Lebanon has experienced many wars, both civil and international. After the war against Israel, major hostilities seemed to have declined. However, a political crisis erupted between rival Lebanese factions, mainly over the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. This Tribunal investigated the assassination of Rafic Hariri, former prime minister of the country. The Doha Agreement finally ended the political crisis in 2008, in which a consensus was found among all parties to nominate Michel Sleiman as President. It paved the way towards new parliamentary elections. A new electoral law was drafted changing the voting system for the parliamentary polls in 2009. Yet the government formed by the 2009 elections was overthrown in 2011. Fortunately, a new political crisis was avoided, as a new government and prime minister took already office half a year later. Nevertheless, three primary issues are still causing frictions between parties: a pro-or anti-Syrian stance, the cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah.
Electoral and legal system
Lebanon is a Republic. The National Assembly indirectly elects the head of state, the president. Initially (since the constitution of 1926), the president was elected for a six years term. However in 2004, the National Assembly of Lebanon voted in favour of an amendment which allowed President Lahoud to stay in office for three more years. The president, upon a binding consultation with the National Assembly, appoints the prime minister. The prime minister chooses the cabinet, after consultation of the president and the National Assembly. The unicameral National Assembly of Lebanon is elected for a four years period. The 128 seats in the National Assembly are equally divided among Muslims and Christians. Each of the eleven confessional subgroups occupies a fixed number of seats in the National Assembly.
Due to this unusual division of seats in the National Assembly, the role of political parties in Lebanese politics is different from the role of political parties in normal parliamentary democracies. Many of the political parties are lists of candidates, supported by an important local figure. Political coalitions are therefore only formed because of electoral reasons, and easily fall apart once the seats in parliament are secured. This form of parliamentary politics sustains a form of politics, based on satisfying instantly the grassroots support, rather than it supports politics based on ideology and long-term objectives.
Analysts say that Lebanese politics is both complicated and confusing. The combination of the fixed division of seats among the various religious groups, together with the many local candidates of different religions, makes it hard to get a clear view of the relative strength of political parties in the National Assembly.
The National Assembly is elected by a system of multi-member constituencies with each voter having one vote. The party winning most votes takes all the seats in the district, and its entire list of candidates is duly elected. Because of practical and safety reasons, the elections are held in four terms, which means that the National Assembly is elected in six different constituencies, on four different moments. Lebanon has no legal electoral threshold and no compulsory voting. Lebanon has universal suffrage for all men, with a minimum age of 21. Women should have an elementary education and the minimum age of 21 on order to be authorized to vote. Remarkably, voters do not vote according to their place of residence, but according to their “civil record”, usually the residence of their forefathers.
Another remarkable topic in Lebanese politics is the fact that there is a division of the most important positions among the three big religious groups in the Lebanese society. This means that the president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the National Assembly is always a Shi’a Muslim. This close connection of politics and religion is one of the bottlenecks for Lebanese politics.
Presidential elections 2008
On 25 May 2008 a new President was elected in Lebanon after the vote was postponed since November 2007. While the term of President Lahoud expired that same day, the Lebanese MPs failed to convene to elect a new president. The reason was the political dispute between the anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian factions. Under the constitution Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and the cabinet were to assume temporary powers until a new President was elected. A compromise deal named the ‘Doha Agreement’ was finally reached on 21 May 2008. It dealt with issues such as a unity government, Hezbollah and a new electoral law. Giving Hezbollah more influence within the government while at the same addressing the issue of its weapons arsenal has been praised by all fractions in Lebanon. The United States called the agreement a ‘welcome development’. The agreement was necessary as these issues had to be addressed before electing a new president. Disagreements before the Doha Agreement made it impossible to elect a new president. So, the agreement paved the way to Michel Sleiman's election on 25 May 2008, who is the current president of Lebanon. The situation in the country has been relatively stable since then.
