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. 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. In October 2019 large scale protests about the political and economic situation in Lebanon broke out. Prime-minister Hariri resigned on October 29th and a new government, led by new prime-minister Diab, was formed on the 20th of January 2020.
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- 6,855,713 million (World Bank 2019 est.)
- Governmental Type:
- Parliamentary multi-confessionalist republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanese Democratic Party, Tashnaq, Union Party, Marada Movement
- Last Elections:
- May 2018 (general elections)
- Next Elections:
- 2022 (general elections)
- Sister Parties:
- Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
Lebanon’s current government was formed right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Lebanese politicians claim that this new cabinet is made up completely of Hezbollah and its allies and excluded the mainstream Sunni bloc lead by former prime-minister Hariri’s Future Movement party. At the moment, Lebanon is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history. The Lebanese pound lost about 75% of its value since October and the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown has driven half the population into poverty. The country has held several sessions of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in hope to gain foreign aid. However IMF or any donor state will not provide help unless the government carries out reforms, at the forefront of them accelerating an overhaul of its loss-making electricity sector.
In regard to neighboring relations, negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to delimit the maritime boundary do not seem likely to begin any time soon. Namely, in 2009 the Leviathan field was discovered and found to hold about natural gas reserves of 600 billion cubic meters. The Leviathan falls in 860 square kilometers of disputed oceanic territory between Israel and Lebanon, where there may well be additional reserves yet to be discovered. Relationship between Syria and Lebanon have been fragmented. Tensions increased during the war in Syria when around 1 million refugees came to Lebanon. Also the war had a bad impact on the Lebanese economy. However, in recent years the Assad government and elements of Lebanon’s government, notably Hezbollah, have grown closer. Both the Assad regime and Hezbollah are highly influenced by Iran.
The conflict in neighboring 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 polarization in the country, while both Iran and Saudi Arabia wield influence through the rival alliances. It also badly influenced the Lebanese economy by cutting trade routes and making Lebanese traders ship more of their goods via the Mediterranean Sea.
October 2019 protests
The impact of the war in Syria, as well as years of corruption and inefficiency, have caused Lebanon’s GDP growth to fall from 8%-9% in 2011 to 0% in 2019. Lebanon has a national debt of around 150% and unemployment among under 35s is as high as 37%. Although Lebanon’s government has been warned about the possible consequences for years, they have failed to take action and implement the necessary reforms. Similarly, the political situation in Lebanon has decreased as well.
The population became increasingly fed up with the blatant corruption and nepotism among politicians. When the new government announced in October 2019 that they were going to implement a tax on internet-based calling services such as WhatsApp, the population had had enough. The combination of growing economic and political grievances sparked the start of what is called the Lebanese “October Revolution” on October 17th 2019. The protests started small but in a short time grew to a movement made up of hundreds of thousands of people protesting all over the country. The protests paralyzed Lebanon’s banking and transportation system and caused prime-minister Saad Hariri to hand in his resignation on October 29th 2019.
Even though the protest group managed to accomplish this, in reality, they are very decentralized and lack a leader. Often the different fractions of protesters have contradictory positions but they all tend to agree on a couple of things. The first is that the vast corruption among businessman and politicians needs to end and the second is that they demand better governance. With the resignation of prime minister Saad Hariri Lebanon a new government needed to be formed which after a long stalemate happened on January 21st 2020. The new government is led by prime-minister Hassan Diab but it is unlikely that it will be able to solve the enormous problems Lebanon is currently facing.
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 four years. 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 winners-take-all system, where the party winning most votes wins all the seats in the district, 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 elementary education and the minimum age of 21 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 he attempted 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 present 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 was 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 the 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.
Government formation of 2020
When prime-minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October he left a political vacuum that has been affecting every Lebanese citizen. The state requires urgent action to get out of the economic crisis but has no leader to steer them in that direction. One of the main demands of the protesters was that a new government was chosen fast and that it would be made up of technocrats, instead of the sectarian politicians previously in power, that are capable of carrying out effective economic reforms.
Their demand for a cabinet of independent specialist was shared by the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) which is a leading Christian grouping, as well as former prime-minister Hariri who is aligned with Gulf Arab and the western states. However, President Aoun and his ally Hezbollah believe the government should not be made up of just technocrats but that it should include politicians as well. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which was founded by president Aoun, stated that they too would not agree to a government which is only made up of technocrats. Lebanon’s foreign allies have urged them to form a credible government, meaning with limited influence of Hezbollah who is regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, if it wants to receive international support to solve Lebanon’s problems.
When on the 19th of December 2019 former education minister Hassan Diab was chosen as the new prime minister of Lebanon, it was perceived by many as a victory for Hezbollah and its allies. The protesters rejected Diab as prime-minister because of his close ties with some of the ruling political parties and his previous position. Even though Diab presented himself as independent he has clear ties to the former ruling class and thus the protesters continued to demand an independent prime-minister but without success. A little over a month after Diab was appointed he announced the formation of his new cabinet. From the outside, the cabinet could be perceived as being independent and technocratic, but upon taking a closer look this does not seem to be the case.
The deal for a new cabinet came after an agreement by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah (a major parliamentary bloc), and its allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Gibran Bassil who is president Aoun’s son-in-law. Former prime-minister Hariri and his Future Movement party, as well as other parties, had no opportunity to influence the decision at all. Hariri’s Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt stayed out of the government altogether.
Even though the cabinet (composed of 20 ministers) was quickly criticized by protesters and the media, adding to its appeal among the international community was the fact that it was the first cabinet in Lebanon with six women in it, including the first government in the Arab world that had a female defence minister. Nevertheless, after the formation of the new government protests in Lebanon increased again not only because the protesters believed the new government did not reflect them, but also because they do not believe the government is capable of implementing effective reforms to solve the economic crisis.
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 cast 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 although the vote went relatively 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.
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