Elections, Lebanon

The Good, the Bad, and the Likely


Most people I speak to these days about the upcoming elections are, understandably, not that interested in the niceties of cabinet formation, the constitutionality of minority vetoes, or the viability of consensual politics in the post-Syrian era. Rather, what most people want to know is: “What’s the worst that could happen after June 7?”… or, alternatively: “What’s the ideal outcome, after June 7?” Here’s a tentative response to those questions.

The Good…

If March 8 wins, the best scenario it could hope for would be one in which all the March 14 parties agree to participate in a national unity government with a minority veto. A consensus PM would be chosen, and an atmosphere of national reconciliation would prevail. The scenes of MPs embracing each other and agreeing to put past grievances behind them would inspire investor confidence in Lebanon and Saad Hariri would hop on his jet and make a quick tour of Western and Gulf Arab capitals, assuring them that everything in Lebanon was fine, and that nobody should panic about the changing of the guard or about Hizbullah’s weapons. A few months down the road, Hariri himself would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Hizbullah and Solidere shares would go through the roof.

If March 14 wins, on the other hand, the best it could hope for would be to form a cabinet in which it holds over two thirds of the seats OR a cabinet in which President Suleiman holds the balance through a few loyal ministers, without facing a Hizbullah-Amal boycott. Rather, the opposition parties would happily join the cabinet with no blocking powers, agreeing to settle the thorny issue of the resistance through national dialogue talks, which have worked so brilliantly in the past. In the course of these talks, Hizbullah would agree to disarm of its own accord (because M14 “asked nicely”), donating its guns to another worthy resistance somewhere in the world.

The Bad…

If March 8 wins, the worst that could happen would be a boycott of its cabinet by all of the March 14 parties (with the likely exception of Walid Jumblatt), and a concomitant loss of foreign aid, loan guarantees, and Gulfi tourists. Iran would quickly jump in with an offer to supply the Lebanese army with weapons and training, which would lead Israel to make the case — accepted by the world — that Lebanese officialdom was now an extension of the Iranian Revolution. A couple of months later, a Lebanese shepherd firing his ancient rifle at an Israeli wolf on the border would trigger a massive ground, sea, and air invasion (not countered by a single retaliatory strike from Syria or Iran), and Lebanon would be flattened.

If March 14 wins, its doomsday scenario would be the aforementioned boycott of its cabinet by the FPM and the Shiite parties, and a return to the sit-in days of 2007-08. The coalition splinters as the West grows tired with the Cedar Revolution, and an ignominious settlement reached in Doha (or worse yet, Damascus) returns the country to yet another round of parliamentary elections. This time, March 14 loses in a landslide. Syria offers to send in its troops to stabilize Lebanon from another round of failure and impotence at the highest levels of government, and the West happily agrees. Hail the Third Republic!

The Likely…

As for what is likely to happen, I may as well just quote the most common response of the vast majority of people whom I’ve asked this question — including politicians, journalists, soldiers, taxi drivers, political consultants, and pollsters: “How the hell am I supposed to know?”
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19 thoughts on “The Good, the Bad, and the Likely

  1. I would add a 4th scenario to the above and that is The Prefered.

    My Prefered scenario is for a no clear winner, or at least a winner with an unconvincing victory. An almost 50-50 split would hopefully force all parties (after some bickering of course) to work together for a change.

    BTW QN, who are you voting for? (i know you probably wont answer but i had to ask)

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | May 31, 2009, 10:45 am
  2. Wow, Qifa, the force is strong with you on this post! I particularly liked the “Israeli wolf” sparking the war. Good stuff. Do they even have ’em? I bet Nasrallah has them trained as spices.

    I think you missed the middle ground however. What if March 8 won and nothing happened? The guard changed, the world lived with it and investment slowed, but didn’t die out. Clearly the U.S. is going to be uneasy with a March 8 government. That is for sure. But Hez and co already have representation in Parliament, a veto and an armed militia that some say is the 4th most powerful CONVENTIONAL force in the Middle East. I think they could charge all of Beirut if they wanted, but they don’t. They want legitimacy and stability, well, at least for now. Hez is turning into a regional player as we saw with the Egypt thing last month and now the Azeri plot that was foiled. They are trying to unite the clans, not repeat 2006. I think March 8 will win and it could be a good thing in that it will force the Christians to stop being such Eastern Euro mobsters. (But I do agree that Bibi has already drafted the J post op ed that calls the “Lebanese officialdom” the “ghost of Khomeini.”

    Think there is a middle ground?