Consequently, in December 2006 a series of demonstrations by the opposition parties started. The opposition group was made up of pro-Syrian, Iranian-backed Hezbollah and the Amal movement, and the anti-Syrian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). This group was seeking to create a national unity government, in which it demanded more than one third of the cabinet seats. This would give them veto power, as well as the ability to collapse the government. The government refused this. The opposition was also seeking to hold early parliamentary elections. On 8 April 2007, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the opposition, declared the situation deadlocked. However, he expressed an unwillingness to let the protests escalate into a civil war. Opinion polls suggested that the majority of Lebanese would look favourably at a consensual candidate. The Lebanese Air Force Chief Commander Michel Sleiman, the Governor of the Central Bank Riad Salame and the former Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Obeid were credited as possible "consensual" candidates. Sleiman turned out to be the eventual consensus candidate, but his election required constitutional amendments allowing military commanders to move directly into presidential office.
The vote was expected to be tense, especially since the end of 2006 and in 2007 there has been an increase in violence. In November 2006 leading Christian politician and government minister Pierre Gemayel was shot dead and in June 2007 anti-Syrian parliamentarian Walid Eido was killed in a bomb attack in Beirut. On 19 September 2007 Antoine Ghanem, a prominent parliamentarian, and at least six others were also killed in a car bomb attack in Beirut. No group has claimed responsibility for the series of attacks. On 14 March leaders, who blame the Syrian government for the assassination of Ghanem, vowed to hold the presidential election as scheduled and to possibly elect a March 14 candidate as president even by simple majority after the second round. The violence became worse in the beginning of May 2008, when street battles between armed supporters of the factions left at least 65 people dead. The clashes were triggered by government attempts to outlaw Hezbollah's private telephone network and reassign Beirut airport's security chief, who is close to the opposition.
Parliamentary elections 2009
On 7 June parliamentary elections were held in Lebanon. Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's “March 14 coalition” claimed victory hours after the polls closed on polling day. Official results of the election were announced on 8 June. The pro-Western “March 14 coalition” won 71 seats and the Hezbollah dominated “March 8 alliance” won 57 seats. Independent candidates did not win any seats. This result almost replicates the situation that existed in the outgoing parliament, in which the pro-Western bloc had 70 seats and an alliance of Hezbollah and other Shiite and Christian factions had 58. The turnout of 52.3%, was high compared to the turnout of 45.8% in the elections of 2005. About 50.000 troops were on the streets, but the run-up to the balloting had been free of violence. The vote was seen as a proxy battle between the influence of the West and its Arab allies on one side, and Iran and Syria on the other.
March 14 alliance
March 8 alliance
Reform and change Block - Aounist Bloc
Liberation and Development Bloc
Democratic Movement Bloc
Resistance Bloc (Hezbollah)
Lebanse Forces Bloc
Kataeb Party - Phalangist Bloc
Syrian Social Nationalist Party
Lebanese Democratic Party
Islamic Action Bloc
National Liberal Party
Jamaa Islamiya Bloc
Saad Hariri urged supporters to celebrate without provoking opponents. Hezbollah admitted it had lost the election and accepted the results.
The election was crucial in determining whether the Arab nation, scarred by war and political instability, would choose the coalition led by Hariri (and supported by the West) or an alliance backed by the militant group Hezbollah. The election was also an early test of President Barack Obama's efforts to forge Middle East peace. The United States signaled concerns over a possible win by Hezbollah months before the election. A win by Hezbollah would have boosted the influence of its backers Iran and Syria and risked pushing one of the region's most volatile nations into international isolation and possibly into deeper conflict with Israel. The prevalent expectations were that Hezbollah and its allies would win. These assessments were backed by opinion polls, which predicted a slim majority for the March 8 camp. Moreover, it seemed that the victory of these factions was a natural development given the spirit of the times: the weakening of the status of the United States and its Arab allies, compared with the strengthened influence of Iran and its allies – Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Still, the elections resulted in a victory for the pro-Western camp. How can this be understood?
