Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon

The Christian Vote

gorlizki-artichokeI’m personally not so interested in questions like: “Who is the most popular Christian leader in Lebanon, according to Christians themselves…?” But it seems that many others (including a few readers of this blog) are interested in precisely this question, so I’ve decided to look into it.

First, a methodological puzzle. How do you go about determining whom Christians (or Sunnis or Shiites or Druze, etc.) voted for in this election? After all, voting is conducted anonymously right? It’s not as though each sect gets its own specially color-coded ballot. So how do pollsters and analysts work out which votes came from which sect?

It turns out (according to two trusted experts I asked about this) that Lebanon’s polling stations are largely segregated by sect. This is not by design as much as it is by custom. People have historically voted in communal centers close to where they lived — schools, municipal buildings, and the reception areas of churches and mosques — and this is how it has remained, even as people have moved away from their ancestral villages. As a result, members of the same sect end up on the same registration lists in the same polling stations, and new voters are added to the lists where their parents or extended relatives are registered.

When the Interior Ministry publishes the voting data according to polling station, it is a simple step to re-sort it according to confession, and then to determine the number of Christian votes earned by each coalition. If the next election law mandates the reshuffling of ballots gathered from all the polling stations before they are counted (as Minister Ziad Baroud has demanded), then it will be impossible to link voting data to sects.

Now back to the original question: how did the Christians vote? Surprisingly, analysts on both sides of the political divide agree that Aoun’s support among Christians has fallen from its lofty perch. Kamal Feghali says that it dropped from 63% in 2005 to 53% in 2009, while a study commissioned by An-Nahar says that Aoun’s support now stands at 49%. In other words, he almost certainly remains the most popular Christian leader among Christians, but he’s not so popular as he once was. And there you have it. (Can we change the subject now?)

In other news, those of you who have expressed your admiration for the lovely header at the top of this blog will be pleased to learn that I had the chance to meet Alexander Gorlizki (the artist) today in his New York studio, and managed to convince him to sell me the painting. Alexander’s work is remarkable; if you Google him, you’ll find many beautiful samples.
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10 thoughts on “The Christian Vote

  1. “Who is the most popular Christian leader in Lebanon, according to Christians themselves…?
    I assume it’s Jesus, but my money is on abu Antoon (yaani, who give’s a rat’s ass…)

    Those who have Zaim Worship complex are the worst of the worst in my humble opinion.

    Posted by SA | July 1, 2009, 12:43 am
  2. I’ve never really understood why the particular concentration on the “single” most important Christian leader. As long as the Kataeb and LF are joined at the hip, it doesn’t make much sense not to count their supporters together.

    Finally, some of my highly scientific polling research has led me to believe that the mot popular Christian leader was not, in fact, even on the ballots, even if he figured heavily in the runup to the elections: the ghost of Bashir Gemayel.

    Posted by sean | July 1, 2009, 12:47 am
  3. I am glad you asked the question – because if we are honest, lots of people are very interested in the answer, if as we protest that we don’t want to “think sectarian” …

    Based on what you report, it seems that it is all good – the electoral system basically reflects the popular will with the Michel Aoun-led Free Patriotic Movement having the largest number of Maronite M.P.s in the new Parliament (15).

    Followed by:

    4 Maronites MPs from Marada/Solidarity;
    4 in Lebanese Forces (Geagea; Adwan; Zahra; Keyrouz);
    4 in Kataeb(Gemayel,S & N, Marouni,Saadeh);
    3 in PSP Gathering (al-Saad; Helou, E.Aoun);
    1 in Futute (Hobeich);
    2 pro-Future independents (Harb, Ghanem);
    1 National Liberal (Chamoun)

    That means, 19 Maronite MPs in “March 8” and 15 in “March 14” – so that is really quite close to a fair representation of voters’ intentions.

    Quite impressive result for Lebanon’s voting system, on this occassion!

    As for the Greek Orthodox vote, my instinct is that traditionally a great tendency for Greek Orthodox to vote similarly to Sunnis in Lebanon i.e. traditionally, Orthodox tend closer to Sunni than to Maronite in their politics – I wonder if that impression I have is backed up by data???

    Posted by Sofia al-Riachy (nee) | July 1, 2009, 1:21 am
  4. hehehe,

    it is true,

    with the likes of aoun, geagea and amine gemayel, it is hard not to miss bachir

    Posted by LF_france | July 1, 2009, 4:45 am
  5. So far as I can tell, the sectarian division of polling statiions is very much by design. Look over this information from the state election website: http://www.elections.gov.lb/Polling-Stations/List-of-Locations.aspx. Different sects in different buildings and rooms. That’s how with vote figures by polling station one can determine exactly how Christians, Sunnis, Shia, etc. voted.

