Monday, November 2, 2009

Electoral Reform Lebanon

I have just finished a piece for the think tank the Foreign Policy Centre on electoral reform in Lebanon. The piece focused on why there was such a misunderstanding of the Lebanese elections by the Western media and on the desire for electoral reform in Lebanon.

Electoral Reform in Lebanon

In June 2009 Lebanon held its first 'free' election since 1972. On the conclusion of the elections Western media and political analysts were particularly guilty of premature celebrations and hyperbole, regarding the Western backed March 14 coalition election victory. These past elections were not a battle in which: "President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran"(1) or Western ideals of liberal democracy triumphed against Islamic totalitarianism. This confusion was immediately evident after the winning March 14 coalition soon began to fracture and Lebanon fell into all too familiar political paralysis. The reason for this misplaced euphoria by Western pundits was due to an essential misunderstanding about the battle being fought on the Lebanese political playing field. These elections were largely void of political ideology and were centered on the fight to represent certain sectarian groups, especially so for the Christian population, and the protection of patrimonial networks. Consociational politics have been deliberately established in Lebanon to ensure the protection of minority groups and ensure power sharing. But the politics of sect are not seen as sufficient by the Lebanese and there is a strong desire among civil society actors to change this consociational politics. One method being pushed, in this battle of "bad governance against good," is electoral reform. Reformers are trying to ensure that in the creation of a new election law for the 2013 elections two mechanisms are introduced: Proportional Representation (PR) and the creation of a Senate.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Appeals to the Constitutional Council

The election results were accepted by all sides but suddenly the losers in this election, and in some cases even the winners (indirectly), have decided to challenge the results. A barrage of electoral disputes have been delivered to the Constitutional Council hours before the deadline by both sides. An-Nahar has published the full list of those candidates that have complained to the Council:

Candidate Rachid ad Daher against MP Hadi Hobeich

Candidate Nicola Sahnaoui against MP Michel Pharaon

Candidate Eddie Abi al Lamaa against MP Salim Salhab

Candidate Emile Kanaan against MP Ibrahim Kanaan

Candidate Elie Karameh against MP Edgar Maalouf

Candidate Elias Moukhayber against MP Ghassan Moukhayber

Candidate Sarkis Sarkis against MP Nabil Nikola

Candidate Kamil Maalouf against MP Joseph Maalouf

Candidate Rami Oleik against MP Abbas Hachem

Minister Elias Skaf against MP Nicola Fatouch

Former MP Salim Aoun against MP Elie Marouni

Former MP Hassan Yaakoub against MP Okab Sakr

Candidate Rida al Mays against MP Issam Araji

Ambassador Fouad al Turk against MP Toni abou Khater

Candidate Adnan Arakji against MP Nouhad Machnouk

Candidate Ajaj Haddad against MP Issam Sawaya

Former MP Mikhail ad Daher against MP Hadi Hobeich

Candidate Ghassan Rahbani against MP Michel El Mur

Candidate Ghassan al Achkar against MP Sami Gemayel

Friday, June 19, 2009

Electoral Reform and Proportional Representation

The most popular politician in the country, if not the region and if Obama was not around who knows... Ziad Baroud has put his full weight behind Proportional Representation (PR).

It is clear that the current electoral system is not politically viable and a entirely new system will have to be adopted. The Boutros Commission proposed a semi-PR system and although rejected for the 09 election will be taken up again and debated for the 2013 election and a form of PR is expected to be used in the 2010 election (for a guide on different electoral systems).

So to PR:
"The principal of PR is that the seats in a constituency are divided according to the number of votes for party lists, but there are considerable variations in how this is implemented," Pippa Norris the election supremo summed up the PR electoral system.

So why are those interested in electoral reform in Lebanon going all starry eyed for PR, as opposed to the current first past the post (AKA plurality)?

Plurality emphasizes governability while PR focuses on the inclusion of the minority voice.

John Stuart Mill has outlined clearly, very shortly after the PR system was proposed, a wonderful defense of its virtues:

"When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson's choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all; when the nominees of the leaders would have to encounter the competition not solely of the candidate of the minority, but of all the men of established reputation in the country who were willing to serve; it would be impossible any longer to foist upon the electors the first person who presents himself with the catchwords of the party in his mouth, and three or four thousand pounds in his pocket. The majority would insist on having a candidate worthy of their choice, or they would carry their votes somewhere else."

