Lebanese Forces

Lebanon’s Divisive Presidency

Aoun Geagea Kanaan Riachi 18 January 2016

The following analysis was first published in Sada on February 2, 2016.

After surprising developments in November, Saad Hariri of the March 14 alliance’s Future Movement endorsed Sleiman Frangieh of March 8’s Marada Movement for president, bypassing March 8’s favored candidate, Michel Aoun. Hariri’s support for Frangieh—who had previously indicated he would not stand in the way of Aoun’s candidacy before he announced his bid on December 17—was meant to drive a wedge between members of the March 8 alliance, but is now backfiring on Hariri’s own March 14 alliance.

March 14 was endorsing its own candidate, Samir Geagea of the Lebanese Forces (LF). However, Hariri endorsed Frangieh, seeking to showcase him as a consensual candidate from the very heart of March 8—and attract parties from all sides to a possible deal without granting a victory to Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Initially, the strategy appeared to work: at first, March 8’s Amal Movement and the independent Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) rallied around the new bid. Meanwhile the FPM was left blindsided as Aoun suddenly appeared a less serious candidate than Frangieh, formerly a junior ally from the weakest of the four main Maronite parties. Moreover, by supporting Frangieh, the Future Movement was trying to lure Hezbollah away from Aoun. They hoped that open support for Frangieh, who has close ties with the Syrian regime, would encourage Hezbollah to switch its votes toward Frangieh and in so doing destroy the Hezbollah–FPM alliance that forms the cornerstone of the March 8 coalition.

But realizing that support for Frangieh would have shattered their ties with the FPM and discredited the party in Christian popular opinion, Hezbollah stood with Aoun. Instead, Hariri’s endorsement of a March 8 candidate drove wedges within his own March 14 alliance. The Lebanese Forces, the leading Christian party of March 14, saw Hariri’s act as a betrayal. Not only was the party humiliated when its ally endorsed a different candidate than Geagea, Frangieh’s strong backing in northern Lebanon would threaten the LF’s influence in its most important region. The LF, and Geagea himself, retaliated by endorsing Aoun—a wartime rival—keeping Geagea’s 2007 promise that if it came to it, he would “preserve his Christian credibility by breaking with Hariri” rather than support a “weak figure” for president.

While Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun is a huge moral boost for the latter’s presidential bid, it is in fact of little practical significance. The Lebanese Forces have only 8 MPs—with Frangieh abandoning support for the Aoun candidacy, Aoun loses the 3 MPs from the Marada Movement and is in the end only getting 5 more votes. As Aoun is 81 years old—and Gebran Bassil, his recently appointed political heir, has twice in a row lost parliamentary elections in his home district of Batroun to the LF’s Antoine Zahra—an alliance between the LF and FPM would make Geagea the natural presidential favorite for the next presidential elections.

Geagea’s endorsement of Aoun was also driven by concerns over the LF’s parliamentary clout. The Lebanese Forces, though the second-largest Maronite party after the FPM, commands only 8 out of 128 MPs in parliament and had limited leverage when it came to Lebanese politics. For the past ten years, they had relied on their alliance with the much larger Future Movement. So when the Future Movement abandoned the Geagea candidacy, it was clear that the alternative is to enhance their parliamentary share through a potential alliance with the FPM. While it is still too soon to know if the presidential endorsement will effectively turn into an electoral alliance, such a move could benefit both parties in the next parliamentary elections if they unite against the other Maronite lists.

The goal of Hariri’s endorsement was to bring down the March 8 alliance, but instead, the three biggest parties of the March 14 alliance are now divided. The Lebanese Forces party is supporting Aoun, the Future Movement is supporting Frangieh, and the Kataeb Party is refusing to support either of them. It is now too late for the Future Movement to endorse Geagea again, who formally dropped his candidacy when he backed Aoun’s bid, and Frangieh is refusing to withdraw from the race unless the Future Movement endorses Aoun. By contrast, the main alliance of March 8 is still holding together—at least for now. Nasrallah’s speech on January 29 reiterated Hezbollah’s support for Aoun, and the party has not lost its ties with the FPM. Though the Amal Movement’s stance is still unclear, these other two largest March 8 parties remain united.

Aoun, Geagea, and Hezbollah are now on one side of parliament, with Frangieh and Hariri on the other side. In the middle are parties like the PSP, who went back to endorsing their original candidate, Henri Helou, and the Amal Movement, which has yet to make a formal endorsement. This means that Aoun’s bid is not yet certain to gather the absolute majority in parliament. Without these 65 votes guaranteed, presidential politics go back to square one.


