Elections, Lebanon

How Many Lebanese Were Flown In To Vote?

MEA-flight

An MEA Airbus touches down, bearing hundreds of passengers with tickets paid for by Nabih Berri.

Even before the results of last month’s parliamentary election were announced, there was a great deal of discussion in the media about the money being spent to fly thousands of Lebanese home to vote. This, we were told, was a massive operation, costing millions of dollars, and resulted in anywhere between 60,000 to 120,000 additional voters going to the polls on election day.

The good folks at Information International — a market research firm led by Jawad Adra — have published a very interesting article in the latest issue of their superb magazine, The Monthly (whose blog can be found here), which argues that the number of Lebanese flown home to vote did not exceed 48,000, a still significant figure. You can read the article here (pdf).

But wait!

In response to the article in The Monthly, a second study was carried out by the Beirut-based actuarial services firm i.e. Muhanna & co, which reached a final figure of around 25,000 people. Read the original article above and then the second study below.

PS: I have been advised that worthy comments in the discussion section may prompt one or both authors to revise their conclusions prior to publishing a third joint study in one of the Beirut dailies, and perhaps also in the August edition of The Monthly. Therefore, qifanabki.com readers, do me proud.

Analysis by i.e. Muhanna & co (actuarial services)

mea-concorde

An MEA Concorde above the clouds, carrying dozens of passengers with tickets paid for by Saad al-Hariri.

In the July 2009 issue of the Lebanese magazine The Monthly, Information International – a leading polling and market research firm based in Beirut – published a study of the number of Lebanese flown in from abroad to vote in the parliamentary elections.

Using arrival and departure data from Beirut International Airport (BIA) for the two weeks prior to the election and comparing it to similar data drawn from the past two years, the study concluded that current estimates of 60,000 or 120,000 expatriate voters are exaggerated. A more plausible number, the study argues, is around 48,000 voters, still a significant figure.

The methodology used to determine the number of expatriate voters flown is fairly simple. The study examines the number of visitors to arrive in Lebanon during the two week period of May 25-June 7 in the years 2007 and 2008 in order to project the number of visitors that would have arrived in 2009 under ordinary conditions – i.e., with no elections being held. The difference between this figure and the actual number of arrivals during the pre-election period in 2009 is equivalent to the likely number of expatriate voters.

While the Information International study helps to shed light on the debate about expatriate voters, the analysis of airport traffic might be supplemented by further data to arrive at a more precise conclusion. An advanced model was created by i.e. Muhanna & co (actuarial services) for this particular purpose. The model led to two adjustments needed before any comparison could be made:

  • In May 2008, clashes erupted between various armed groups throughout Lebanon and forced the closure of the airport for two weeks. Therefore, the travel data from that month is significantly depressed and unsuitable for comparative purposes. However, if one compares the travel data for the first four months of 2008 with the data for the first four months of 2007, one finds that arrivals through BIA rose by 5% from 2007 to 2008. Therefore, it is possible to estimate a projected “no airport closure” figure for travel in May 2008 by multiplying the May 2007 figure by 105%. This process leads to an upward adjustment of the actual May 2008 figure by 32%.
  • June 2008 experienced a major increase in arrivals, most likely the result of a “rebound effect” following the two-week airport closure during the previous month. Therefore, the travel data from that month is slightly inflated and unsuitable for comparative purposes. Indeed, if one compares the travel data for the month of June 2008 with the data of June 2007, one finds that arrivals through BIA in June rose by 42% from 2007 to 2008. Hence, the June 2008 this figure needs to be smoothed downward, namely by 11%, in order to harmonize it with the average growth rate for the second half of the year 2008.

When one repeats the same comparative analysis for 2009 – i.e. comparing the total number of arrivals in the first four months of 2008 to the same period in 2009 – one finds an average increase of 26% (as opposed to the 5% increase from 2007 to 2008 for the same period), while the annual increase for the year 2008 compared to 2007 is 9%. Using trend analysis technique, we note that the net increase (i.e., with no elections being held) for the months of May and June 2009 would be 26%.