It seems several factors are behind Hezbollah’s weaker showing according to Middle-East security analyst Amir Kulick. One of the main sources for the surprise lies in the assessment that the success of the March 14 camp in the previous elections incorrectly reflected the true balance of power in the Lebanese political system, as they were held shortly after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005 and the ensuing public outrage at Syria’s allies in Lebanon – Hezbollah and the March 8 camp. It was suggested that the balance of power between the vying blocs was actually even, perhaps slightly favoring the March 8 camp, and the 2009 elections were supposed to restore the political order to its correct alignment. A second factor may lie in the Lebanese system itself. At the center of this explanation stands Michel Aoun’s failure to enlarge his power base in the Christian sector. Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, was the surprise of the previous elections. Different estimates, especially those within his own close circle, maintained that in the current elections his power would grow significantly because most of the Christian sector stood behind him. The changes in the voting districts made under Hezbollah pressure in the Doha Agreement of May 2008 were supposed to help Aoun attain this goal. In practice, Aoun failed to garner additional support, and his party even lost one mandate. In this sense, the gap between the expectations of the Free Patriotic Movement with Aoun at its head and the actual results is significant. A third factor behind Hezbollah’s poor showing – at least compared to expectations – was its inability to reach beyond the borders of the Shiite community and become a national political establishment acceptable to large segments of the Lebanese public. It seems that the May 2008 violence significantly damaged the organisation’s national image and demonstrated to the Lebanese public – the Sunnis and the Christians – that the Weapon of Resistance is no less dangerous to the Lebanese than to Israel.
The election has been called generally fair and free by international observers. "While not without flaws, Lebanon's June 7 election was fundamentally peaceful and well administered and should provide the basis for confidence in the electoral process and by extension, the formation of a new government" former US Senator John Sununu said, presenting the preliminary findings of the National Democratic Institute's observation mission.
Javier Solana, EU's foreign and security policy chief at that time, said the elections in Lebanon were an important step in the democratic evolution of the Middle East. US President Barack Obama congratulated the Lebanese people for a peaceful national election held with courage and a commitment to democracy. Arch-enemy Israel appeared relieved by the March 14 victory but said it would hold Beirut accountable for any attacks on its territory launched from Lebanon.
The smooth formation of a new government could be seen as an important test of March 14's political strength and more importantly it could contribute to the stability of the country. Saad Hariri, the son of killed Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and leader of the March 14 coalition, even involved the Hezbollah-led opposition in the cabinet, resulting in a unity government of March-14 and March-8 ministers
New government formation 2011
On 12 January 2011, all of the March 8 Alliance ministers in the government resigned from the coalition formed by Saad Hariri in November 2009. The March 8 Alliance, consisting of Hezbollah and its allies, said they disagreed about the commitment to the Special Tribunal of Lebanon, that investigated the murder on former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah members were expected to be indicted in the case. The Lebanese however have been told by Hezbollah that the UN Tribunal was allied to Israel.
Directly after the resignation, President Sleiman appointed Najib Mikati as new prime minister. He won the support of a majority of the members of the parliament and was asked to form a new government. The March 14 Alliance opted out of talks from the beginning due to disagreements about the disarmament of Hezbollah and the cooperation with the Special Tribunal of Lebanon. After five months of laborious negotiations with the remaining parties, a new 30-member cabinet dominated by Hezbollah and its allies took office on 13 June 2011.
The main obstacles for the arduous negotiations were firstly whether the March 8 would have to cooperate with March 14 like before, or with centrist parties. Secondly, whether the members of the Cabinet should increase from 24 to 30. Thirdly, whether the Cabinet should comprise politicians, technocrats or a mix. Fourthly, how the portfolios had to be distributed. And lastly, whether the government should cooperate with the UN Tribunal. After the formation of the new government, Mikati explained that the new government would cooperate with the Tribunal, as long as it wouldn’t destabilize the country.
18 persons are representing Hezbollah and its allies, 12 politicians are appointed by Prime Minister Mikati, President Sleiman and Jumblatt. The portfolios are redistributed through proportional representation. For this reason, Hezbollah only has 2 ministers working in the Cabinet, whereas the Free Patriotic Movement is represented by 7 ministers. Women make up 3,1% of the seats in the national parliament, which corresponds to 4 seats.