Four Months Of Vacuum

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969 (Image source)

Four months is nothing. It took the Lebanese parliament 13 months to elect Rene Mouawad in 1989, and 7 months to elect Michel Sleiman in 2008. Before the Salam cabinet crisis (Lebanon’s longest governmental vacancy ever, 11 months), the longest period of vacancy regarding the executive power was 7 months (Rachid Karami, 1969). So, proportionally speaking, the next president should be elected in the matter of 13*11 /7 = 20 months (16 months from now). That’s January 2016. Cool, no?

The presidential elections are old news

No one cares about the Lebanese presidential elections anymore. It’s not a priority. ِAs it turns out, the Lebanese parliament is perfectly comfortable at legislating and the government is even more comfortable at ruling now that there is no president in power. A change or a vacancy in the presidency isn’t scary for Lebanese politicians. What’s truly scary is a change in the Lebanese parliament. Change the parliament, you change the status quo. So if you think that a president is going to be elected before  they strike a deal regarding the parliamentary elections (and the electoral law), don’t. The vacancy in the presidency is yet another alibi to use in case the parliament wants to extend its mandate (other than the 1960 law alibi that was used in 2013). It’s also a valuable negotiation card to use when things go bad for one of the two coalitions.

The Lebanese Forces en force (It’s payback time)

Rewind to February 2014. The only party that was left out of the Salam cabinet was Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. True, it was their decision to stay out of the executive power, but the FM acted like they couldn’t care less at the time, which gave Michel Aoun a nice advantage two months before Sleiman left office.

The Lebanese forces have 8 MPs in the parliament (That’s more than what Jumblatt used to have in 2012). That number is relatively low and means nothing, unless you use it – à la Jumblatt – to manipulate both coalitions in order to serve the party’s interests. The Future Movement needs an extension of the parliament’s term now more than ever. The Lebanese Forces, on the other hand, have nothing to lose if they participate in the elections. Out of the 8 seats, 3 are from Zahle (friendly Sunni electorate), 2 are from Bsharri (Geagea’s hometown and the LF’s e stronghold), 1 is from the Shouf (friendly druze and Sunni electorates), 1 is from Koura (friendly Sunni electorate, although relatively less influential than in the other cases) and the last MP is from Batroun. So in the worst case scenario, under the 1960 electoral law, Geagea loses 2 seats out of the 8 (And he’s not even using the 8). Best case scenario: Geagea goes to elections, asks for more “sovereignty” from the Future Movement regarding the Christian seats in the constituencies where the Sunni electorate is present – almost 1/3 of the FM bloc are Christian MPs – and tries to control the Metn and Keserwan seats by defeating Aoun there. Although his chances are slim, it does seems tempting to defeat the main presidential contender (Aoun) in the middle of a presidential vacancy, no?

A possible deal

Here’s the situation, as of this week. Hezbollah is still relatively silent about the parliamentary elections (Nasrallah spoke last tuesday, but only about ISIS – willingly ignoring the subject of parliamentary elections). However Berri and his party want elections, and the same goes for Michel Aoun and his party. Which means that we should assume that their common ally, Hezbollah, is likely to go to elections should both of them head to polls. To sum things up here, M8 has around 58 MPs who are in favor of the elections and are likely to vote against extension. The centrists (Jumblatt & co)  are likely to vote against elections.  In M14, the FM and its proxies are against the parliamentary elections, and the Kataeb seem to have a similar opinion. The FM have even threatened to boycott the elections. The only party that is going against the current here is the LF. According to the LF’s George Adwan, they are going to vote against the extension. 58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

So let’s sum things up: We’re a country that has no president, no elections, no functioning cabinet, a self-extending parliament that doesn’t meet anyway, and whose students pass without official exams.

Also, Samir Geagea might be the new Walid Jumblatt.

127 days since the 25th of May. 50 days till the 16th of November.

Waiting For The Electoral Law – March 14’s Hybrid Law: A Review

Lebanon's Electoral Map According To The March 14's Hybrid Law. The colored districts are the small winner-takes-all ones and the big ones within the white line are the big districts under proportional unlike in the picture.

Lebanon’s Electoral Map According To The March 14’s Hybrid Law. The colored districts are the small winner-takes-all districts and the big ones within the white line are the big districts under proportional representation.