Applying this 26% increase to the data from May and June 2008 allows us to arrive at a projected “no-election” figure for airport traffic in May and June 2009.

Comparing the “no election” projected figures for the two week period immediately preceding the election with the actual figures; one arrives at an “election-related” increase of 25,000 arrivals, which is significantly less than even the Information International projection of 48,000.

mea-shuttle2

An MEA space shuttle arrives in Beirut, carrying several extraterrestrials with tickets paid for by Walid Jumblatt.

It should be noted that this figure of 25,000 covers all travelers, including non-Lebanese, minors, as well as Lebanese citizens who may not have been registered to vote. Furthermore, given the high degree of international interest in the election and the increased presence of foreign officials – election observers and experts, diplomats, security personnel, and journalists – it is likely that a significant proportion of the 25,000 additional travelers were not Lebanese. Finally, this figure does not distinguish between Lebanese who purchased their own tickets to Lebanon and those who were flown in by a political party, and does not include the number of expatriate Lebanese who entered Lebanon by land.

On the other hand, however, it is impossible to determine how many people among the normal quota (i.e. the “no-election” figure) of May and June travelers were flown back to vote. Given that many Lebanese expatriates return home to Lebanon every year for summer holidays, it is entirely possible that many who were planning to purchase their own tickets to visit Lebanon in May or June decided to capitalize on the offer of free travel, and had their tickets purchased by a political party. In other words, while there may have only been an increase of 25,000 travelers for the pre-election period, this does not mean that tens of thousands of people among the regularly traveling population were not provided free travel to vote. Therefore, the question of how many people had their tickets paid for by a political party will remain a mystery even to the most sophisticated actuarial modeling tool.

Analysis by the actuary Ibrahim Muhanna      July 20, 2009

In the July 2009 issue of the Lebanese magazine The Monthly, Information International – a leading polling and market research firm based in Beirut – published a study of the number of Lebanese flown in from abroad to vote in the parliamentary elections.

Using arrival and departure data from Beirut International Airport (BIA) for the two weeks prior to the election and comparing it to similar data drawn from the past two years, the study concluded that current estimates of 60,000 or 120,000 expatriate voters are exaggerated. A more plausible number, the study argues, is around 48,000 voters, still a significant figure.

The methodology used to determine the number of expatriate voters flown is fairly simple. The study examines the number of visitors to arrive in Lebanon during the two week period of May 25-June 7 in the years 2007 and 2008 in order to project the number of visitors that would have arrived in 2009 under ordinary conditions – i.e., with no elections being held. The difference between this figure and the actual number of arrivals during the pre-election period in 2009 is equivalent to the likely number of expatriate voters.

While the Information International study helps to shed light on the debate about expatriate voters, the analysis of airport traffic might be supplemented by further data to arrive at a more precise conclusion. An advanced model was created by i.e. Muhanna & co (actuarial services) for this particular purpose. The model led to two adjustments needed before any comparison could be made:

  • In May 2008, clashes erupted between various armed groups throughout Lebanon and forced the closure of the airport for two weeks. Therefore, the travel data from that month is significantly depressed and unsuitable for comparative purposes. However, if one compares the travel data for the first four months of 2008 with the data for the first four months of 2007, one finds that arrivals through BIA rose by 5% from 2007 to 2008. Therefore, it is possible to estimate a projected “no airport closure” figure for travel in May 2008 by multiplying the May 2007 figure by 105%. This process leads to an upward adjustment of the actual May 2008 figure by 32%
  • June 2008 experienced a major increase in arrivals, most likely the result of a “rebound effect” following the two-week airport closure during the previous month. Therefore, the travel data from that month is slightly inflated and unsuitable for comparative purposes. However, if one compares the travel data for the month of June 2008 with the data of June 2007, one finds that arrivals through BIA rose by 42% from 2007 to 2008. Hence, the June 2008 this figure needs to be smoothed downward, namely by 11%, in order to harmonize it with the average growth rate for the second half of the year 2008.

