is the hold of the elections in one day, which was a request for a numbers of years from the civil society and one of the main reforms of the last government. The Interior Minister has moreover declared that the Lebanese and the State have overcome the fear to organise the elections in one day[3]. Despite the disorganisation and the slowness of the polling station, this election is a success for the State on its road to assert its necessity in the country, used on the opposite to it’s absent. The civil society and observatory missions, such as the European Union or the Jimmy Carter Centre, have in general expressed their satisfaction in the good elections sequences, nevertheless the purchase of votes were present and numerous. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Association have condemned the challenge represented by electoral money in relation to the citizen will and its negative impact, in order to maintain the principle of the equality of chances between candidates[4]. More precisely and in relation to electoral spending, the “price” of votes varied according the electoral circumscriptions, in Zahle for example, a vote coasted sometimes 800 $, where as in Saida, it only coasted between 60 and100$ and in Zghorta, it reached 300$[5]. Generally, the electors’ votes were purchased in many regions such as in the Metn, Zahle, Batroun, Zghorta, West Bekaa and Saida. The association has also denounced the attitude of the Medias and listed several main violations, such as undertaking the continuation of the electoral campaign of few candidates, by broadcasting direct electoral calls[6].
The analyse of the new electoral law system from the Doha agreement is however clear cut, the 1960 electoral zoning has caused a greater sectarian radicalisation and small groups have no opportunity to be represented in Parliament under this situation, unless the proportional system is adopted for future elections. The decision by the Doha signatories to return to the 1960 electoral law changed dramatically the electoral districts. New constituencies, almost all on the scale of caza, homogenized the vote along community lines, notably the Christian constituencies, and privileged a « localist » or even family, rather than partisan logic [7]. Sectarian votes have once again played a decisive role in these elections, which is not a surprise in a country based politically on sects. According to different institutes, despite the victory of the 14th of March group in Parliament with 71 votes on 128 seats, 800 000 electors have voted in favour of the opposition while the majority only obtained 600 000 votes[8]. This is the result of the electoral zoning where few circumscriptions include more electors than others, another aspect of the system which must be modified.
The polarisation between Sunni and Shia was important during these elections and it was transposed in the struggle opposing Hezbollah and the Future Movement, both parties controlling each one’s community quasi totally. We can observe this phenomenon through the electoral results, according to different poll survey institute: the Future Movement has consolidated its influence on the Sunni Community winning around 75% of the suffrage community, with peaks up to 85% in Beyrouth and Zahle circumscription[9]. Thus the opposition to Hariri’s movement inside the Sunni community was not able to win many votes: Oussama Saad in his stronghold of Saida has reached only 27% of the Sunni vote, Omar Karame in Trablous has obtained 26%, Jihad Samad in Denniye 21% and Abdel Rahim Mrad has reached the score of 28% in the West of the Bekaa[10]. On the other side, the support to Hezbollah has also increased inside the Shia community. Hezbollah, with its ally the Amal Movement has reached around 90% of the Shia votes, with peaks up to 92% in Baalbeck Hermel, in Nabatyie and in Jbeil[11]. The rivals of the Hezbollah and Amal tandem have obtained only trivial results and the elections which were for Hezbollah a referendum among Shias in relation to the Resistance option have successfully reached its objectives on this scale. On both sides, this results of sectarian political discourses to mobilise its community, especially on the Future Movement side. This latter has very often recall the 7th of May events as an attack on the Sunni community by the Shias leaded by Hezbollah, and Hassan Nasrallah’s declaration on the 7th of May, considering it firstly as a glorious day before retracting himself, reinforced this feeling for a majority of Sunni people.
The Christian street is on its side completely divided between Aoun’s supporter and his detractors from the 14th of March and independant. The General Aoun’s popularity in the Christian community has decreased from 70% to 50% according to the elections and in his own words; he nevertheless still is the most representative leader of the Christian Community[12]. The Free Patriotic Movement indeed stays the most important political party on the Christian political scene and has been able to increase its block on a national scale with currently 27 members in Parliament, of which Sleimane Frangie and Talal Arslane, against 21 in 2005. The Christians of the 14th of March gathering are divided in several groups such as the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb or independents. The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir on his side, which has an important role on Christian politics, also influenced the ballot in declaring the day before the elections the threat for Lebanon’s sovereignty in the situation where the opposition succeeded.
The foreign interventions played as well a considerable role during these elections, especially for the victorious camp. The USA and Israel did not spare any effort to support the 14th of March gathering and frighten the Lebanese population. The US vice president Joe Biden during his visit in Beirut before the elections declared clearly that the nature and the volume of American assistance to Lebanon are linked to the 7th of June election and the composition of the next government, while few International experts affirmed that the American military assistance would be stopped in case the Hezbollah won the elections[13]. Israel also intervened in threatening Lebanese, the minister of Defence Ehud Barak have warned that a Hezbollah victory in the legislatives elections would grant Israel more liberty to attack Lebanon[14]. On the side of the opposition’s support, Syria did not interfere during the elections, even on the polling day; only a small amount of Lebanese from Syria came to vote (around 500 according to opposition sources[15]) at the great expense of the opposition besides, which was waiting for their support in different region such as Trablous or the Bekaa. Syria did not organise any assistance to bring the Lebanese living in Syria to come and vote for the opposition. Iran on its side, a part from the analyse of the Iranian President saying that a victory of Hezbollah would strengthened the Resistance which is right, has made no threatening declaration towards the 14th of March gathering, and even after the results no reactions were made. Iranian are surely too preoccupied with their own Presidential election on the 12th of June. Clearly the foreign support from the USA to the 14th of March group was an important factor in these elections and to influence Lebanese citizens. Saudia Arabia also played a role in these elections by supporting financially Christopher Dickey .
A last element in relation to the elections, it’s the large amount of emigrants who came back to vote, around 120 000 to 150 000 according to different institutes and specialists[16]. No detailed number was published on this issue, but emigrants definitely influenced the results. In their large majority, according to different analysts they affected the elections in favour of the 14th of March; moreover many political parties accused the Future Movement of having fund many emigrants to participate in the elections and vote in their favour.