    Abu G

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | May 31, 2009, 11:01 am
  3. Oh, and PS–I’m writing an article on surfing in Lebanon for The Surfers Journal. I’ll be there in a few weeks. Any waves at the moment?

    Posted by Abu Guerrilla | May 31, 2009, 11:05 am
  4. I do not think anyone would be brave enough to put his/her mortgage on what would transpire after 7 June.

    That said, there seem to be a growing consensus among observers that M8 would end up with a slight advantage in new Parliament. And if one was to take public statements by politicians at face value (a risky business at the best of times, especially in Lebanon; but what the heck, nothing else to do) one would end up with a scenario close to this:

    1- The former opposition would renew its call for M14 to join the new government. Jumblat would be accommodating, as well as others each for a reason known best to him/her. This would make obsolete M14 as an effective and coherent political entity;

    2- Hariri is more likely to excuse himself from this responsibility, leaving the huge problems inherited from the old government as well as the new ones to the expected majority. He will concentrate on his personal business and on trying to regain part of the credibility he lost with some of his main backers as a result of his political naiveté. He will be back, though;

    3- Christian members of M14 who chose to stick to their guns would be a vociferous opposition, by-and-large tolerated by the new government;

    4- Initially the new government would be under regional and international pressure, primarily economically. This pressure however would lose impetus with the passage of time, and the world would have to conduct business with the government. My reading of certain declared positions by interested world capitals i.e. Paris, Washington, Cairo and Riyadh leads me to this conclusion;

    5- The Hizb would be less involved in the day-to-day running of the government. he would prefer to leave it to his ‘partners” while maintaining a close watch that no real ‘harm’ would ensue as a result of possible over-eagerness on the part of some of his ‘partners’;

    6- National Dialogue would continue to be held. While the Hizb’s arms would remain on the agenda, it will not be the sole item of discussion, and will be superseded at certain periods by other ‘concerns’ such as a new electoral law and the abolition of political sectarianism, as well as other issues that seem borne out of the Ta’if accords;

    7- Damascus and Tehran, especially the former would be smiling all the way to the embrace of the international community;

    8- Israel would be challenged, more than ever in its history. Whether it will react in the accustomed way of upping the ante through intimidation and sabre rattling, as Netanyahu is likely to prefer, is a matter of debate, especially with some like Obama at the helm in Washington …

    … And we will all live happily ever after.


    Posted by Question Marks | May 31, 2009, 11:55 am
  5. Good comments, guys, particularly the most recent one from Question Marks.

    IC: Surely you know me better than that, ya habibi. Moi, express an opinion?!

    Abu G: I’m currently sitting on the fifteenth floor of an office building in West Beirut, about 500 meters from the sea. I can’t see a single wave. The bay of Beirut is like glass.

    But I hear that the surfing is decent up near Batroun and Byblos.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 31, 2009, 4:23 pm
  6. The likely, as far as I can tell, is the return within months to a place where the only tie breaker are some form or election or another – dunno which, but it’s as likely to be miss Lebanon or city mayors…

    Posted by Joujolie | May 31, 2009, 4:23 pm
  7. The more likely is that M8 wins with at least 8 seats more than M14 including the so called centrists.
    A cabinet will be formed without the Future, LF & Kataib.
    The economy will flourish & security will improve. The world will acknowledge the democratic process. The American position will not make a difference.

    The million dollar question is, what will happen if Saniora does not win in Saida? Bearing in mind that the immunity of cabinet members is still under consideration, will he be prosecuted for the billions?

    Posted by i.e. Lubnan | May 31, 2009, 6:12 pm
  8. Given the almost even split in the country between M8 and M14, I think the best outcome would be unity government.

    It’s not ideal from a democratic perspective, whereby you have a ruling majority and a constructive opposition.

    A unity government will afford the country a better position navigating the unsettled geopolitical situation in the ME, and thus give the country the time to concentrate on important issues like the economy, while the differences between the two blocks are being worked out through constructive dialogue under the leadership of the president.

    In a nut shell, a unity gov would be more constructive and safer for the country at this juncture.

    Posted by Ras Beirut | May 31, 2009, 6:35 pm
  9. Forgive me for sticking my nose in Lebanese affairs, but as an Israeli, I think you’d expect nothing less of me…

    From “our angle”, I think it would be great if M8 wins. Naturally, if they achieve more power, they’ll have more to lose and hence will be far less likely to take chances vis-a-vis Israel. Also, an M8 victory will force the U.S., at long last, to accept that Hezbollah is not just a “terrorist organization”, but indeed a serious political player that must be recognized and engaged.