The new government now has a majority in the parliament. 68 of the 128 seats are possessed by the March 8 Alliance, whereas all parties of March 14 Alliance are in the opposition. After the collapse of the government, the cornerstone of the March 14 Alliance, the Progressive Socialist Party, shifted towards the March 8 Alliance giving the latter a majority in the parliament. The main parties in the new government are currently the Resistance Bloc (Hezbollah and Amal), the Reform and Change Bloc or Aoun movement (including the Free Patriotic Movement), the Progressive Socialist Party (Walid Jumblatt), the Marada movement, the Lebanese Democratic Party, the Armenian Revolutionairy Federation (Tashnag), the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the Glory Movement, Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party and the Solidarity Party.
The March 14 alliance called the March 8 alliance ‘Hezbollah-government’ and ‘pro-Syrian’. “The country is now being held hostage by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah”, a leader of one of the March 14 parties said. Prime Minister Mikati says he is moderate and tries to unite Lebanon, by giving voices to all persuasions. He assured “it is a government for all Lebanese, no matter what party they support, be it the majority or the opposition”.
Recent political developments
On 22 March 2013 Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned after his divided cabinet was unable to agree on a new election law and the parliament’s refusal to extend the tenure of the country’s police chief. The opposition blocked the creation of a body to supervise parliamentary elections. He received the backing of the majority of the political parties, including Hezbollah, to form a new government. Tamam Salam is an independent member of the Lebanese parliament and is regarded as being moderate. In May 2013 the parliament voted to put off elections until November 2014 because of security concerns.
Furthermore, the continuing conflict in neighbouring Syria increased political tensions in Lebanon, by splitting the country into two opposing blocs: the Shia movement Hezbollah and its supporters backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while many Sunni Muslims sympathise with the rebel fighters who are trying to oust him. The conflict also has forced some 400,000 Syrians to seek refuge in Lebanon, putting an extensive pressure on the country to cope with the influx. On 6 April, after a two-week power vacuum, Sunni politician Tamam Saeb Salam was nominated to become Lebanon’s next prime minister.
Progressive Socialist Party
Leader: Walid Jumblatt
Number of seats: 11
The Progressive Socialist Party was founded on 5 January 1949. The founders comprised six individuals, all with a different background. Among the founders was Kamal Jumblatt. He was the most prominent of the founders and was party leader until 1977 when he was assassinated. His son Walid is the present-day leader of the PSP.
The great majority of the PSP members is of the Druze (Muslim) religion. At the 2005 elections, the PSP joined the Hariri bloc and gained 11 seats in the National Assembly.
Willing to construct a new order, based on secularism, socialism, Arabism and the abolishment of the sectarian system, the PSP began an opposition movement in the fifties, together with other dissatisfied groups: the Lebanese National Movement (LNM). The PSP (as part of the LNM) and Jumblatt supported the Palestinians for religious reasons, but strived against the Arab nationalists slogans of the Palestine movement.
After the restoration of the constitutional rule in 1989, the PSP participated in a number of governments. Later, the PSP joined the opposition to oppose against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
After the fall of the government in January 2011, the party moved from the mainly pro-western March 14 alliance towards the Syrian and Iran-orientated March 8 alliance. It presumably did so in return for a governmental post, in order to be able to pursue their policy goals. A secular state is nowadays a top-priority of the PSP. Another important issue for the PSP is the reorganisation of the administrative districts in Lebanon. According to the PSP, more autonomy should be given to regional councils to increase their level of independence. Other important issues are the introduction of a progressive tax principle, the assurance of the separation of powers and enhancing the right to public liberties.
Leader: Sa’ad al Hariri
Number of seats: 28
After the assassination of his father, Sa’ad Hariri took over the leadership of the Future movement. Initially the Future Movement was just a movement, but before the 2005 elections, Sa’ad Hariri vowed to turn the movement into a political party. At the 2005 elections, the party was the most important faction of the Rafik Hariri Martyr list, a coalition of anti-Syrian parties like the PSP and the Lebanese Forces.
