Lebanon’s Legislative Elections 2018


I. Facts and Indicators


It is only natural to read these elections from the perspective of "political sectarianism”. Not only because parliamentary representation in Lebanon is still based on a confessional-sectarian basis, with a Law taking this rule into account, but also because the new Law, governing these elections, is the most confessional and sectarian one in Lebanon’s modern history. 

More importantly, the major political forces in the country – with no exception - fought this campaign based on a factual "sectarian and partisan self-retreat, with its stemming priorities!" Up until the last elections in 2009, some political powers were seeking to transcend sects and regions, with a minimal political vision at the national level (the most prominent example being the political confrontation March 14 v/s March 8 between 2005 and 2009). This time, the absolute priority was to preserve the "political-confessional-sectarian-partisan" identity. Should there be any attempt to "transcend", it would have been driven by a mindset of "invasion" and not by a broad national perspective. In such a case, the "invasion / intrusion" only produced – being unable to produce anything else - "fifth columns", from one side or another, neither advancing nor delaying the general trend commanding the entire campaign. 


1. The Campaign’s Facts and Indicators in the Shiite milieu:


• The Amal-Hezbollah Shia tandem obtained 26 out of 27 seats for the Shiite community in the Lebanese parliament; losing one seat in the Jbeil-Keserwan constituency to an independent candidate, Mustafa Husseini - brother of the former Speaker Hussein al-Husseini, who withdrew from the campaign in opposition to the election Law, according to his own statement, and was likely unable to form a substantial list of alliances. The main implication of Speaker Husseini’s standpoint in these elections is that, this time, the Shiite tandem has left him little margin for a seeming independence (that he usually hopes for). Moreover, his withdrawal stance clearly indicates his reluctance to challenge, which resumes his past years pattern. It is also expected that the positioning of MP Mustafa Husseini will not be in opposition with the Shiite tandem, despite his known friendship with former MP Fares Souaid, due to his close ties with Speaker Berry. In addition, the Jbeili Shiite milieu at this stage does not allow him any "refractory" behavior, except within the limits of the margin available to Berry within the tandem.

• The most prominent feature of the Shiite tandem campaign, in terms of electoral and political discourse, is the emphasis on the importance, rather the need, to obtain an exclusive mandate for the Shia representation in the Parliament, with a "declared" intention stipulating that this exclusive representation is the well-founded "guarantee" of the Shiite community in the Lebanese formula and facing the volatile regional options (an existential and vital issue)... We described this intention as being "declared" because it was openly stated in the tandem's mobilizing discourse.

• Hence, the ideological discourse (Wilayat el Fakih {the mandate of the Jurist} and the Islamic Republic, while upholding in practice the "political divine commands" - and even the rejective resistanceist discourse – drew back in favor of the mobilizing, confessional and self-defensive discourse (the ideological and the resistance discourses stemming originally from the previous stage are both offensive discourses derived from the Iranian political Islam outline). The retreating defensive character was reflected by two indicators: the first being Hezbollah's refusal to enroll any nonpartisan candidate on its lists (as opposed to Amal’s lists enrolling some relatively independent figures). While Hassan Nasrallah himself reflected the second indicator by reducing his virtual and contained discourse to a sectarian incitement rhetoric, as if being mobilized and mobilizing at the same time within an electoral campaign!  

In opposition to Hezbollah’s “upheavals” (from blatant sectarian incitement, to popular mobs attacking some polling stations in the last 15 minutes to ensure the success of some candidates – Jamil el Sayyed for instance- to the “Sunni Beirut” invasion by provocative parades following the elections), Nabih Berry for his part, sought to present himself as "moderate and reasonable" par excellence... It should be noted here that this electoral confrontation reiterated Hezbollah’s vital need to be allied with Nabih Berry, to cater for an Iranian-controlled Shia apparatus with a "Lebanese feature". 

Obviously, this "mutual need" between the two poles of the tandem stipulates obvious conditions and limitations. Providing, on the one hand, Hezbollah with a defensive line that is missing in its strict Iranian commitment. While offering, on the other hand, to Berry a margin of dissimilarity allowing him to challenge Hezbollah's first ally, Michel Aoun; as it allows him to keep some open channels with Hezbollah’s two main rivals, Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.

• Assuming that the Shiite tandem has succeeded once more in monopolizing the Shiite parliamentary representation, to implement its upfront and declared mobilizing electoral rhetoric, i.e. "safeguarding illegal arms by a parliamentary legitimacy," therefore, its political discourse and practical behavior fell to the level of sectarian and defensive incitement. The discourse and performance of the other sectarian forces were no better; they followed in Hezbollah's footsteps, making it "the great wizard who taught them magic!"

