Politics in Lebanon are based on a post-civil war imposed sectarian system where power is shared over the different groups. The president has to be someone from the Christian Maronite group, the prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament has to be a Shia Muslim. However, divisions within the sectarian groups had left the country in a political deadlock, leaving Lebanon without a president for more than two years. 2016 marked a turn in the country’s political situation. The parliament elected Michel Aoun, from the Free Patriotic Movement, as President with 83 out of 128 votes. In June 2017, a new election law was approved which is meant to improve the representation of sectarian groups. The new law paved the way for elections in May 2018. The elections brought a surprising defeat to the party of prime minister Saad Hariri. The Hezbollah led coalition won several seats and gained a majority.
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- 6,848,925 million (World Bank 2018 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Parliamentary multi-confessionalist republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Last Elections:
- May 2018 (general elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2022 (general elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
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, partly over the issue of the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was established in 2009. 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 Suleiman as President. It paved the way towards new parliamentary elections, but these never took place because of disagreements over the election of a new president. In 2014 Suleiman’s term came to an end, leaving the country without a president for two years. Finally, in October 2016, the parliament was able to come to a consensus and elected Michel Aoun as the country’s new president.
The conflict in neighbouring country Syria caused a deadlock on the previous elections in Lebanon in different manners. The situation in Syria made it difficult for Damascus to influence the electoral process in Lebanon. Moreover, Pro-Hezbollah parliamentarians refused to attend the election sessions, making it impossible for candidates to gain a two-thirds majority of the legislature. Tensions increased as well because of the enormous group of refugees coming from Syria, which is currently over 1 million people. Finally, the ongoing Syrian war has led to increased polarisation in the country, while both Iran and Saudi Arabia wield influence through the rival alliances.
Lebanon is a republic. The National Assembly indirectly elects the president as head of state for a six years term. 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.
Sectarian divisions in the country have plagued every post-civil war government. Increasing pressure from outside actors during the Syrian Civil War (2011-) complicated domestic politics. The stand-off between the Hezbollah led March 8 Alliance and Future movement led March 14 Alliance paralyzed both parliament and government for almost a decade. The parliament was under pressure to reform itself, but the sectarian division complicated negotiations. After years of negotiations, in June 2017 a new electoral law was passed replacing the ‘’1960 law’’. Under this system parties gained votes based on their religious sect. In this system eighteen different confessional groups share power, with parliamentary seats being reserved for different groups. Each sect was granted a certain number of seats based on a quota, this quota was however seen as unfair and unrepresentative due to the country’s demographic shift. In the new system is still based on the confessional power distribution, but instead of the 26 constituencies people vote in 15 new constituencies. Creating a proportional representation system.
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 that 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 two votes, one for a party and one for a specific candidate. The winner-takes-all system, where the party winning most votes wins all the seats in the discrict, has been abolished as a result of the new election law. The National Assembly is now elected in fifteen rather than six different constituencies. Lebanon has no legal electoral threshold, for now, 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 in order to be authorised 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.
Elections of 2014
In November 2014 the parliament voted for the third time to put off parliamentary elections until 2017, which should originally have been held in June 2013. Since the spring of 2014, the parliament has gathered nine times in an attempt to elect a new president. On 25 May 2014, then prime minister Tammam Salam stepped in as acting president. This is because on 22 March 2013, incumbent Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned after his attempt to form a committee. This committee was supposed to oversee the next general election which should have taken place in November 2014. He failed to do so, because of opposing sides in Syria's civil war between parties aligned with Hezbollah and Sunni-led rival bloc. The new government that came out two weeks after, was led by Tamman Salam. He was backed by the March 14 Alliance, the Progressive Socialist Party and Amal. Nevertheless, it took ten months for Salam to form a government, which was announced on 15 February 2014, due to rivalries between the Hezbollah-dominated March 8 Alliance and the March 14 Alliance, led by the Sunni Future Party. "This is a unity cabinet that represents at the present time the best formula for Lebanon with all the political, security, economic and social challenges it is facing", Salam said.
Government formation of 2019
The elections last May were won by the Hezbollah bloc and the Christian Lebanese forces. The Future Movement, the party of the designate Prime Minister Hariri, lost one third of its seats. Despite the loss, Hariri was appointed to form a government. Hariri has the task to divide the ministerial posts among six parties. Different problems occurred during the division of minister posts. One of the first problems during the summer was the dispute between the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces (LF) about the Christian representation. LF leader Samir Geagea said that the portfolios that were offered to LF were not fair compared to their size in the parliamentary bloc and demanded the post of deputy prime minister which was rejected by President Aoun and the FPM leader, Gebran Bassil.
A second problem that occurred was the Druze representation. About 200.000 members of the Druze community are living in Lebanon and according to the constitution the Druze are entitled to three ministerial posts. Most of the Druze are part of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), led by Walid Joumblatt. However, if Hariri would give the Druze of PSP this position, the Druze of the Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) would not be represented. Joumblatt agreed to allocate only two Druze ministerial seats instead of three. LDP agreed with one minister post and putting forward a ‘neutral’ candidate.