When one repeats the same comparative analysis for 2009 – i.e. comparing the total number of arrivals in the first four months of 2008 to the same period in 2009 – one finds an average increase of 26% (as opposed to the 5% increase from 2007 to 2008 for the same period), while the annual increase for the year 2008 compared to 2007 is 9%. Using trend analysis technique, we note that the net increase (i.e., with no elections being held) for the months of May and June 2009 would be 26%

Applying this 26% increase to the data from May and June 2008 allows us to arrive at a projected “no-election” figure for airport traffic in May and June 2009.

Comparing the “no election” projected figures for the two week period immediately preceding the election with the actual figures; one arrives at an “election-related” increase of 25,000 arrivals, which is significantly less than even the Information International projection of 48,000.

It should be noted that this figure of 25,000 covers all travelers, including non-Lebanese, minors, as well as Lebanese citizens who may not have been registered to vote. Furthermore, given the high degree of international interest in the election and the increased presence of foreign officials – election observers and experts, diplomats, security personnel, and journalists – it is likely that a significant proportion of the 25,000 additional travelers were not Lebanese. Finally, this figure does not distinguish between Lebanese who purchased their own tickets to Lebanon and those who were flown in by a political party, and does not include the number of expatriate Lebanese who entered Lebanon by land.

On the other hand, however, it is impossible to determine how many people among the normal quota (i.e. the “no-election” figure) of May and June travelers were flown back to vote. Given that many Lebanese expatriates return home to Lebanon every year for summer holidays, it is entirely possible that many who were planning to purchase their own tickets to visit Lebanon in May or June decided to capitalize on the offer of free travel, and had their tickets purchased by a political party. In other words, while there may have only been an increase of 25,000 travelers for the pre-election period, this does not mean that tens of thousands of people among the regularly traveling population were not provided free travel to vote. Therefore, the question of how many people had their tickets paid for by a political party will remain a mystery even to the most sophisticated actuarial modeling tool.

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Discussion

12 thoughts on “How Many Lebanese Were Flown In To Vote?

  1. Then again, one can also suppose that the number of non-Lebanese coming into the country at the time before the election actually went down compared to previous years as many foreigners were worried about violence…

    Posted by Torstein | July 26, 2009, 3:09 am
  2. I am troubled by the methodology used by “The Monthly” in order to arrive at a credible estimate of the number of those that came into the country in order to cast a ballot during the June elections. Yes the authors try to come up with a rationale for their estimate but unfortunately the data used leaves a lot to be desired.
    When all is said and done the authors wind up in attributing all the actual increase in arrival in 2009 over 2008 to only one factor . That is unacceptable and points to the weaknesses of the assumptions in the rather shallow analysis.

    Muhhana and Company on the other hand addressed some major “shortcomings” in the study and arrived at a more realistic estimate.

    I would have liked to see the historical data about airport arrivals that shows the monthly shares of traffic each month. If it is true that a one time event occured during the 4 weeks of 2009 then that period would show a one time bump in traffic that could be used to arrive at an estimate of the abberation.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 26, 2009, 12:08 pm
  3. Until expats are allowed to vote at embassies/consulates, MEA and other airlines will make a good penny every election.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | July 26, 2009, 11:11 pm
  4. 1. Although the “advanced model” applied by i.e. Muhanna & co (actuarial services) made some necessary “adjustments” to the “simple methodology” used by Information International, neither one of the 2 studies factored in the effect of the global economic crisis. Undeniably, it should have affected many Lebanese expatriates between 2008-2009.

    2. It would be interesting to see how the numbers turn out should the analysis cover the period from mid May to June 7. Practically, many traveling with kids prefer to avoid high season flights and mid May coincides with end of school yr in many countries.