• A final and key remark on the Shiite electoral campaign is that the "Proportional Law," which was presented to the Lebanese as hindering the “major powers” and allowing independent breakthroughs, was in fact implemented according to the “majority practice" favoring the major powers in the Shiite electoral areas, namely in the south and Bekaa. This was by preventing any of the tandem’s opponents from acquiring a qualifying "electoral coefficient", thus achieving any breakthrough not even with one seat, as it as observed. This was not only due to the tandem’s hegemony, coupled with its means of pressure and influence on public opinion (especially services and electoral money, in addition to media outlets and security sway), but also the fragmentation of the Shiite opposition, entering the arena with "individual" efforts, ambitions, perceptions and possibilities. 

In this regard, observers noted the failure of these Shiite dissidents to form substantial alliances and balances; first among themselves, then with others. Observers also noted the significant role of some Lebanese leftist parties in scattering the Shiite opposition forces. In general, one can assert that Hezbollah, while thwarting the advantages of the proportional Law in its Shiite milieu, was able to benefit from these advantages in other sectarian milieus, albeit indirectly. (It is not accurate to assess any opposition to the Future Movement or to the Jumblatt camp - for instance - as being a Hezbollah partisan... Else, we would be using Hezbollah's own standard).


2. The Campaign’s Facts and Indicators in the Christian milieu


• Visible progress was perceived in the Christian cluster towards the idea of a "tandem" joining the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Force;, while the Lebanese Phalange Party maintained a slight margin of ‘independence’, along with the Marada, clearly opposed to this tandem. Obviously, the emergence of this partisan tandem, with a clear monopolistic inclination, overshadowed some independent Christian figures, even some key traditional ones, while other traditional figures exerted great efforts to remain steadfast (i.e. the failures of Boutros Harb in Batroun, Fares Said in Jbeil-Keserwan, Miriam Skaff and Fattoush in Zahle; while Michel Murr stood still in Metn).

• In fact, the development of the Christian duopoly stems from the recent electoral results secured by the Lebanese Forces (LF): (16) parliamentary seats, compared to (8) seats in the previous Parliament. In parallel, the Aounist movement maintained a bloc of 24 MPs. 

Assessing the progress made by the LF, one could say that it is the combination of four factors:

- Benefiting from the "proportional Law" in the Christian milieu, which, against all odds, is still "pluralistic;

- Addressing an independent Christian make-up, based on its 14 March past, without being forced in the previous stage to strike any "notorious non-sovereign partnerships" (unlike the Aounist movement);

- Building calculated electoral alliances, based on a “case-by-case” pattern, to secure the largest number of seats. Despite the assertion that these alliances were established according to a sovereign arrangement ... They have obviously benefited from quasi-firm agreements with the Future and the PSP (Progressive Socialist), where the Sunni and Druze votes enjoy a conclusive electoral clout;

- Manipulating a key additional factor: the LF relied on an implicit psychological insinuation within the Christian community: The mobilizing LF rhetoric resolutely implied that "the Christian party was ready - when necessary - to use force, in facing the other armed sectarian groups, namely Hezbollah".

• Both the "Christian tandem" and the "Shiite tandem" share the same discourse addressed to their respective publics: "We are the undisputable guarantee safeguarding the sectarian identity and upholding rights." The two partners also share the fact that they are "brothers-enemies" (with regard to the past history of clashing between the two poles of each camp – we should recall the "War of Eradication" in the Christian milieu and the "the Kharoub district War" in the Shiite milieu. Both memories are still fuming within!). 

Yet the difference between them is vital: while the Shiite tandem is ruled by an Iranian decision and regional calculations, the Christian tandem “has no reference”, be it regional or international, relying exclusively on local calculations. Hence, the Christian duopoly in its current state is "an uncompleted tandem project” and is actually prone to various mutations. While the internal faceoff within the two Shiite actors remained firmly contained in the recent elections, preserving a margin of maneuver for each side; the calculated and competing differences within the Christian duopoly emerged in public throughout the electoral process; at times, it was almost a "divorce".

• It remains to be said that if the results of the recent elections have – completely - deterred the independents within the Shiite community, they have also struck a severe blow against the Christian community, with the aforementioned difference, concerning the "swinging" nature of the Christian condition at this stage. Moreover, the notion of "pluralism" is more deep-rooted in this milieu.


3. The Campaign’s facts and indicators in the Sunni milieu


• One can say that these elections witnessed a dramatic shift in the electoral and political discourse of the Future Movement. The cross-communitarian and cross-regional rationale, endorsed in the 2005 and 2009 elections, namely when the martyred Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was in office, gave way to a bigoted, rather sectarian rhetoric; defensive and aggressive, identical to Hezbollah's rhetoric in the opposite camp. 

