Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14

Who Will Win Lebanon’s Elections? (Part I)

crystal-ballI 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.

“Saad al-Hariri”.

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.

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49 thoughts on “Who Will Win Lebanon’s Elections? (Part I)

  1. QN,

    Great post. I love it.

    Hate to admit it, but I do love this part of the US election show. John King is very good. The information feed at his disposal is just incredible, as well as his analysis.

    Maybe someone in Lebanon’s TV world can get a similar show going. QN, You sure are giving them a head start.

    The election looks like it’s going to be very competitive and exciting, and hopefully the winner will get to work and improve the living conditions of the populace. Lots of work ahead, from electrical power issues, to agriculture policy & job creation to name a few.

    God bless Lebanon.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | February 27, 2009, 10:48 pm
  2. On first reading this I though no way. But on further reflection I think that the pollster is right in as much as they will offer the job to a M14er. Not sure if Hariri is politically savvy enough to do it or whether he really would want to though.

    But from a Hizballah pov you have to note that with all the talk of an unstoppable M8 victory, there could be an assumption that it would be a sweeping victory, so Nasrallah, knowing that any victory will be by single digits on either side has to play it down.
    And you have to remember that for all the scare tactics employed about Hizballah, their history is one of unbelievable conciliatory gestures in Lebanon. In 91, after Berri had tried to take them out, rather than finish Amal off, they allowed him to join forces with them. In 2000, they protected the members of the SLA from retribution.

    So trying to predict their politics is a guess at best.

    But, M8 isn’t just Hizballah so one has to take into account if any of their allies would oppose this (and more importantly, have an of the Sunni allies been made any promises?)

    Posted by Mo | February 28, 2009, 8:29 am
  3. QN,

    How do they decide how many rep from each area , is that depends on the population number of that area , and how can they know that without a recent count ?,

    Posted by norman | February 28, 2009, 8:49 am
  4. norman,

    Each district is allocated votes according to registered voters in that area – This does not mean the population. ie. if you are registered to vote in Tyre but live in Beirut you can only vote in Tyre.

    How can they know? They don’t specifically and the census issue is looming large.

    Posted by Mo | February 28, 2009, 9:25 am
  5. But does Hariri really want to become Prime Minister? In this position he would be blamed for all failures of the government, rising prices, security incidents, etc. This might cost him support among his sunni constituency.

    Thus, wouldn’t it be better for him to bolster his position as the Sunni leader while not being directly involved in the government? And what would his followers say when Hariri becomes PM by the grace of Hizbollah?

    Posted by c.sydow | February 28, 2009, 9:25 am
  6. MO,

    Thank you,

    That is one of the biggest problem in the Mideast , It is the case in Syria too, what they should do is have a new census and allocate representatives depending on the population and people vote and register where they live not where they come from , that is the only way to diversify people and mix the population and abandon the religious and ethnic quotas.

    Posted by norman | February 28, 2009, 9:56 am
  7. C.Sydow: I don’t think Saad wants to be PM either. He knows he’s not cut out for it.

    Ammo Norman, ahlan wa sahlan! As mo said, the numbers of representatives is based on the number of registered voters, which is itself based on very old census data. Of course, everything is also based on gerrymandered districts, dating back to the Syrian period.

    For example, while I live in Beirut, I have to go vote in Saida because my grandparents lived there until the Civil War.

    Mo, what do you mean when you say that “the census issue is looming large”?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 28, 2009, 10:30 am
  8. QN, I think if M8 win there may be a push on a new census and I think, esp. for the Sunni leadership, this is more of a threat than even the so called national defense talks, as they think they stand to lose the most from one.

    Norman, abandoning the quotas system wont happen until the Lebanese are mature enough to vote politically rather than tribally.

    Posted by Mo | February 28, 2009, 12:32 pm
  9. QN, Mo,

    I think that the civil marriage should help , It will diversify people so the children will have different religion than their parents ,

    The problem in Lebanon is that the leaders are the biggest losers if there is a new cencis and people are counted where they live , therefore it will be resisted.

    Posted by norman | February 28, 2009, 12:40 pm
  10. The point isn’t who Hizbullah appoints as prime minister. It wouldn’t matter whether they put Kermit the Frog as prime minister (though, Kermit is obviously smarter than Hariri Jr.). The point is that their position is protected when they have a majority in parliament. Also, they would continue to establish institutional control over the military, education, and social spending. They don’t need to have a figure head leader in power to do that. But they just need cooperation from the institutions. They will give themselves power over maybe two important ministries (like public works, transport and energy), and keep some distance from absolute governing…

    So what their goal is to 1) protect their position militarily (so there can’t be another 1701 fiasco), 2) continue to show that they are the best political force in lebanon (though conciliation with other parties and good use of public works), 3) legitimately weaken their opponents politically by showing they are better at governing.