    3. The May 2008 incidents and simultanous airport closure (honestly, I was unaware that the airport was actually closed for 2 weeks) were accounted for in the 08-to-09 projection analysis. Was the unstable situation in Lebanon in 2007 (such as the back to back demonstrations and the Nahr El Bared clashes)considered for 2007?

    4. One could not but agree with Ras Beirut (post #3).

    Posted by PN | July 27, 2009, 12:08 am
  5. Therefore, the question of how many people had their tickets paid for by a political party will remain a mystery even to the most sophisticated actuarial modeling tool.

    Words of wisdom.

    Posted by M. | July 27, 2009, 12:45 pm
  6. It seems to me that many are convinced that a very large number of people were “flown in to vote” i.e somebody else paid for their transportation cost. I am afraid that the data does NOT support the above hypothesis. Based on my previous post I am inclined to think that the traffic of airport arrivals did not increase by 40,000 not even by 20,000 due to the elections. But even the 10,000-20,000 that might have come in during that period did not come solely to vote. If one can show that the distribution of the arrivals was skewed in favour of this 2 week window related to elections but that the overall traffic for the whole summer season did not experience an abnormal increase in arrivals then one could conclude that most of those that flew in to vote did so by adjusting their planned visit and did not travel to Lebanon solely to participate in the elections. The elections in this case would have only acted as an incentive to adjust the itinerary. Under such circumstances the number of those that came into the country when they would not have done so except for the elections would be rather small and would have played an insignificant role in the final electoral results.
    To assume that most of those that flew into Lebanon did so only to participate in the elections is to have an image of a Lebanese citizen that is the most driven by civic engagement and civic duty than any other people in the world :-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 27, 2009, 2:50 pm
  7. I guess it is the Lebanese equivalent right to the “Right of Return” – but it is much fairer than Israel’s which only applies to one group, not another group with equal claims to the land. Lebanon’s right of return applies to all 18 sects – seems much more democratic and reasonable.

    Talking about democratic and reasonable – Is it reasonable for a candidate from a party that failed to get elected (FPM candidates) on June 7 still ending up at the Cabinet table?

    I think MP Harb has an excellent point that it is disrespectful for voters for a failed candidate in an election to nevertheless get into the Cabinet.

    The Cabinet should be made up of representatives from the Parliament – they are all elected in a secret ballot.

    Posted by Sofia | July 29, 2009, 5:50 am
  8. because of many changing variables the past 3 years, maybe 2006 might be better indicator since things were ok before the war then, and everyone was already in the booming season mood. Moreover, if things stay calm, we should wait and compare with June 2010!

    Posted by Alain | July 29, 2009, 11:04 am
  9. Sofia, Where is it written that a Cabinet Minister should be an elected member of the Chamber of Deputies? I would much rather have people who have demonstrated some mastewry of the area that they are going to be put in charge of rather than to have these important positions to allocated as political prizes to many who have no clue what is it that they are supposed to administer. Do you rea;lise that there are politicians in Lebanon who have been appointed to be in control of 3-4 or maybe five different ministries over a relatively short period of time? But this is a different topic altogether :-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 29, 2009, 6:04 pm
  10. Ghassan – there is no law that Cabinet should be made up of M.P.s, but I think they should be such a law.

    In many European and Latin American countries Ministers can hold 3 or 4 or 5 portfolios – they may hold them over short or long time periods – they very often has zero expertise in the area in question, zero expertise.

    But where they are Members of Parliament, as representative of voters, their job is to lead the government departments and agencies to deliver better services to the public. If they do well, they may get re-elected. If they do not do well, may be they lose their seats – either way, this isn’t a question of experts running the show – it is about developing a culture of accountable ministers in Lebanon.

    Posted by Sofia | July 30, 2009, 6:04 am
  11. Sofia, I don’t believe that you are serious when you say that “zero expertise is required” .. “to lead the government”. If you can really say the above with a straight face then I will eat my beret :-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | July 30, 2009, 10:48 am

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