I was thinking yesterday about the likely makeup of the next parliament, in the event of an opposition win. The question that came to mind was: “How many seats does the Change & Reform bloc need to win in order to push the opposition over the 64-seat mark?”
For the past several months, polls published by both sides have predicted a swing of less than ten seats, and occasionally less than five. When I did the numbers on the blog two months ago, I tentatively forecasted a very slim win for the opposition (66-62). Of course, it could easily go the other way depending on how things play out in the swing districts of Beirut I, Zahle, and the Metn.
But assuming that this situation obtains, what would Lebanon’s new majority look like, in terms of its constituent blocs? Due to the built-in confessional quotas of the Lebanese political system, and the fact that Hizbullah has pointedly refrained from seeking more parliament seats than it won in 2005, a March 8th majority would — by necessity — have to be dominated by the Michel Aoun-led Change & Reform bloc.
In 2005, Hizbullah, AMAL, and their allies (SSNP, Baath, and a couple of independents) won 35 seats, while the FPM and its allies in the Change & Reform bloc won 21 seats, producing an opposition of 56 seats (out of 128). Assuming that Hizbullah/AMAL/& friends can win 35 again (a safe bet), Aoun’s bloc will have to come up with at least 30 seats to get to 65. If Hizbullah and Berri offer Aoun their three seats in the Christian district of Jezzine (which they swept in 2005), this will mean that the Change & Reform Bloc (which will include the Free Patriotic Movement, Suleiman Frangieh’s Marada, Elias Skaff’s Zahle list, Tashnaq, and some independents) will be 33-strong. And this is under the condition that the opposition wins only the slimmest of majorities, at 65. If they bump it to 68, C&R could have as many as 36 seats, which is the number that the Future Movement won in 2005.
The point: if March 8 wins, Aoun will be the big man on campus as he will preside over a bloc that is larger than all of Hizbullah, AMAL, etc. combined, and this is surely by design. To those who scoff, saying that while Aoun may look like he is in charge, everybody will know who wears the pants in the coalition, I would simply advise you to spend half an hour with the General. You’ll be disabused of that notion (and your pants too, for that matter) rather quickly.
I’ve been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan lately, and so I feel slightly sheepish prognosticating about the elections. Let me offer a couple of caveats, then: (1) I’m wearing pajamas as I write this, not a suit and tie; (2) If anything highly unexpected happens like war breaking out or someone getting assassinated — ok, maybe not that unexpected — all bets are off.