Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon

The Magic Number (or, “Who Will Win Lebanon’s Elections, part 2”)

magic-numberI 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.
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16 thoughts on “The Magic Number (or, “Who Will Win Lebanon’s Elections, part 2”)

  1. QN

    I admittedly don’t know much about Lebanese politics, but I’m curious to know why you think the FPM will sweep Baabda, when the 2005 results were very much split between March 14 and March 8, with a March 14 edge? Was Baabda redistricted because of Doha or something like that?


    Posted by Greg | April 18, 2009, 5:44 pm
  2. Dear Greg,

    Good question. In 2005, Baabda was part of a larger district (Mount Lebanon III) which included Aley. This enabled the March 14th list to win all 11 seats (which included a spot for Ali Ammar, a Hizbullah MP, as the result of the quadripartite alliance).

    At Doha, Baabda was separated from Aley, so the Aounists are confident that they’ll sweep the district. I’m not as certain, but we’ll see.

    It’s interesting that you ask, because just yesterday I was tallying up the votes from that district to see what the results would have been had a system of proportional (rather than majoritarian) representation been used. Tellingly, the FPM list would have won 5 of the 11 seats, rather than none of them.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 18, 2009, 5:52 pm
  3. QN,

    Just out of curiosity, what happens if M8 & M14 get 64 each?

    Do they toss a coin at the point?

    Posted by Ras Beirut | April 18, 2009, 6:23 pm
  4. Ras Beirut,

    In that case, I’d imagine that everything would have to be achieved through “consensus”, God help us…

    I’m writing something along these lines, which will be coming out in a couple of weeks (not on the blog). To me, much more likely is that neither coalition wins a majority, and the centrists become the kingmakers.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 18, 2009, 6:36 pm
  5. Thanks QN.

    If your predictions come to fruitation, and the centrists become the kingmakers, lets hope that these centrists will have a good agenda.

    Also, what’s your prection for Metn? Looks like it is very competitive.

    You’re our election guru now, and you’re doing a great job at it with unbiased reporting.

    Thanks again.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | April 18, 2009, 7:20 pm
  6. Who are the centrists? Just curious to know. I always hear about that nowadays (a very recent term). But it is still not clear to me who is included in the so-called centrist block? Can someone clarify this to me?

    Posted by Nidal | April 19, 2009, 9:04 am
  7. So Aoun gets elected and Feltman asks him:
    Do you and Lebanon stand behind 1701?

    What does he answer?

    What does Aoun do about the debt? How does he roll it over without towing the Western line?

    Where does Aoun go to next time the Lebanese currency is under pressure? Do you think the Saudis will give him money like they gave Saniora and Hariri?

    Lebanon is so dependent on the West and Saudi that Aoun will find himself in an impossible position. It will be fun watching him squirm.

    Posted by AIG | April 20, 2009, 6:40 am
  8. QN,

    Could you help me out on my question above? Also, I’d like to know your opinion on Aoun and his party, the FPM. Do you think that the FPM would still be popular and standing if Aoun were not its leader? Or is it simply a one-man show like all other parties in Lebanon (except for Hezbollah which is very organized)?

    Posted by Nidal | April 20, 2009, 7:54 am
  9. Nidal,

    There is no centrist “bloc” per se. The idea was first floated when Michel el-Murr broke with Aoun’s Change & Reform Bloc, and everybody started speculating as to whether Murr would form his own group of (allegedly) non-aligned “centrists” to run in the Metn. The Aounists objected and have tried to label the initiative as a see-through March 14 attempt to draw Christian votes away from the FPM.

    Right now Murr is heading up a joint M14/”centrist” list in the Metn, which has already caused difficulties, with the withdrawal of Nassib Lahoud.

    When I refer to centrists, I don’t mean any particular bloc, because no such bloc has emerged as yet. I really mean all of these independent candidates who are finding themselves on the lists of both coalitions, and who will be able to exercise a significant influence on their decision-making if the elections are extremely close.

    As for the FPM, I actually do think that they would be standing. They would need to find another charismatic leader to keep the flame alive, but the amazing thing to me about the FPM is the energy and vibrancy of its base supporters.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | April 20, 2009, 9:09 am
  10. I vote march 14, not because i hate the march 8 coalition, but because im afraid march 8 will turn our nation into a new Iraq, bloody and violent. March 8 cant figt for the interest of our lebanese shia brothers, because they take orders from Iran. And Iran doesnt fight for the interest of our Shia lebanese brothers, they fight for influence!

    Posted by Yalibnan | May 24, 2009, 6:40 pm
  11. Dear Greg,

    There are two reasons why the FPM lead list will clean sweep Baabda as follows:

    1. In 2005, Baabda and Aley were one electoral district, while in 2009, Baabda is its own separate district. Aley has a very very large PSP (Progressive Socialist Party) presence that is not as prominant in Baabda. i.e. Most Druze are PSP supporters and it is very rare to find non-Druze PSP supporters. The Druze comprise 55% of Aley voters but only 20% of Baabda voters.

    2. In 2005, the overwhelming majority of Shiites (75-80%) in Baabda voted with the PSP-lead due to an electoral alliance between Hezbollah and PSP against the FPM. Shiites comprise about 23% of Baabda voters, a significant minority. In 2009, the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM will ensure that the FPM-lead list will win at least 85-90% of the Shiite vote. This equqtes to approximately 10,000 Shiite voters who last time voted for PSP but will this time be voting FPM. Therefore this is a difference of 20K votes which is a massive factor.

    Conclusion: The great reduction of PSP votes by separating Baabda from Aley as well as the switching of about 10,000 Shiite votes from PSP to FPM will ensure that the FPM-leas list will almost certainly win Baabda extremely comfortably.

    In conclusions,

    Posted by Baabda Resident | June 2, 2009, 7:10 am


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