Lebanon

Last update: 4 months ago

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 Maronite, Christian 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. As of 20 October 2016, there has been 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.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be in May 2017, though Lebanon might be facing another political crisis regarding these elections. Political parties are unable to agree on a new electoral law as some support a proportional representation system, others a hybrid law, and others want the polls to be under the 1960 electoral law. President Aoun refuses to sign a request calling the electoral bodies to stage the elections under the 1960 electoral law. Nevertheless, it is argued by the President that the parties have no choice but to agree on a new law and turn the page on the 1960 law. Currently, Hezbollah, Mustaqbal, AMAL, the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces are discussing formats of a hybrid electoral law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Download Country Update

Want to get notified by mail when Lebanon gets updated?

Map of Lebanon

Short facts

Population:
5,850,743 million (World Bank 2015 est.)
Governmental Type:
Republic
Ruling Coalition:
-
Last Elections:
31 October 2016 (presidential elections)
Next Elections:
2017 (parliamentary elections)
Sister Parties:
Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
Image of Michel Aoun

Michel Aoun

President

Read biography
Image of Saad Hariri

Saad Hariri

Prime Minister

Read biography

Political Situation

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.

Recent developments
In October 2016, the Lebanese parliament finally agreed to have Michel Aoun as the President with a majority of 83 votes out of the 128-seat chamber. This voting was already the 45th attempt of the parliament to vote for a new president.

Currently, there are discussions on the parliamentary elections, to be held in May 2017. Political parties are unable to agree on a new law for these elections. Some parties want to stick to the electoral law of 1960, whereas other parties want a proportional representation system or a hybrid law. The president and his party, the Free Patriotic Movement, have stated that they do not want to keep the 1960 law. They are in talks with Hezbollah, Mustaqbal, AMAL and the Lebanese Forces about a hybrid electoral law that mixes proportional representation with the winner-takes-all system.

Syrian conflict
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.

Elections

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.

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 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, at 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 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 2011
On 12 January 2011, all of the March 8 Alliance ministers in the government resigned from a 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 Suleiman 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. After the formation of the new government, Mikati explained that the new government would cooperate with the Tribunal, as long as it wouldn’t destabilise the country.

In the new parliament 18 persons represented Hezbollah and its allies and 12 politicians were appointed by Prime Minister Mikati, President Suleiman and Jumblatt. The portfolios were redistributed through proportional representation. For this reason, Hezbollah only had 2 ministers working in the cabinet, whereas the Free Patriotic Movement was represented by 7 ministers. Women made up 3.1 percent of the seats in the national parliament, which corresponded to 4 seats.  

Reactions
The March 14 Alliance called the March 8 Alliance a ‘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”.


Parliamentary elections

Parliamentary elections of 2009
On 7 June 2009, parliamentary elections were held in Lebanon. Saad Hariri, the leader of Lebanon's March 14 Alliance, 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 Alliance 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 seats. The turnout of 52.3 percent was high compared to the turnout of 45.8 percent 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. 

Election results

March 14 Alliance Seats March 8 Alliance Seats
 Future Bloc   30  Reform and change Block - Aounist Bloc   25
 Independants  13  Liberation and Development Bloc  13
 Democratic Movement Bloc  10  Resistance Bloc (Hezbollah)  11
 Lebanse Forces Bloc  5  Baath Party  2
 Kataeb Party - Phalangist Bloc  5  Syrian Social Nationalist Party  2
 Tripoli Bloc  3  Lebanese Democratic Party  1
 Allied Independants  3  Islamic Action Bloc  1
 National Liberal Party  1  Solidarity Party  1
 Jamaa Islamiya Bloc  1  Independent  1
 Total  71  Total  57


Saad Hariri urged supporters to celebrate without provoking opponents. Hezbollah admitted it had lost the election and accepted the results. 

Election analysis 
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 Alliance in the previous elections incorrectly reflected the true balance of power in the Lebanese political system. 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 favouring 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.

International reactions 
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. 

Aftermath 
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 Alliance, even involved the Hezbollah-led opposition in the cabinet, resulting in a unity government of March 14 and March 8 ministers.


Presidential elections

On 31 October 2016, the Lebanese parliament gathered together for the 46th time to vote on a new president. Finally, Michel Aoun 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.

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)

Party Leader: Walid Jumblatt

Number of seats: 11

http://www.psp.org.lb

Read more

Other Parties

Future Movement

Party Leader: Sa’ad al Hariri

Number of seats: 28

Read more

Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)

Party Leader: General Michel Aoun

Number of seats: 19

http://www.tayyar.org/tayyar/index.php

Read more

Hezbollah

Party Leader: Mohammed Ra’ad

Number of seats: 13

Read more

Lebanese Forces (LF)

Party Leader: Sethrida Geagea

Number of seats: 8

http://www.lebanese-forces.org

Read more

Qornet Shewhan Gathering

Number of seats: 6

Read more

Biographies

Image of Michel Aoun

Michel Aoun

President

Read biography
Image of Saad Hariri

Saad Hariri

Prime Minister

Read biography

Walid Jumblatt

Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party

Read biography

Sources

  • 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