The biggest obstacle in the formation process were the Sunni representatives which became known as the ‘Sunni Knot.’ Hezbollah was keen to have one of its Sunni allies as minister of health. However, the fear was that this appointment would complicate foreign (western) aid. Hezbollah insisted that their Sunni MPs should be represented in the new government, but Hariri and Aoun refused. Finally, the breakthrough came after the rival factions worked out compromises to allow representation of Sunni lawmakers in the new formation.
Nine months after the general parliamentary elections in May a government was formed on 31 January 2019. The new 30-member cabinet finally came into being when the political blocs agreed on a new arrangement of the ministry positions. Hezbollah ally Gebran Nassil now retains the Foreign Ministry while Ali Hassan Khalil, from Hezbollah’s ally Amal, will continue as finance minister. Moreover, against the will of the United States, Hezbollah appointed Shia doctor Jamil Jabak as health minister, being the fourth-biggest ministry in the state-apparatus. The demand of Hezbollah to appoint a Hezbollah backed Sunni lawmaker resulted in appointing Hasan Mrad, representative of a pro-Syria Sunni group that is backed by Hezbollah, as minister of state. It now seems that Hezbollah and its allies control political power more and more and therefore the influence of Iran and the Syrian government in Lebanon is enlarged.
Parliamentary elections of 2018
On May 6th 2018 Lebanon went to the polls for the first general election in almost a decade. After a political impasse that lasted for several years due to internal and external strife, a large overhaul of the electoral system led in summer 2017 to the prospect of elections. The new electoral law redrew the country into 15 electoral districts, further entrenching Lebanon's sectarian makeup, and introduced proportional representation. Voters casted two votes, one for a list of candidates and one for a single preferred candidate.
|Amal-Hezbollah and allies||40||+9|
|Free Patriotic Movement and allies||29||+5|
|Free Patriotic Movement||18||+8|
|Future Movement and allies||20||-15|
|Lebanese Forces and allies||15||+7|
|Small independent parties||15||-4|
|Progressive Socialist Party||9||-2|
Only 49% of the electorate went to the polls compared to 54% during the last election. Many analysts cite the lack of trust in the government to tackle corruption and to boost the economy as the reasons for the low voter turnout. The Shiite coalition of Hezbollah-Amal reaped the benefits of the newly implemented electoral law by increasing their parliamentary bloc to 40 MPs, while the Lebanese Forces (LF) pulled off an upset after securing 14 seats. Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement saw his bloc almost split in half after getting only 20 seats, in contrast to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and their allies who bolstered their position after electing 29 representatives.
Saad Hariri, commenting on the election result, admitted that his Future Movement had lost about a third of its seats, but reaffirmed that "[t]hose who won in parliamentary elections are our partners in the principle of stability" and that he was satisfied with the outcome. He further stated that the new electoral law allowed parties to commit elections violations. Hariri said that his Future Movement faced several challenges, though he did not specify which. Lebanese President Michel Aoun (FPM) tweeted: “I was surprised by the low turnout and the exercise of the right to vote. I renew the appeal, if you wish to change and to establish a new approach, you must exercise your right.” With the Iran-backed Shi'ite group Hezbollah and its political allies winning more than half the seats it will boost Hezbollah’s influence in the country.
International reaction and observers
The international community congregated Lebanon with its first election in almost a decade. The European Union acknowledge that the electoral process was an improvement from the old system. real innovations like ballot secrecy were successfully implemented. The EU however had to acknowledge that there is room for improvement. There are still hurdles to take such as more room for female candidates. The international observation mission of the National Democratic Institute also noted that alotugh the vote went realitivly smooth, there were still incidents. “some polling officials failed to ensure the safety of election materials during the count,” as well as maintaining that “vote buying was widely reported.” Lebanon’s Association For Democratic Elections (LADE) also recorded over 3000 violations from the moment the polls opened until the votes began to be tallied.
On 31 October 2016, the Lebanese parliament gathered together for the 46th time to vote on a new president. Finally, Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement) won with a majority of 83 out of 128 votes. Before these elections, Lebanon had been without a president for 2.5 years, and it was the first time that the entire parliament gathered since April 2014. Aoun’s election is a victory for his Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, Iran and Syria. It was said that Aoun mainly got elected because of a deal he struck with the head of the Sunni movement, Saad Hariri. The deal involved that Hariri would become prime minister if he would support the election.
There were three rounds of voting. In the first round, Aoun did not secure a two-thirds majority among the 128 MPs present. The second round of voting only required a simple majority to win, though there were 128 ballots cast making the round invalid. In the third round, he received the winning 83 votes.
UPDATE: Lebanon’s Prime Minister handed in cabinet proposal – it did not break the country’s political impasse
- 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
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- 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
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