I had lunch with one of Lebanon’s top pollsters a couple of days ago, and I asked him about whose chances he liked, now that we’re just over three months away from the parliamentary elections.
He said that Aoun had not lost as much support among Christians as his opponents are claiming. In fact, many of those Lebanese who began to question Aoun’s judgment after the Memorandum of Understanding with Hizbullah, the July War, and the events of May 7 2008, seem to have come around again as a result of the pitiful Christian leadership on the March 14th side. Still, Murr’s alliance with the Kataeb, Nayla Tueni’s candidacy in Achrafieh, and the unpopularity of Skaff in Zahle, he suggested, could be enough to hold off a March 8th win.
When I asked about whom he thought the opposition had in mind for a prime minister in the event that they did win, he gave a rather surprising answer.
Why not? Makes perfect sense when you think about it. Nasrallah is lowering expectations for any sweeping changes while he calls for power-sharing and national unity. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Syria are burying the hatchet while Fouad al-Saniora is shown the door. Saad’s current protestations notwithstanding, it is not so hard to imagine a deal being worked out to make everybody happy, wolves and lambs alike.
Of course, should such an arrangement come to pass, it would represent a high-water mark of cynicism, even for Lebanon. For what better way to drive home to the miserable Lebanese electorate that its fate – as determined by the long-heralded ‘fateful’ elections – is to endure four more years of the same old faces in the same old positions, despite having voted the opposition coalition into power?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, in order to have the privilege of choosing Saad al-Hariri as the next PM, the current opposition needs to win the election, right? How are they going to achieve that? Well, let’s do the numbers.
For me, the best part of CNN’s election coverage last November was John King and his Magic Wall of Electoral Wisdom. You know what I’m taking about: the enormous flat-panel monitor that conjured up color-coded maps and real-time voting data at the flick of a well-manicured finger. Some may have tuned in to watch Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and “the best political team on television,” but I only had eyes for the touch screen. What a brilliant way to enliven the prosaic slog through the time zones as county after county sent in its returns.
No state – not even a bastion of partisanship – was safe from the Screen’s amazing factoid-creating abilities. With decades of data at his fingertips, John could even make Alabama look interesting. He had but to gaze at the oracle and intone: “Touch Screen, Touch Screen, on the wall… which party has historically fared well in Tallapoosa County in election years with an incumbent Republican president, a slumping economy, and cloudy skies with a chance of showers?” The Screen would respond immediately, and we all somehow felt smarter for being invited to put two and two together with John, even if the answer was still boring old ‘four’.
I’m a sucker for fiddly technology of any stripe, so imagine my excitement upon discovering the electoral law simulator over at the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform. This little gadget, along with El Nashra’s “Virtual Elections” online polling feature, and the strategy discussions held over at the FPM’s 2009 Parliamentary Elections Forum (a veritable goldmine of anecdotal ‘data’) has prompted me to devise my own election predictions, represented in the chart below.
This scenario — where Hizbullah, Amal, Future, PSP, and the LF win everywhere that they are expected to, and the FPM & Suleiman Frangieh’s Marada have a very strong showing — gives 52 seats to March 14th and 56 to March 8th, with 20 seats up for grabs in three battleground districts: Beirut 1 (Achrafieh), Zahle, and the Metn. This, in my opinion, is about as strong a position as March 8th can put it itself in, going into the elections. If they split the remaining seats with March 14th, they would win a 51.6% majority in the parliament: enough to choose the PM, but hardly a resounding victory.
March 14th’s own prospects are not much better. To eke out a victory against Hizbullah & co, they will have to limit Aoun’s gains in places like Baabda (which M14 only won in 2005 thanks to effective gerrymandering), while taking back Zahle and holding Achrafieh.
What does this mean, oh Touch Screen? Tune in next month, for Part 2.