Finally on a political scale, the situation might not be as different as before the 7th of June. The 14th March gathering has won the elections, but with nearly the same amount of seats than four years ago, from 67 to 71, which is not a sufficient majority to conduct any policy neglecting the other party considering the weight of the opposition in Parliament 57 deputies and beyond all their effective majority in the population, 800 000 people voted for the opposition against 600 000 for the 14th of March gathering, without forgetting Hezbollah’s power in the country. In the opposite case, Lebanon will endure once more a period characterised by numerous blockades of the political life just as the recent period. Lebanon democracy is based on consensus, it should encourage the majority to lend a hand in direction of the opposition to form a national government and be effective. Few important personalities from the 14th of March, notably Walid Joumblatt who has recently multiplied meetings with Hezbollah members, have besides already called for dialogue between both groups to solve political problems, guarantee Lebanon stability and preserve the country from the Israeli threat[17]. On the other side, Hezbollah has already declared towards the winners that their weapons should be preserved of any attacks and guarantees should be offered by the majority in the composition of the next government. The issue about the third of blockade will also play a role in the composition of the future government: to whom the third of blockade should be granted? The opposition? The President? Or would it definitely be cancelled? The Constitution also stipulates besides that every community should be represented in the government, Hezbollah and Amal should therefore be included in the government composition in view of it’s over representation among the Shia population. This situation will certainly lead to the inclusion of the Free Patriotic Movement in the Ministerial team, Hezbollah refusing that its closer ally be kept out of the government. We are therefore heading toward a scenario which has great chances to be a renewal of a national government where both the 14thand 8th of March are represented, because if the majority decide to form a government on its own, this latter might not be effective and meet strong opposition putting the country in a chronic instability.

In conclusion the situation is far from being clear and change in Lebanon might not come as soon as all the political parties have promised it. The elections characterised by law violations and in aggressive discourses were nevertheless a success for Lebanese in being able to express their voice peacefully in polling stations. The State showed its capacity to run elections in one day and maintain social peace during the polling day. This is certainly the most positive element in the elections and a step forward to the development of a strong State, which fulfil its duties. The 14th of March has now the choice to decide whether or not it should form a national government or lead a government of its own, the stability and the effectiveness of this latter will depend greatly on this issue. The Lebanese citizens have fulfilled their duties in voting, politicians have now to fulfil their own duty towards the population.

[1] Orient le Jour, Une victoire sans appel pour le 14 Mars,Par Élie FAYAD | 08/06/2009
[2] Orient le Jour, Une victoire sans appel pour le 14 Mars,Par Élie FAYAD | 08/06/2009
[3] Orient le Jour, Une victoire sans appel pour le 14 Mars,Par Élie FAYAD | 08/06/2009
[4] Orient le Jour, Pour les observateurs locaux et étrangers : un bilan positif entaché par des achats de voix, 09/06/2009
[5] Orient le Jour, Pour les observateurs locaux et étrangers : un bilan positif entaché par des achats de voix, 09/06/2009
[6] Orient le Jour , Pour les observateurs locaux et étrangers : un bilan positif entaché par des achats de voix, 09/06/2009
[7]Myriam Catusse and Karam Karam; Elections in Lebanon: What purpose did they serve? ; 10 June 2009
[8] Orient le Jour, La communauté internationale pousse un soupir de soulagement ; Par Philippe Abi-Akl | 10/06/2009
[9] Orient le Jour, Lecture à froid d’élections très chaudes Par Scarlett HADDAD | 10/06/2009
[10] Orient le Jour, Lecture à froid d’élections très chaudes Par Scarlett HADDAD | 10/06/2009
[11] Orient le Jour, Lecture à froid d’élections très chaudes Par Scarlett HADDAD | 10/06/2009
[12] Orient le Jour, Aoun : Nous présenterons un recours en invalidation contre l’élection de Michel Murr… ; 11/06/2009
[13] Orient le Jour, 21/05/2009
[14] Orient le Jour, Barak : Une victoire du Hezbollah aux législatives renforcera la liberté d’action d’Israël 28/05/2009
[15] Orient le Jour, Lecture à froid d’élections très chaudes Par Scarlett HADDAD | 10/06/2009
[16] Orient le Jour, Lecture à froid d’élections très chaudes Par Scarlett HADDAD | 10/06/2009
[17] Orient le Jour, Joumblatt : Le dialogue avant tout 09/06/2009

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