    One final note about deterrence. As horrible as Summer 2006 was (and it WAS, especially for Lebanon), the result is a bizarre mutual-deterrence which, I believe, will last quite a few years into the future. I disagree with the Lebanese shepherd – Israeli wolf scenario (btw, yes, we do have wolves here), because neither HA nor Bibi want another 34 days of Hell. And both know, that if there ever was a 2nd-round, it would be FAR WORSE. HA probably has 4 or 5 times as many missiles, including much better and longer-ranged ones. And Israel, annoyed at its humiliating “loss” (irrelevant whether it was or not, the perception remains) will be far less patient this time. It may punish Lebanon as a whole much more, and perhaps even drag Syria into it.

    That’s the last thing Bibi needs on his clock, and the same for The Sayyed. Hence, a mini-version of the Cold War Era’s M.A.D.

    Posted by Shai | May 31, 2009, 9:10 pm
  10. What painting is that? Reminds me of Dali . . .

    Posted by Abraham Rotsapsky | May 31, 2009, 11:54 pm
  11. It may punish Lebanon as a whole much more, and perhaps even drag Syria into it.


    I agree.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 1, 2009, 2:37 am
  12. This is should make everybody relax, nothing will change,

    Polls unlikely to change the political face in Lebanon

    05/31/2009 11:05 PM | By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor

    Dubai: Lebanon will head to the polls on June 7 to elect a new parliament expected to resemble the outgoing one, albeit with a few and minor differences.

    The political mosaic in the Legislative Council looks as if it will not be drastically different.

    Analysts say that the outcome of the elections may not dramatically change Lebanon’s position on the regional political arena, as some quarters have tried to portray.

    As in all other elections, the atmosphere ahead of the polling is full of “fierce competition,” Lebanese columnist Nichola Naseef said.

    “There is a strong struggle to form the electoral lists, immense enthusiasm, and massive public groupings [split among the candidates]. But this should not be the criteria to say that this election is crucial, or it will change the face of Lebanon in case one group wins and another lose. Nothing will change in Lebanon,” Naseef said.

    Others are concerned that the poll results will shake up the multi-ethnic and multi-religious-sector country, and it will constitute a turning point for Lebanon’s political alienation.

    Currently, the ‘March 14 alliance’ – a grouping of different Muslim and Christian parties who are for the West and against Syria – has a majority of the 128-member parliament.

    As a result, it has the constitutional right to name the prime minister. Prominent figures in this alliance are Sa’ad Al Hariri, former president Ameen Al Gemayel and Druze leader Walid Jumblat.

    In the opposition camp, Hezbollah is considered the leading party in the ‘March 8 alliance. This alliance also includes Christian parties who are for Syria and against the West. However, they are the minority in parliament.

    While many Lebanese believe it is too early to predict the winners and losers, some believe the March 8 alliance’s weight will tip the scales this time for many reasons.

    These include the recent release of four Lebanese generals over insufficient evidence in the case of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. They spent nearly four years in prison.

    However, the difference is not expected to be big.

    Analysts believe the difference will not exceed ten seats from the status quo. Currently, Hezbollah and its allies have 58 seats in the parliament. These are divided equally between Muslims and Christians.

    Analysts fear that an electoral victory by Hezbollah, which is blacklisted by the United States and some European countries, may push Lebanon further towards both Syria and Iran and distance it further from the West and its allies. They believe this threatens the much-needed political and economic support.

    For example, the United States has committed over $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) to Lebanon since 2006. This includes $410 million availed to the country’s security forces. However, other political analysts describe such fears as exaggerated. “The changes [in the next parliament] are going to be minor and not essential,” Lebanese columnist Hosani Eitani said.

    “The next parliament will also have the two blocs [the March 8 and March 14 alliances] and regardless of the side that is going to manage to form the majority bloc, it can’t delete the presence of the other.”

    He added that the administration to be formed would also be a national unity government, regardless of who ended up being the majority and minority partners.

    Politically, Lebanon has witnessed many alliances among rival factions in the past few decades.

    In the country’s political history, it is not unusual to make friends of yesterday’s enemies and vice-versa.

    “The election in Lebanon has always been an internal affair,” Naseef said. “It will be another day for the Lebanese on June 8 and the debate will shift from elections to efforts to form the government.”

    Posted by norman | June 1, 2009, 2:53 am
  13. It seems to me that in the event of an M8 win, Awn would become the face of Lebanon for the West; something of a mitigating factor that leads to the middle ground #4 was laying out.