    So, will they appoint Hariri Jr.? No. Primarily because he is a total moron. But they will probably appoint someone politically similar to him, but more politically reliable (ie. without the money and external political contacts to put Hizbullah in the defensive).

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 1:25 am
  11. Abdelrahman tones down his criticism of Seniora today:


    Posted by Alex | March 1, 2009, 4:10 am
  12. Joe,

    The legislative branch in Lebanon is extremely weak. The whole point of winning a parliamentary election in Lebanon is to have the ability to influence the formation of the executive branch (i.e. the prime minister and the cabinet). Because of the tenuousness of political alliances, you can’t depend on the parliament to protect your interests. You need to have strength in the cabinet.

    This is why Hizbullah is in a bit of a difficult predicament. It doesn’t want to take a large stake in the cabinet because it would prefer to stick to resistance matters and because this may cause difficulties for Lebanon vis-a-vis the west. On the other hand, it can’t sit out completely, depending on Aoun and Amal to represent it.

    I don’t get your point about 1701. Do you think that a March 8th majority will somehow shake it off? And I don’t see how it has been a “fiasco” for the Hizb.

    As for education, are you serious? How do you think that the Hizb is going to improve education in Lebanon?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2009, 5:31 am
  13. I’m just curious, since I haven’t read much of this blog before, is this another Bathist blog like Syria Comment?

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 10:44 am
  14. No Chris,

    Absolutely not. While it is difficult to pigeonhole QN, I would say that he is traveling the same path as Abu Kais from http://www.beirutbeltway.com and will eventually reach the same destination.

    Either that or he will be the one of the founders of the first truly democratic Lebanese militia… We will see.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 2:04 pm
  15. What destination is that, AIG? 🙂

    As far as I remember, poor old Abu Kais became incredibly disillusioned with Lebanese politics and shut down his blog in frustration.

    I just got started here, man!

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 1, 2009, 2:23 pm
  16. Qifa Nabki,
    I guess I was not clear. What I meant is that having a parliamentary majority will allow Hizbullah protection because they and their allies will control the executive branch. But I don’t think Hizbullah will be too interested in taking a substantial number of the cabinet posts. Rather, they would be satisfied by being protected from pressure through their allies having control. And i think they would be satisfied to appoint a prime minister who don’t oppose them (even if the PM is from M14).

    When I referenced the 1701 fiasco, I meant (and I am confident of this), that one of their primary goals is to prevent another situation like 1701. Where they didn’t have enough influence over the government to make 1701 more “balanced”. If you recall, during the war, Hizbullah was furious that the Lebanese government didn’t do more to improve the resolution. That this is not repeated, I believe, is Hizbullah’s number one priority in the formation of the new government. 1701 is on the books now, and I don’t think Hizbullah considers it a priority to try to change it (when they can just ignore it, or use their position in the military to go around it). But they do not want it strengthened or any thing else added on top of it…

    As for my reference to education, they don’t have to “improve education in Lebanon” as a whole to be successful politically. But if they improve education to Shia, they will further strengthen their position. As long as they don’t harm education otherwise. It is easy for them to argue something like, “We are a Lebanese party, that represents Lebanon, But the Shia are the most in need…”

    And in this respect, I would expect them to prioritize a new census (or, if that is too hard politically, then work for a new election law), that gives them a greater likelihood of power into the future.

    But, if i put myself in Nasrallah’s shoes, my political logic would start by asking what we can not allow the government to do (and these red lines would generally reflect military matters). The second question would be to ask how we can improve our political situation. And the answers would be to improve public services and show that Hizbullah is the most effective force in Lebanon. To some degree this would focus on the Shia, cause they are in the most need, but not to the degree that it would harm any other group…

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 2:27 pm
  17. AIG wrote:
    “Absolutely not. While it is difficult to pigeonhole QN, I would say that he is traveling the same path as Abu Kais from http://www.beirutbeltway.com and will eventually reach the same destination.”

    Well, it’s great to hear that he is difficult to pigeonhole. The last thing I want is another blog on my list of bookmarks that can be easily labelled (like Landis’ Syria Comment). With so many groups (or division) in Lebanese politics it would be nice to find someone who rises above it all.

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 3:21 pm
  18. QN,

    Abu Kais started like you believing that “soft power” can work in the middle east: Let’s sit and talk with Hizballah and the SSNP and Asad, let’s address their concerns, let us show them we really care and they will see the light.