Was the PR system made for Lebanon I hear...

Positives and negatives of PR in Lebanon:

1. Easing political polarization - PR could allow for independents to come through. For instance if Mouth Lebanon was one district and there were 10 seats if Lebanese Forces and Kataeb got 200,000 votes, Change and Reform 300,000 votes and then lets say Lahoud's Democratic Renewal 100,000 and the newly created "we are going in the center of everything you say party" 100,000 votes and "We are extreme" 100,000. Change and Reform would not win all ten seats as in the plurality system but would receive 3 of the seats, LF 2 and so on (this of course also depends on the type of PR system used). Thus, the system would give representation for all those voters whose votes would have otherwise been 'lost' if it was a first past the post. It would have been easier for a Presidential bloc to have emerged as it would have allowed all 'independents' to run without having to go under a March 8/March 14 list.

2. Creation of national parties but increased sectarianism - If the above system described in Mount Lebanon was done across the nation parties would become a lot more national and not just have political representation, as is the case now, where their supporters are the outright majority. However, becuase political parties in Lebanon are based on confession this would mean that no longer would you vote for a Shia candidate if you were Christian and vise versa. The likely scenario for Lebanon would be the further entrenching of sectarianism with Christians only voting for Christian parties and Sunni for Sunni.... You would not longer get Muslims voting in Christian representatives that has been a major complaint of the Christian community.

3. Rise of extremist parties - While the advantages are that more parties can express their political views and the a fuller plurality of opinion this also comes with the disadvantage that those with more extremist views are not pushed to the center by the main parties. The "We are extreme" party no longer has to make deals with mainstream parties and can now go it alone.

4. Unstable coalitions - As stated at the start PR emphasizes the inclusion of the minority voice where as plurality focuses on governability. Thus, PR could have the potential to weaken an already fragile governmental structure. It is not clear that PR is the best system for inceasing the capacity and strength of the state. You just have to look at Italy and Israel to see how unstable coalitions can be ruinous to the creation of stable governments. Unlikely coalitions are nothing new in Lebanon but having many of these coalitions based on my enemy's enemy.... could be potentially devastating.

A web of complexity awaits the debate about PR that has more forms than Lebanon has cedars...So let the debate begin

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Paying for votes

The Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) launched its perliminary findings for its finance investigation. Vote buying occurred, according to the LTA, widely in Zahle, Saida, Zghorta, Metn, Batroun and West Bekka. How much was paid for a Vote varied: Saida the price was $60-100; $800 in Zahle and up to $3,000 in Zghorta. The LTA also noted that a large amount of financial abuses were done before the campaign monitoring period began. A full report will be published at the end of the summer.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dispelling Lebanon Election Myths

Previously, I had a go at Noe and Young for contradictions in their analysis. Yet, their contributions in allowing people to understand the Lebanese political context and the elections are important, especially having read the some of the international commentary that is fundamentally wrong. These international commentators have created three central myths around the elections that are deconstructed one by one below. If only international commentators that came to Lebanon for the elections, or not at all, would read more Noe or Young!

1. A solid majority of Lebanese Christians voted against the list of Michel Aoun (as stated by Friedman in his candy floss covered article)

The FPM itself has 10 MPs, which is the same as the LF and Kataeb combined so the FPM is still the largest Christian party. While, the Change and Reform bloc consists of 27 MPs only beaten by the March 14 bloc itself. A solid majority of Christians did not vote against Aoun.

2. A solid majority of all Lebanese — Muslims, Christians and Druse — voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri, the son of the slain Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri (again Friedman)

The popular vote went 800,000 for March 8 (and FPM) and 700,000 for March 14. A solid majority of all Lebanese did not vote for the March 14 coalition. This was still a confessional electoral system and the vote was split along confessional lines, except in the Christian areas, thus "all Lebanese" did not vote for March 14.

3.Obama's speech won the elections for March 14 and that the visits by Biden and Clinton persuaded Christian voters to vote for March 14 (Simon Tisdall of the Guardian and many other international commentators)

While, of course this is not very tangible and is a simple matter of opinion I challenge this comment on the basis of where the elections were won:

Zahle that went 7-0 to March 14 a result even the most ardent March 14 supporters were not expecting. The primary reason for this win is the 70% turnout of the Sunni population that occurred because of extensive persuasion by Saad Hariri. I have been told by someone working at the Kataeb offices on election day that Hariri made a call to coax Sunni voters to go out and vote, at around 3pm they came in bus loads. The idea that this exceptional Sunni turnout was becuase they were inspired by the Obama/Biden/Clinton (OBC) brigade to go out and vote in such force is highly suspect.