The Lebanese Forces, Future Movement, and the PSP agreed on a hybrid electoral law last week. The law is very similar to the electoral law the Lebanese Forces proposed in February (Here’s the analysis on that law), with some exceptions. I’m going to use the same arguments I used when I reviewed the previous law, but comment on the new changes. Unlike the previous law that had an unclear criteria here, I didn’t find any criteria at all for this law

Here’s the number of voters by sects, in case you’re interested:

Number of voters (and percentage) in each district according to their religion.

Also, here’s a table for the seat allocations:

Table of seats according to March 14's hybrid law

Table of seats according to March 14’s hybrid law (High Res)

In a nutshell, the law separates Lebanon into two types of constituencies: 26 small districts (Allocated 68 seats), that are in most cases cazas, under a winner-takes-all system and 6 big districts (Allocated 60 seats), that are in most cases the mohafazas, under a PR system. The main aim of the law is to get the biggest number of Christian-elected MPs to the parliament. The electoral constituencies are in most cases the administrative districts (Cazas, Governorates) of Lebanon. However, there are some few weird things: West Bekaa-Rashaya or Baalbek-Hermel aren’t separated. Also, on a bigger level, the Mohafaza of Mount-Lebanon is split to two districts: A northern bigger one and a southern smaller one (Aley-Chouf).

From Unclear Criteria To No Criteria At All (Or How It Keeps Getting Worse)

My criticism on the old law proposal:

The previous law proposal of the Lebanese forces allocated the seats on the basis of a certain criteria that you can see here. However, a big number of the districts don’t obey to any of the criteria. For example, in Jezzine the Greek Catholics aren’t considered to be a minor sect in the district so the seat stays in the caza and doesn’t shift to the governorate. That’s only one example, and there’s a lot more. Apparently the Christian seats are taken as one block and the minor Christian sects’ seats within a Christian district with a Maronite majority don’t go to the Mohafazas and stay in the caza. The lawmakers need to clarify a few things. Also, there are other districts where the criteria is missing something or doesn’t match the district’s seat repartition. For example, why is it that the Protestant seat gets transferred from Beirut I to the Governorate and not the Armenian Catholic one?

My new criticism: There seems to be no criteria at all in the allocation of seats. There are several small changes in a lot of districts (The Chouf gets 4 MPs instead of 3 in the old hybrid LF proposal. Baalbak gets 4 instead of 5. Tripoli gets for instead of 3, just as examples). Also, the law is clearly in favor of the March 14 parties, while giving the Christians a bigger influence than the 1960 law.

Unequal Voting (same criticism than before)

Among other things that makes this draft law odd is the disproportion of seats within the majoritarian system. For example, Akkar, where 120608 voted in 2009, has 3 seats, while Bcharre that had 17183 voters in 2009 has 2 seats. Bcharre voters are 4.55% of the North’s voters, while Akkar voters are 31.96% of the North voters. That means that on the Mohafaza scale, the Akkaris get to choose 31.96% of 11 MPs which is 3.51 MPs. A total of 3.51+3=6.51 MPs for the people of Akkar, while Bcharre gets to choose 4.55% of 11 MPs which is 0.50 MPs. A total of 2+0.50=2.50 MPs for Bcharre. the number of electors in Akkar are 7.01 times more than Bcharre, which means that Akkar should have 7 times more MPs. Ironically it only has 6.51/2.50= 2.6 times more than Bcharre.

That disproportion between the districts will be present in almost all hybrid laws, because some districts get to have more influence sometimes even though they have a smaller population. And after all, that’s how the law gives more influence to Christians. When the Akkar (66% Sunni) district should be as 7 times more influential than Bcharre (100% Christian) and is instead only 2.66 times more influential, you get to understand how the Christians, 38%, will be able to elect 52 MPs (40.62%). A big number of the small districts happen to be mainly Christian and that’s how the Lebanese Forces draft law can boost the number of the Christian-elected MPs.

The Analysis (The Small Differences That Made Future Movement and the PSP Accept The Law)

If you take a look at the previous electoral law proposed by the Lebanese Forces in February, you’ll quickly spot some interesting differences with the current consensual LF-PSP-FM law:

  1. Instead of having 3 seats, Tripoli gets one additional seat. That means that the Mikati Bloc will find it harder to run on the Mohafaza now that it has lost a Sunni MP there (The “proportional representation” North district has 4 MPs now instead of 5, making it hard for Mikati to get an extra MP using the M8 votes of the Mohafaza, while the FM will get an extra MP on the caza where they can easily win all the 4 seats of Tripoli because it’s under a majoritarian system)
  2. Instead of having 5 seats, Baalbak-Hermel ends up with 4 seats (1 gets transferred to the governorate) meaning that Hezbollah will lose an extra MP that will be put in the governorate where he will be subject to the influence of all of the governorate’s voting where the Shias are 42% thus lessening the Shia influence on that extra seat.
  3. Beirut: Instead of having a Beirut I of 5 MPs and a Beirut III of 2 MPs, the number of MPs becomes 4 for Beirut I that is up to 85% Christian and 4 to Beirut III that is 28% Christian. Meaning that the Christians lose the ability to elect en extra MP in Beirut I while also losing the ability to influence the election of 2 more MPs that were transferred from Beirut III to the Mohafaza (according to the previous LF law) where the Christians are 35%. That suits the FM by minimizing the Christian influence.
  4. Also, there’s a remake of Beirut I. It loses Mdawar (the Armenian district) to Beirut II, meaning that the Armenian population, that supports M8, would not be able to help M8 win Beirut I anymore.
  5. Instead of Having 3 MPs in the Caza and 2 in the Mohafaza for Kesserwan (like the previous LF law proposal), there are now 2 in the Caza and 3 in the Governorate. The LF has lost the 2 previous elections in Kesserwan. Minimizing the number of MPs on the Caza is a smart way from them to get a better result, so that they might win that extra MP in case they get better results in Northern Mount Lebanon.
  6. And now the Best part, the Chouf and Southern Mount-Lebanon: Baabda that has no more than  18% of Druze votes gets removed from Southern Mount Lebanon and added to Northern Mount Lebanon. Also, the Chouf gets an extra MP, making them 4. That can only mean that Jumblat will be able to directly control 6 seats on the majoritarian system (4 from Chouf, 2 from Aley), but also to influence the election on the “Proportional Representation district” of Chouf-Aley (Southern Mount-Lebanon), where the Druze will form around 40%, now that it’s deprived from the Christian-Shia heavyweight of Baabda. 40% of 7 MPs is somewhere around 3 MPs for Jumblatt (that’s if he’s running alone), giving him a total of 9 MPs. Jumblatt will thus be (more or less) able to keep the same size of his bloc.
  7. Northern Mount-Lebanon: Now that Baabda joined the others, the Shia vote will be somewhere around 15%. However, 2 of the 12 seats are Shia, meaning that 16% of the seats are Shia. There will be thus an overflow from the Christian votes toward the Shia seat, and the Christian influence (including the LF) would not be diminished in the PR district.
  8. Hasbaya-Marjeyoun aren’t separated anymore, and there is only 1 MP on the Caza scale and not 2 like before. This is clealry intended to maximize the number of seats on the Mohafaza (South) scale, where M14 hs a bigger chance of getting MPs, knowing that the Shias are a majority in Marjeyoun-Hasbaya meaning that M8 will still win anything there because of the winner takes-all system. The Shia still are a majority in the South, but with proportional representation and a big number of seats, M14 will surely do better.

How Much Christian-elected seats?

  • On The winner-takes-all districts: Beirut I (4), Baabda (3), Metn (4), Kesserwan (2), Jbeil (1), Batroun (2), Bsharri (2), Koura (2), Zgharta (2), Jezzine (2), Zahle (5). A total of 29
  • On the Proportional Reresentation districts: North (4.4 = 40% of 11), Northern Mount Lebanon (8.68 = 72% of 12), Southern Mount Lebanon (2.6 = 37% of 7), Bekaa (3.36 = 28% of 12), South (1.65 = 15.6% of 11), Beirut (2.8= 35% of 8). A total of 23.49 seats

That means that the Christians, under that draft law, would elect 52.49 seats. Under the previous hybrid law draft, the Christians were able to elect 56. The Lebanese Forces had  to please their allies somehow….

So Who Wins?

I’m going to consider that the Lebanese are reluctant to change, elect the same MPs again and again and apply the results of 2009 on the new Lebanese Forces law.

  • The Cazas

M14: Koura (2), Batroun (2), Bcharri (2), Meniyeh-Donieh (2), Tripoli (4), Akkar (3), Metn (1/4), Chouf (4), Aley (2), Saida (2),, Zahle (5), West Bekaa-Rashaya (3), Beirut (4,2,4). A total of 42/68 seats in the winner-takes-all districts for M14

M8: Zgharta (2), Metn (3/4), Jbeil (1), Kesserwan (2), Baabda (3), Jezzine (2),Tyre (2), Saida Villages(1), Nabatiyeh (2), Bint Jbeil (2), Marjeyoun (1), Baalbak-Hermel (5). A total of 26/68 seats in the Winner-takes-all districts for M8.