    When age and experience will show you the light, you will either become a cynic or lose interest in the future of Lebanon. I am still hoping that you choose the only productive path and start a militia, but I realize that is unlikely 🙂

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 5:04 pm
  19. AIG,
    Once Israel is defeated, there will be no need for another Lebanese militia. And there might finally be a chance for peace in the Arab world. But until the zionist cancer is removed, I would not have much hope for peace.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 5:46 pm
  20. Joe M.,
    What was that, you said something?
    60 years we hear the same crap. Well, if repeating yourself and then having egg on your face like 3 generations of Arabs is working for you, be my guest.

    Don’t you see that tying democracy in the middle east to peace with Israel just makes Israel stronger? Ha ha, the evil Israelis hold the destiny of the Arabs in their hands. By not negotiating peace, we can make sure that Arabs will never have democratic regimes and will always stay backward. You really are giving us more credit than we deserve. The Arabs hold their fate in their own hands and can easily become democratic if they would be willing to make the sacrifice.

    Don’t you ever wonder why Israel can be a democracy without peace, and the Arabs cannot?

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 5:57 pm
  21. Israel is an racist, apartheid, theocracy. If that’s the democracy you want, then the Arab countries are equally democratic. Iran is more democratic than Israel is. Hell, the Nazis were as democratic as Israel.

    So be happy with your shit state if you want. But it is at war because it is undemocratic, because it is an unjust cancer, and because the blindness of people like you is similar to that of other cancerous ideologies, like Bin Laden’s, Hitler’s, KKK members, colonial racist South Africans, and the dustbin of other myopic fanatics. Enjoy the company of your fellow fanatics.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 6:09 pm
  22. Joe M.,
    If you feel this rhetoric is working for you keep it up. I will enjoy my state and the Arabs are most welcome to enjoy theirs.

    When will you ever learn? Maybe you need another 60 years?

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 6:21 pm
  23. 60 years is not so long. It took longer to destroy the USSR and Apartheid.

    And, I hate to break it to you, as I know you are a racist that has no understanding of reality, but the rhetoric is reality. Your state is a disease because of the fascist ideology that sustains it.

    And you can act confident, but just look how much easier it is for us today. where one Bin Laden can shake an empire, and one Iranian bomb can settle the score. Where some 2000 Hizbullah members can defeat the 4th most powerful army in the world. So, just wait, the tide has turned. You’re cancer state will be gone before you know it. Whether the Jews go back to Europe, or we take it democratically, it doesn’t matter to me. it is just a matter of time.

    And AIG, I don’t really blame you personally for being a racist. Just as I don’t really blame the Afrikaners or the Nazis. When you are fed the steaming piles of shit that you are fed, when you are taught that you are the “chosen” people…. and all the other nonsense, it’s probably a fairly normal response to become a fascist theocrat. Even Bin Laden is not insane, but the result of natural forces.

    But i do have pity for people like you. It is disgusting that the lessons Jews like you have learned from fascist racism is to be racist fascists yourselves. And in the process you have created the demons that will eventually destroy you.

    AIG, you should embrace people like me. because i don’t care whether you are Chinese Buddhist or Polish Jew, or any other race or religion…, as long as you treat Palestinians equally as you treat everyone else (including Jews). Give us equal rights to land, to political power… But the minute you use racist categories to give some people rights and take them away from others, you are no different than those like Bin Laden, who are growing in power and number every day, hate you for being a Jew.

    This is the democracy of your shit state. Enjoy the smell of your own filth.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 6:38 pm
  24. Joe M.,
    Thank you for threatening me with nuclear annihilation. I greatly appreciate that. I actually prefer dying quickly from a nuclear bomb than having to swim in the sea and then drown. So I was wrong. The rhetoric has improved somewhat since Nasser. Maybe you are slowly learning.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 6:47 pm
  25. Wow Joe! How things change and oh how they stay the same. Next thing you will say is that you are getting the boats ready to send people to Europe.

    “Once Israel is defeated, there will be no need for another Lebanese militia”

    I have got to think that sectarian conflict in Lebanon is only indirectly related to Israel, after all, sectarian conflict was raging in Lebanon long before Israel’s existence. The massacres of 1860 come to mind.

    “but it is at war because it is undemocratic”

    Really, is that the complaint that Hamas, Syria and Hizbollah have? Are they closet liberals?

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 6:47 pm
  26. Chris,
    I prefer not to address your feeble mind here as well as other blogs…

    But just to make clear, I guarantee you that if Israel allowed the “right of return” for palestinians, just as it has the “law or return”, gave Palestinians citizenship and full civil and political rights… Hizbullah and Hamas and Syria… would have no quarrel with Israel.

    That Israel defines it’s “democracy” as only Jewish, despite the fact that it takes ethnic cleansing and daily war crimes to maintain that, is the problem.