    I’m curious what the more learned members of the board think of Awn’s role in a (‘little-f’) future government?

    Also, at the risk of sounding conspiratorial: AJE posted a story today that in Nasrallah’s most recent speech (today?) he said he’d ask Iran to make up the difference in international funding. Regarding the rumors that HA is tanking it for their big prize fight, I would imagine that these sorts of statements would be incredibly frustrating for the Party’s coalition partners.

    great blog, thanks

    Posted by wasp mustafa | June 1, 2009, 3:11 am
  14. Whoever wins does not matter. Lebanon will remain a place where regional scores are settled… the idea that this failure of a country and its corrupt society of sectarian tribes will enjoy stability and prosperity if M8 or M14 wins is nothing but naive wishful thinking. The Lebanese may dress or party like advanced western societies but when it comes to true Democracy, governance or nation building they are as backward as the Taliban

    Posted by V | June 1, 2009, 6:36 am
  15. QN – One way to approach this is by analyzing who has the most to lose in this election and then guessing what are they capable of doing in such case. To spare all an extremely long post, I think it is obvious that the Hizb has the most to lose if M8 loses the election. What is at stake is the Hizb’s legitimacy. That legitimacy is threatened if M8 lost and/or does not get veto power. All other parties do not have that issue.
    Now what is the Hizb capable of doing? Wind back the clock about a year to May 7 and you will have an idea.

    Posted by MM | June 1, 2009, 6:53 am
  16. MM,

    A logical approach, I must admit. However, this approach will carry weight only if the picture changes dramatically i.e. M14 and its allies (Centrists perhaps!) increase their share of the Parliament seats to a level that gives it a substantial majority that would practically overcome the veto that the third has been able to impose.

    Alas, this is not likely to happen, not in this round at least.

    Hizbullah has proved quite adept at ‘playing the game’ with the level of its existing parliamentary representation (with allies of course). Although the Hizb would welcome a national consensus over its perceived role, present and future, it doesn’t represent, at this particular point in time an overriding priority. We heard statements from across the board of the hizb’s leadership that, and I am paraphrasing, that no resistance in the history of mankind has ever enjoyed absolute support.

    Do not get me wrong, the Hizb would love to win a big enough majority come 8 June, and contrary to some analysts it is working pretty hard at achieving this. But not being successful in that endeavour will not derail the Hizb and its supporters too far away from its chartered course.

    As one eagle-eyed observer of the Lebanese scene put it to me: if the Hizb (and its supporters) were to gain more seats, that is a bonus. In the event that it doesn’t, then it is back to business as usual, pre-7 June style.

    That said, I really do not see a revisit of the 7 May affair in the near future a plausible scenario come what may post-7 June; circumstances that led to it will not be repeated any time soon, I believe.


    Posted by Question Marks | June 1, 2009, 12:29 pm
  17. Questions Marks,
    The picture need not change dramatically. I was referring to veto power in the government and not parliament. Keep in mind that only a simple parliamentary majority is needed to name a prime minister and approve a cabinet. While I believe that in the event M14 wins parliament, they will give President Sleiman veto power in the government if M8 refuses to participate in anything less than a blocking third of cabinet posts.

    Posted by MM | June 1, 2009, 3:10 pm
  18. MM,

    You may well be right about M14 dragging the presidency into the quagmire as way of curbing M8, particularly Hisbullah, and prevent them from holding the veto they have so far held in the executive branch. To succeed in this however, the Presidency would need to have parliamentarians of its own, a thing that is so far not clear. If you are alluding in your analysis to a ‘centrist block’, then we will have to wait and see whether the electorate would look at and vote for them as such. Another thing to look out for is the stance that President Suleiman would take.

    In trying to analyse the executive branch of the post 7 June, I advice looking closely at the emerging dynamic lead by Berri and Jumblat. This new-old getting together could be the safety net that Lebanon would require if no clear winner emerges from the elections.


    Posted by Question Marks | June 1, 2009, 9:40 pm
  19. I believe that Mar 8 will win in a landslide. At that point, forced conversions to Shiism will pick up. Lebanon will sign a defence pact with Iran, and Iranian troops (Pasdaran) will be stationed all over Lebanon. Iran will initiate low level conflict with Israel by lobbing occasional Zelzal missiles into Israel, and denying responsibility. Maronites and Sunnis will be coerced into being “shaheeds” by Hezbollah, and the recruitment tool will be threats of physical violence against family members.

    Posted by Emile Ghoul | June 3, 2009, 3:35 pm

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