Free Patriotic Movement (Aoun Bloc)
Leader: General Michel Aoun
Number of seats:19 (Free Patriotic Movement) 21 total for Aoun Bloc
For a long period of time, former prime-minister Aoun (1988-1990) lived in exile while leading the FPM. He returned to Lebanon in 2005 and contested in the 2005 elections, winning 21 seats in the National Assembly together with his allies in the Aoun Bloc.
The FPM claims to be the only party that isn’t based on religion. For this reason, the party had not only Maronite-members, but has also has many members with a Muslim background.
The most important issues for the FPM is reforming the Lebanese economy. In the past, disarming Hezbollah was another important issue, but this changed after signing the “memorandum of understanding” with Hezbollah in February 2006.
Leader: Mohammed Ra’ad
Number of seats: 13
Hezbollah consists of two parts. The militant part of Hezbollah was found in 1982, as a combination of several small militant groups. During the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), Hezbollah fought for the Shi’a community. Their main objectives were expelling Israeli and Western Forces from Lebanon. Parts of Hezbollah were involved in kidnapping, torture and detention of Western forces in Lebabon. After the Civil War, Hezbollah has often been accused of acts of terrorism and of bombings of Israeli forces in South Lebanon. On ongoing suspicion made the European Parliament entitle Hezbollah as a terrorist organization on 8 March 2005. On 24 September 2004, UN resolution 1559 stated that all Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, should be disarmed and all foreign forces should be withdrawn from Lebanon. Hezbollah operates mainly in the south of Lebanon and the Beeka valley and is pro-Palestinian.
From 1992, the political part of Hezbollah takes part in the Lebanese general elections. The results of previous elections always comprised around 11 seats. In 2009, the party garnered 13 seats. Hezbollah says to strive for the introduction of a Islamic government by peaceful means. On the contrary, US sources say that Hezbollah’s goal is to introduce a fundamentalist, Iranian-like, state with no secular influences at all. It is widely assumed that the Syrian government and Hezbollah are closely linked. For this reason, Hezbollah was the driving force behind the pro-Syria rallies during the Cedar Revolution.
In February 2006, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah and Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Front) signed a “memorandum of understanding”. In this agreement Hezbollah and Aoun agreed to cooperate on a great number of topics, like the reform of the electoral law, security, human rights and foreign relations. This agreement is unique and can be a breakthrough in the relationship between pro-Syrian (Hezbollah) and anti-Syrian (Aoun bloc en governmental parties) politicians.
Hezbollah has been asked several times by the UN chief Ban Ki-Moon and the Lebanese Army leader to disarm. However, Hezbollah rejected these calls, stating that the weapons are the only guarantee to protection of Lebanon.
Leader: Sethrida Geagea
Number of seats: 8
The founder of the Lebanese Forces, Bashir Gemayel, started his military organization in 1976. On 10 September 1992, the Lebanese Forces Party was officially formed. The party-members are mainly Christian Maronites, although the party claims to be secular. The party is based on three principles: 1) safeguarding Lebanese independence and sovereignty, 2) founding the Lebanese government on the basis of human rights and 3) establishing a democratic system with respect to human rights. Furthermore, the LF party embraced a hard-line, anti-Syrian opposition and revived ties with Israel. In 1994, the party leader Geagea was arrested and accused of undermining government authority during and after the Civil War. Geagea was released in 2005. For the 2005 elections, the LF was part of the Rafik Hariri Martyr list, which won the elections. The LF is still considered a very well organized party with its own magazine and TV-station.
Qornet Shewhan Gathering
Number of seats: 6
This reasonably small party was found in 2001 by 21 individuals, representing small political parties and civic organization. Qornet Shewhan emphasizes the independence of Lebanon. So, the Israeli and Syrian withdrawal has always been an important issue for Qornet. Qornet strives furthermore for the complete implementation of the constitutional changes, as they are written in the Taif Agreement of 1989. Qornet is, like the PSP, in favour of changing the electoral law to stop the gerrymandering. Finally, Qornet emphasizes the importance of a widely supported peace agreement with Israel to safeguard Arab right. However, Qornet is in favour of an independent Palestine state, with Jerusalem as its capitol.
