What are the main lessons of the results of these elections? Do they announce an important change in the country? Before attempting to answer these questions, it is necessary to come back to a few characteristics to better understand the political specificities of Lebanon.
The weight of sectarianism and clanism
Covering an area of 10 km2, less than that of the Île-de-France region, Lebanon has been an independent republic since 1943. Framed by 376 km of land borders with Syria on its north and east facades, as well as 79 km with Israel to the south, the territory Lebanese has continually seen its destiny depend on its two neighbors and other foreign powers.
The political system of Lebanon, where seventeen religious communities coexist, is faith-based, in accordance with the precepts of the National Pact. This unwritten agreement dating from 1943 indicates that the President of the Republic must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Head of Parliament a Shia Muslim.
This pact was extended in 1989 with thetaif agreement. Marking the end of the civil war, this obliges the Parliament to be composed half of Christian deputies, and for the other half of Muslim deputies. Legislative elections then take place every four years in the form of quotas allocated proportionally to each of the communities of the two denominations, according to a precise electoral law.
Thirty years after the end of the Civil War, the traditional political parties are still led by people who participated in this conflict, or who are part of their families. This clan-based sharing of power makes any significant political change difficult and greatly increases any kind of corruption in the country. Thus, the last legislative elections before those which have just taken place were organized in 2018; they should have been held in 2013 but had been postponed for five years in a row.
The stakes of the legislative elections of May 15, 2022
Since they are the first since the start of the protest movement in October 2019, these elections were eagerly awaited in the country. Faced with the expectations aroused by this movement, the main stakes of the ballot boiled down to the next five main questions :
- Will the turnout be higher than in previous legislative elections?
- What will be the weight of the forces from the protest movement initiated in October 2019 in the new Parliament?
- Will a political alliance obtain an absolute majority?
- Will the balance of power be upset inside the Christian camp?
- How will the Sunni camp structure itself after the call for a boycott launched by its main party, the Courant du Futur?
- Will all the Shiite deputies come from Hezbollah and its allies?
Across the campagne électorale started at the beginning of April, the traditional parties, which until then constituted the overwhelming majority of deputies, all confessions combined, wanted to consolidate their legitimacy. Faced with these traditional parties, the candidates from the protest failed to move forward united, multiplying the number of competing lists.
🇱🇧 | Parliamentary elections are taking place today in Lebanon.
Prime Minister and President Najib Mikati and Michel Aoun have already gone to the polls. pic.twitter.com/IViatxYCif
— Arab Intelligence – المخابرات العربية (@Arab_Intel) May 15, 2022
No major alliance has obtained an absolute majority
The mere holding of these elections can be seen in itself as a success, as their postponement was envisaged. However, even if the conduct of the vote was generally welcomed by the observers, the elections were marred by tensions, fraud or irregularities as explained by the preliminary report of the EU mission and declaration of the electoral mission of La Francophonie.
In view of the official results, several important observations can be made. Firstly, with a rate of 49%, the turnout is equal to that of the last elections in 2018. This constitutes a rate that is both satisfactory in view of the call for a boycott by the Courant du Futur, and disappointing given the importance of these elections.
Another highly anticipated figure, the number of deputies resulting from the protest amounts to 13 out of 128 deputies in total, an honorable result given the internal divisions in the movement. This group of deputies, being part of the October 17 movement, will undoubtedly have to play a leading role in this new legislature.
The final results of the legislative elections in #Lebanon. #Hezbollah and #PLC of Michel Aoun no longer have the majority. The dispute enters the #Parliament. Chart @LOrientLeJour pic.twitter.com/By06fxizZC
— Zeina Antonios (@zeinaantonios) May 17, 2022
Indeed, no political alliance could obtain an absolute majority. While the coalition led by the Shiite Hezbollah party and the Christian Free Patriotic Current (CPL) had previously won a majority with 71 seats, it only won 58 – when 65 are required to obtain a majority. There is therefore no doubt that this alliance is the big loser in these elections.
However, the other major alliance, led by the Christian Lebanese Forces party and the progressive socialist Druze party, also failed to win a majority, winning only 41 seats.
The 29 remaining seats are therefore shared between the independent deputies, who number 16, and the 13 deputies from the protest. It will therefore be these deputies who will be able to tip the majority in favor of one alliance or another.
The regression of the alliance which was in power can be explained in particular by the failure of the Free Patriotic Movement (CPL), whose number of elected members fell from 24 to 17. It was preceded, with the Christian electorate, by the Lebanese Forces party, whose number of seats increased from 15 to 19. The latter stands out like the winner of these elections, becoming the Christian party with the most seats in Parliament.
Regarding the Muslim faith, Sunni forces find themselves more divided than ever, without leadership. The boycott decided by the Courant du Futur and its leader Saad Hariri ultimately did not allow the emergence of a new political leader who would have filled this void. The main consequence of this is to further marginalize Sunni representation in decision-making. Finally, even if almost all the seats allocated to the Shiites were won by Hezbollah and the Amal party, another allied Shiite party, it should be noted that two independent Shiite candidates managed to be elected. Even if this is a first for thirty years, these two parties will continue to represent this faith community in an undeniable way.
Future prospects for Lebanon
For Lebanon, the more difficult is yet to come. The current situation in the country requires the urgent implementation of reforms in order to unlock a major financial assistance from the IMF and the international community. It is above all a question of gradually bringing Lebanon out of its multiple current crises, of an economic, social and political order, and of preventing it from worsening them.
A new government representative of the electoral results must be formed quickly. The maintenance of the current Prime Minister Najib mikati is the most preferred option knowing that the appointment of a new prime minister and the formation of a government could take several months, as has been the cases in recent years.
As for the presidency of the republic, the mandate of Michel Aun ending in October, it is necessary that the deputies elect a new president at the latest in September. Beyond this date, Lebanon will experience a presidential vacuum.
It should be noted that the country has experienced two periods of presidential vacuum in recent years: the first lasting six months between 2007 and 2008, and the second of 29 months between 2014 and 2016. The probability of a new period of presidential vacuum is unfortunately currently high.
Even if the legislative elections of May 15 brought unexpected hope, the fate of Lebanon is still essentially in the hands of the traditional parties and the major regional and international powers. Indeed, the Hezbollah-led alliance is currently under strong influence from Iran, Syria and Russia, while the Lebanese Forces-led alliance is mainly under the influence of Western powers and Saudi Arabia. In this context, the results of talks between the international community and Tehran on the Iranian nuclear on one side, as well as those on the dialogue between saudi arabia and iran on the other will undeniably have repercussions, positive or negative, on the evolution of the Lebanese political scene. The next few months will be crucial for the future of Lebanon.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Hussein Kassir
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