    I made no threat, but pointed out reality.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 6:54 pm
  27. AIG,
    I will just sat that if Israel was not a racist, fascist theocracy, I would be the first to fight with the Jews against those like Bin Laden who seek to destroy any individual just for being a Jew. But as it is, as I see no humanity from the likes of you, I will not be there to help pull you out of the pool of blood that you created.

    When Israel dies, it will be the result of your own inhumanity. The chickens, as they say, will have come home to roost.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 6:58 pm
  28. Qifa Nabki,
    I just want to apologize, as I did not intend that your blog become a battleground on the issue of zionism. I enjoy discussing issues of lebanon generally. But I also feel it necessary to address zionist garbage when it becomes part of the conversation.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 7:02 pm
  29. Joe,

    Thank you for deigning yourself and engaging me. As far as your remarks about Israeli democracy are concerned, I get the feeling that if those groups were most concerned about democracy they would be engaged in other lines of work. However, I am not democracy expert so I can’t really answer question about whether Israel is democracy although I wonder what what Salim Jubran the Arab member of Israel’s Supreme Court would say to this question. I wonder how Salah Tarif, an Arab citizen of Israel who served in Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, would answer this question.

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 7:06 pm
  30. Joe M.,
    What can I say to a person living in an alternative universe? Do you think I care whether you will help me or not? Since when has Israel relied on Arabs helping it? Do your worst. The rhetoric never changes and after 60 years just becomes repetitive especially since over these 60 years Israel has grown stronger and the Arabs weaker and more divided.

    Right, you do not “threaten”, you just keep predicting a black future for Israel if it doesn’t change its ways. Again, do you worst. We are used to the bravado and the rhetoric.

    Posted by AIG | March 1, 2009, 7:17 pm
  31. Chris,
    your stupidity never ceases to impress me. Let me explain a basic principle of logic to you: a statistic is not proved by an individual case. Thus, you can’t say, “I got three heads in a row, therefore there is not a 50/50 chance of a coin landing on heads…”

    Thus, you can use all the anecdotes you like, that does not make Israel democratic. It is democratic when it treats all it’s citizens equally, and when it has fair processes that do not differentiate on the bases of one’s race or religion.

    If Israel is so democratic, explain how it maintains control over the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, without allowing them access to the political system? Why does it give random Jews from Europe, Africa and India citizenship, but denies citizenship from the people it ethnically cleansed from their own homes?

    And, i can easily point out how Israel is not even democratic to its own Arab citizens… Would you consider the USA a democracy before women could vote? How about during segregation?

    What shocks me most about you, is that you seem to apply a different standard to Israel than you apply to yourself. If the USA treated African-Americans as Israel treats Palestinians, you would fight it with great passion.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 7:20 pm
  32. AIG,
    Be proud of your racism. Be proud of your fascist state. Be proud of living in a theocracy. Be proud of it. That is the cancer you support.

    And exactly, Israel doesn’t ask anything of the Arabs. And that is why Israel will continue to burn, why it is not sustainable.

    Slavery took hundreds of years to destroy, Apartheid hundreds, Colonialism hundreds, the USSR… there have been may cancers that eventually must be wiped out. and it is not easy, but they eventually die. Zionism will also suffer that fate. It’s just a matter of time.

    6 million Jews can maintain injustice indefinitely. It’s just a matter of time. And you will not see me crying when Israel is nuked by Iran, or Bin Laden, or when a tiny militia like Hizbullah defeats your terrorist army.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 7:25 pm
  33. oops, 6 million Jews can NOT maintain injustice indefinitely. That is just reality.

    Posted by Joe M. | March 1, 2009, 7:27 pm
  34. Joe have written:

    “And you can act confident, but just look how much easier it is for us today. where one Bin Laden can shake an empire, and one Iranian bomb can settle the score.”

    “When you are fed the steaming piles of shit that you are fed”

    “your stupidity never ceases to impress me”
    “I prefer not to address your feeble mind”

    Due to the unfortunate nature of these comments I prefer not to respond to your last comment.

    Posted by Chris | March 1, 2009, 7:28 pm
  35. Ok, fellas.

    I really am not interested in having my comment sections turn into a carbon copy of so many comment sections out there.

    Let’s either stay on topic, or at least discuss things in a civil fashion without resorting to unappetizing images like “steaming piles of s***” or “pools of blood”.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | March 2, 2009, 2:08 am
  36. wonderful website. thanks for the discussion and the comments as well no matter how sordid they turn.

    Posted by Sam | June 8, 2009, 10:47 am
  37. Hello,
    I’m working on a television commercial and we are interested in licensing the crystal ball photo that you have on this page for use in that commercial. Can you give me any information about where you found this photo that might help lead me to the copyright holder? Any information at all would be very much appreciated.

    Posted by Colleen | November 3, 2009, 1:04 pm


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