PS: For Beirut, I considered that the agreements of Doha splitting the Beirut 2 seats equally between M14 and M8 are now history. For the Governorate of Beirut (Proportional Representation), I use the same results as 2009.

  • The Governorates

I used the results of 2009,  and made these tables:

Results according to the hybrid law (1) Results according to the hyvrid law (2)

PS: I don’t know what the minimum threshold (The minimum percentage that a list should have so that it can get one of its candidates elected) will be, so I made the assumption that it would be somewhere around 10%. That’s why you will notice the presence of independent MPs.

That means that the final outcome is 68 (26+42) MPs  for M14, 55 MPs for M8 (29+26), and 5 Independent MPs.

As you can notice, we have an independent breach, but the results are clearly in favor of M14, even  almost the same results than 2009 (70-58).  A lot of things changed since 2009 and a number of alliances will probably change, but that’s approximatively how the results might look like.

With 9 seats for Jumblatt, and a difference of 70-58, the Bey of Mukhtara will still be Lebanon’s Kingmaker. That’s exactly why the Progressive Socialist Party gave its approval to this draft law.

Gerrymandering, Again.

Waiting For The Electoral Law -The Lebanese Forces’ Hybrid Law: A Review

Lebanon's Electoral Map According To The Lebanese Forces Hybrid Law. The colored districts are the small winner-takes-all ones and the big ones within the white line are the big districts under proportional unlike in the picture.

Lebanon’s Electoral Map According To The Lebanese Forces Hybrid Law. The colored districts are the small winner-takes-all ones and the big ones within the white line are the big districts under proportional unlike in the picture.

There has been a lot of talk on a hybrid Proportional-Representation/ Winner-Takes-All electoral law in the past few weeks, and almost all the parties (PSP, Phalanges, Amal, Lebanese Forces) gave their proposals of hybrid laws in the electoral committees. The different hybrid draft laws are very similar to each other and mostly differ in the percentage of MPs elected by proportional representation (30%, 40%, 50%) but less in the constituencies’ boundaries (Small districts for the winner-takes-all seats and big ones for the PR seats). I’m going to review the draft law proposed from the Lebanese Forces. You can see the criteria of the law here.

Here’s the allocation of seats according to the law and the number of voters by sects:

Number of voters (and percentage) in each district according to their religion.

Allocations Of Seats According To The Lebanese Forces Hybrid Draft Law, Christian-Elected MPs Are In Red

Allocations Of Seats According To The Lebanese Forces Hybrid Draft Law, Christian-Elected MPs Are In Red. Click to enlarge. Taken from the Lebanese Forces website

In a nutshell, the law separates Lebanon into two types of constituencies: 27 small (more…)

Waiting for the Electoral Law- March 14’s Proposal Or the 50 Districts Law

Lebanon’s Approximate Electoral Map According to 14 March Alliance’s proposal (The fifty districts)
PS: The District borders might be inaccurate (Especially in the North (Akkar) and Bekaa (Baalback))

You can check the draft law here

The Lebanese Forces, Phalangist Party and other Christian Opposition Parties proposed in the past few days an electoral Law dividing Lebanon to 50 separate electoral constituencies. The law has two important features: The high number of electoral districts (And thus the smaller sizes of the districts), and the winner-takes all system (Or majoritarian representation). I found it very similar to the 1960 law, except for the shape and number of constituencies. The constituencies aren’t exclusively administrative ones (more…)

The Aftermath Of Koura’s By-Elections

Fadi Karam

The results are out since yesterday. Fadi Karam, the LF candidate, won. The LF kept the seat in a caza under 14M’s control for 8 years now. But when I wrote a post a couple of days earlier about the subject, I missed something very important.

 What does it really mean that the LF is facing the SSNP in Koura? Everyone would be surprised if the Shias of Nabatiyeh will have the choice to vote between the FM and the Baath. That’s exactly (more…)

The Importance Of Koura’s By-Elections

One year before the 2013 General Elections, comes a by-election that might give an estimation of what will happen in the upcoming electoral fiesta. What the next days will bring is more than just a simple ballot casting.

  • The Perfect Timing Only one year before the 2013 General Elections, comes a by-election on a silver plate. A perfect prova in the perfect time. Marwan Charbel has the chance to try his skills on a small-scale before the 2013 deadline. If he’s capable to control the electoral battle now, he’s likely to do so next year. If incidents break, he will have to review his plans. On Sunday the fifteenth of June, the Interior (more…)