    Posted by Matt | July 1, 2009, 4:50 am
  6. of course it is very much by design.
    how else would politicians to be insure that they get what they paid for?
    it’s a mockery of a democracy my friend.

    Posted by babagannouj | July 1, 2009, 9:48 am
  7. Following up on what Matt said, it is very much by design.

    Every Lebanese (extended) family has a registration number, which is only unique per Qada`. It took me until this election to realise that it is also only unique per sect. So in Saida, a Sunni family could have a registeration number of ‘101’, while a Shiite family could also have a registration number of ‘101’. But no two Sunni families and no two Shiite families would have the same registration number.

    At the polling stations, each room is divided by registration number and sect. So you would have one room for Maronite families with registration numbers from 1 to 100. Another room would be for Sunni families with registration numbers from 1 to 100. When counting votes, you know which room each ballot box came from, so you can easily work out the per sect voting patterns.

    Of course, if there are sects with too few families at a polling station, they all get lumped into the same ballot box. But I guess no one cares about their voting power.

    But it also means that parties can also figure out voting patterns for family blocs, which must help them no end in figuring out how much an effect their election ‘gifts’ had.

    Posted by RedLeb | July 1, 2009, 7:47 pm
  8. I’d like to remind all the Ziad Baroud worshipers that it is true that sectarian division of polling statiions is very much by design, but that communal separation has no grounds in law. It’s a practice that has been followed by the Ministry of Interior and the Ziad Baroud blindly followed.

    As for thinking sectarian, there is a slight difference between taking into account “sectarian” (i.e. communal) data, testing “sectarian” (i.e. communal) hypothesis and making sectarian assumptions (which is based on prejudice).

    For instance, saying that Michel Aoun remains the most popular maronite figure among Christians is true if you look into the communally based ballot box breakdown and if you take into account the way the FPM announced its lists. This is a valid statement that can be tested.

    If you reverse that statement, and say “Christians prefer Michel Aoun”, this is a communal generalisation that is unacceptable, because Christians are not a deliberative group, they have cast their votes individually in different constituencies, in a nation wide election.
    There is a difference between saying that a majority of Christians voted for someone and stating that they have collectively preferred someone.

    I have two problems with communal generalisation:
    First, communal generalisation are usually groundless & meaningless.
    Ex1: the “leftist” theory in the 1970s that gave a class reading of communal groups (it is true that the biggest trunk of the middle class was Christian, but an increasing number of muslims were becoming middle class, and you had an important lower class within the Christian community that was in deep crisis).
    Ex2: the idea that some communities are urban and others are rural. If the Greek-Orthodox are “urban”, what do you do with those of Akkar, Wadi el taym, Koura and the “higher” Metn (where the bulk of the Orthodox community traditionally resides). And do you call having chicken in Beirut urban, or growing vegetables (which was quite a general activity in Ras Beirut until the 1960s) an urban activity?
    Ex3: Kamal Hamdan (if memory serves me right) once defended a communal reading of the agricultural sector. The apple was a maronite fruit, the olive a greek-orthodox, tobacco a shiite… What meaning does such a breakdown have when you consider that only a small number or people from each community are actually involved in that economical sector!
    Ex3: What Sofia al-Riachy’s (comment #3) instincts tell her.

    Second, communal generalisations completely dismiss other factors: economical issues, class issues, family issues, regional preferences, the ability of local representatives or candidates… For example, the Metn area has traditionally been divided into three distinct areas: the coast, the middle area and the jurd. We find very important socio-economical discrepancies between those areas. Such breakdowns are ignored by communal-exclusive approaches.

    Posted by worriedlebanese | July 2, 2009, 6:05 am
  9. ooooo!
    The most popular Christian leader!
    I love this topic, especially that it reflects how divided Christians are…

    There they sit on their cardboard thrones of popularity, patriotism, “righteous path”, perfection, etc…

    Since forever, we Christians have been divided/weak because of our mega-ego complex and our thirst to rule our brethren, I recommend we put all of these Christian leaders in a tin box (I’ve only mentioned Christian leaders as they “represent” me) and roll it down dome cliff.
    Other leaders can be stocked differently following the taste of each sect.

    Anarchy is far more better than this present “government”.

    p.s.: I apologize for probably going out of context, but it’s qifa nabki wa 2ana abki…

    Posted by samah | July 2, 2009, 8:40 am


  1. Pingback: Nonsense in the News « Sharq Awsatee (My Middle East) - July 1, 2009

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