Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:03 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:03 | SYDNEY

Lebanon: Electioneering and social engineering


Rodger Shanahan


29 April 2009 11:03

Relatively free and fair elections are a rarity in the Middle East and, while the outdated sectarian apportionment system calls into question the fairness of Lebanese elections, in the absence of Syrian occupation forces these elections qualify as the freest in the Arab world.

But the mercantile nature of the Lebanese people, the large Lebanese diaspora and the unfortunate convergence of competing regional interests that have historically been played out in the Lebanese republic all combine to give Lebanese elections an air of, well, let's call it individualism.

This year's elections will be no exception, if external and internal dynamics are any indication.  The requirement for Lebanese citizens to vote in the district of their family's origin rather than their residence means that traditional familial power structures can be less affected by urbanisation than in other countries. The need to establish electoral lists (analagous to Australian 'how to vote' cards) adds another level of complexity to the process, and makes cross-sectarian electoral alliances an essential element in gaining a parliamentary seat.

Still, the more votes one can garner then the more likely one is to be elected. And with voters having to turn up in person at the voting booth, Saudi Arabia has allegedly been taking an active interest in ensuring that expatriate voters will have every chance in doing just that, according to this NY Times report
External actors have always been synonomous with Lebanese politics, and this continues to be the case. The US had Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visit Beirut last Sunday to urge the elections to be free and fair. Syria, despite having withdrawn from Lebanon, maintains an active policy designed to ensure that Syrian interests are protected regardless of the result. Iran, meanwhile, has shown remarkable audacity in deflecting any accusations that it may support its ally Hizbullah in the elections by claiming that both Israel and Egypt are seeking to influence the electoral outcome. 
As far as the pro-Iranian Hizbullah is concerned, the limitations imposed on the Shi'a population as a consequence of Lebanon's electoral system will limit its success in terms of seats gained, but its attraction among the Shi'a is still immensely strong, despite this Wall Street Journal article's slightly strange claim that some of yesteryear's Shi'a feudal families may make an electoral comeback at Hizbullah's expense.