This mutation is quite understandable in light of the extraordinary blockade inflicted to Saad Hariri before and after the recent "compromise" that threatened seriously his leadership. In such a case, the Lebanese leaders, if not all, resort to a well-known defensive process: reducing the sect to their party and reducing of the party to their leadership. The issue becomes existential and fateful par excellence! 

One could say that this dramatic mutation in the rationale - including that of Saad Hariri himself - clearly indicates a severe mutation in the overall Lebanese political condition, shifting from a major-options-conflict, especially with and prior to the 2005 Independence Intifada, to a sectarian-political entities struggle "to survive"!... The conflict as no more that of “Options for Lebanon", it became merely about the survival of the sects’ prevailing leaders... Hezbollah was no exception.

• Traditionally, "Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama'a", the Sunnis, in Lebanon never considered themselves as being a "sect", like other major Lebanese sects. At this juncture, they turn out to be one of the 18 communities, regardless of their  “number and extension".

• While noting this preliminary “ostentatious” observation, one cannot disregard the fact that the self-defense process used by the Sunni leadership in these elections has achieved its purpose, qualitatively similar to both Shiite and Christian communities’ achievements in their respective milieu, although on a different quantitative scale. The Sunni leadership reins are still held by Saad Hariri, despite his failure in eliminating some of his opponents, due to the absence of a " prevailing power" in this milieu, like in the Shiite and Druze milieus for instance. The Election Law itself allows for some so-called "breakthroughs" in this milieu, unlike what we saw in the Shiite campaign.

• If we concede that the success of the Hariri leadership traditional opponents in the Sunni milieu (Miqati, Karami, etc.) indicates that there is no prevailing power, the failure of the opposition within the Future Movement (Ashraf Rifi, for example) reflects the most prominent indicator of the situation.

• One of the main indicators in the Sunni environment during these elections is the absence of any dogmatic or ideological extremism in this confrontation, indicating that "moderation" remains the dominant position in this milieu.


4. The Campaign’s Facts and Indicators in the Druze milieu


• The results did not differ from the usual and expected in this milieu, especially with regard to the consistency of Jumblatt’s leadership, encompassing all the self-selected margins of this leadership and made available for itself by itself, including the margins of maneuvers and insinuations, within the limits allowed by the impressive sectarian self-retreat after 2008. 

• Two events could be perceived as clear indicators of this consistency, comparable to a standstill: the extremely smooth transition of leadership (during the confrontation) to Timor Jumblatt, and the fact that Walid Jumblatt was not compelled to rely on any sectarian strife, since he was committed to any serious confrontation with the "sectarian outside."

• This renewed situation - not a new one - enables him to resume his favorite game of being the "tipping point", when the moment is right, otherwise he would sit still watching.


5. In the milieu of the so-called "civil society".


• This "undisclosed" and “undefined” community, neither on the practical nor on the procedural levels, proved to be marginal in all regions;

• Although reluctant to adopt any political stance, except the slogan "All of Them means All of Them", seemingly drifting in the whirlpool of sectarian and partisan polarization;

• This milieu might be able to emerge in the upcoming stage, provided that it succeeded in "defining itself". The defined, the definer and the inspector are ultimately the "civil society" with all its sensitivities, including the "civil sensitivity"…


II. Preliminary Abstracts


• The main conclusion of this electoral campaign is that Lebanon's political life has fallen below the national threshold. In other words, the performances, interests and priorities of the major participating political forces are liable to form a preamble or a transition from the notion of “common living” to that of “sectarian coexistence”. 

• The self-retreat of the major political powers, drawing back to their sectarian and partisan interests leaves Lebanon wide-open in the face of the regional conflict, unable to participate in its self-determination, due to the lack of any national consensus (the focus is only on consensus within each sect). Thus, the pacification and conciliation that some suggest seems the best available option - should the conflicting powers put an end to their inter-communal fights after the elections; knowing that it is not a real option (rather a second best).

• Based on the above, the main loser in these elections is the Lebanese “common living” notion," with all its ramifications, which are becoming mere lip service paid by false pretenders... On another note, the political-sectarian powers that fought the  "to be or not to be" campaign came out all winners, according to their own perceptions and priorities, but not according to national priorities.

• Our assessment is that any rescue effort in the right direction must observe three basic references: Firstly, the Taif Agreement linked to the Lebanese Constitution; Secondly the Arab and international resolutions upholding the sovereignty of the Lebanese state; and thirdly, the regional peace process. Outside this framework, there will only be more of the same…