Michel Sleimin is Lebanon’s elected president since May 2008. He is an independent politician and therefore not affiliated to a party. Previous to his political career, he was in commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. He took part in many military trainings. Futhermore, he holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political and Administrative Sciences from the Lebanese University. He is fluent in Arabic, English and French.
Tamam Saeb Salam is the Prime Minister of Lebanon since 6 April 2013. He was named to the post by the Lebanese president after the resignation of Najib Mikati. Born in 1945, Salam is the son of former prime minister Saeb Salam. His family is one of the most powerful political and landowning families in Lebanon.
In 1982, Mr. Salam served as president of Al Makassed, a philanthropic Islamic association in Beirut. The position was previously held by his father and, before that, his grandfather. In 1996 he was elected to parliament for four years. He became minister of culture in 2008 under Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. In 2009 he was again elected to parliament as a candidate for the Future Movement when he ran for a seat in Beirut and joined a Western-backed coalition led by former prime minister, Saad Hariri. Salam is well-known for having taken a stand against Syian hegemony
Former Prime Minister
Najib Mikati is Lebanon’s official Prime Minister since 13 June 2011. As a Sunni he is currently leading an Hezbollah-led government. This cabinet only includes members of the March-8 Alliance, which is by many perceived as pro-Syrian. However, he sees himself as neutral and moderate, dedicated to the unity of Lebanon. Mikati had been interim prime minister before, from April until June 2005. His political career started in 1998, serving as Minister of Works and Transport for 6 years. In addition, he has been elected various times as Member of Parliament representing Tripoli. Originally, Mr. Mikati is a businessman. He is active in various international organizations and think tanks.
Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party
Walid Jumblatt is the current leader of the Progressive Socialist party. He succeeded his father Kamal Jumblatt, who had been assassinated in 1977. The Jumblatt family founded the PSP and has been leading the party from its establishment. The family has always been very prominent in the Druze community.
· Adam Carr’s election archive: Lebanon · Amnesty International: Lebanon · Aoun-Hezbollah agreement
· BBC: Who’s who in Lebanon
· CIA: Lebanon world fact book
· Epic Project: electoral law Lebanon
· Foreign & Commonwealth Office
· Free Patriotic Movement
· Freedomhouse: Lebanon
· Hezbollah official website
· International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA)
· Kamal Jumblatt Website
· Lebanese Forces Website
· Najib Mikati
· National Democratic Institute
· Progressive Socialist Party
· UNIFIL Lebanon · Wikipedia: Amal Movement
· U.S. Department of State
· Wikipedia: Hezbollah
· Wikipedia: History of Lebanon
· Wikipedia: Lebanese Civil War · Wikipedia: Lebanese Forces
· Wikipedia: Politics in Lebanon · Wikipedia: Progressive Socialist Party
· Wikipedia: Sectarianism
· Azar, F. and E. Mullet (2002) Muslims and Christians in Lebanon: Common Views on Political Issues. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 39, No. 6 (Nov.,2002), 735-746
· Dah, A., Dibeh, G. and W. Shahin (1998) The Distributional Impact of Taxes in Lebanon. Midterm Report. Beirut: Lebanese Center for Policy Studies.
· European Union Election Observation Mission (2005) Parliamentary Elections 2005 Lebanon. Final Report. · Khoury, M. El and U. Panizza (2001) Poverty and Social Mobility in Lebanon. A few Wild Guesses. Beirut: Department of Economics American University
· Makdisi, Ussama (1996) Reconstructing the Nation-State: The Modernity of Sectarianism in Lebanon. Middle East Report, No. 200, Minorities in the Middle East: Power and the Politics of Difference (Jul. – Sep., 1996), 23-26+30
· Wenger, M. and J. Denney (1990) Lebanon’s Fifteen-Year War 1975-1990. Middle East Report, No. 162, Lebanon’s War (Jan. – Feb., 1990), 23-25
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