In Beirut One, the other vital district, it may be more believable that the OBC brigade had an some sort of effect. Personally, I feel it is much more likely that May 7th of last year when Hezbollah took over much of Beirut and the Aoun-Hezbollah agreement over 2006 cost the FPM the five seats in this district.

In both districts and nationally Patriarch Sfeir's last minute intervention on the side of March 14 is seen as having a significant effect in persuading Christian voters to go vote for March 14. But of course for most western commentators this does not fit into the secular-democratic-Obama-miracle that is March 14 against Iran narrative they are constructing.

--This article was edited after a comment corrected a sloppy sentence on the 12th June.

EU Perliminary Statement

The IFES Review

Updated/Modified Statement by NDI

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Analysts a bit confused

Comparing what two analysts were saying before the elections and after you can read some beautiful contradictions:

Up first is the notorious Michael Young:

on April 9th:

Syria will win Lebanon's elections

"Whether it is the March 14 coalition and its allies that wins, or the March 8 coalition with the Aounists, the forthcoming Parliament will be much friendlier to Syria than the current one is, representing a marked return of Damascus' hegemony over Lebanon," Young argued.

Now June 9th:

Lebanon's elections: an early inquest

"Most significantly, the election results were a setback for Syria." Young claimed.

Over to Nicholas Noe:

On May 6th Noe wrote an article entitled: The end of Lebanon's Cedar Revolution: The west must recognise that a Hezbollah victory in elections could force it into responsibility and disarmament.

In the article Noe stated "
Top US officials are apparently content with focusing on the bigger picture of engaging Iran and Syria and leaving Lebanon to the rhetorical purview of staunch March 14 supporters like Jeffrey Feltman, the former ambassador to Lebanon, now assistant secretary of near east policy, who presided over March 14's spectacular rise and fall."

Now June 9th Noe declares:

The US must help Hariri: There are three fronts on which the US can help make the Cedar revolution into a genuine Lebanese revolution.

I must admit however, I was fully convinced that March 8 would win and March 14 was also dead. Unfortunately I do not have quite the platform to make a fool out of myself like Young and Noe!

The Election Results Brokendown

You can get the full breakdown of the election by clicking here.

The interesting bits

The breakdown of the results show that in Beirut One March 14 clearly won by just under 3,000 votes for each candidate. Nayla Tueni received the most amount of votes with 19,985. The voter turnout of Beirut One was only 40% of registered voters which is very low for a district that had such a competitive race but it must be remembered many of these registered voters may not live in Lebanon anymore.

In Zahle Elias Skaff the major traditional political force in Zahle lost by some 4,000 votes, while interestingly Okab Saqr received the most votes in Zahle but is a Shia candidate where the number of Shia are not so numerous. In fact the reason for the March 14 win in Zahle is being put down to the high Sunni turnout in the district. A nice quirk but no more.

Michel Aoun only won his seat by by 2,000 voters in Kerserwan.

In total March 8 won the popular vote by 800,000 to 700,000 but the district system means seats are weighed differently, thus allowing a March 14 victory.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

NDI Observer Mission Statement

I will be publishing all the major observer mission reports on this blog. Here is the first one from the NDI.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Hezbollah winners or losers?

The debate is continuing as to whether Hezbollah wanted to win this election or not. Paul Salem gives a very convincing argument that Hezbollah would not really benefit from winning. An argument he makes that I am very much a believer in is why get involved with the Lebanese state when they have a highly effective state of their own? Further to this, Salem makes the point why would they want to get involved in Aoun's desire for the Presidency? This is especially the case when Hezbollah and current President Sleiman have excellent relations.

Hezbollah may have benefited from increased legitimacy domestically and internationally if they had won the elections within the March 8 coalition. Other than this it is very unclear as to what Hezbollah would have benefited from if they had won these elections.

Maybe we will here it all from the man himself as he speaks at 8:30pm tonight.

The Final Result

The most important district of this election was Zahle; the winner of this election missed by all except supporters was the March 14 coalition. March 14 finished with 71 seats (with two independents) and March 8 finished with 58.

Zahle was expected to go to March 8 (and FPM) but instead it was announced that all seven seats went to March 14.

Overall in the Christian districts, where this election was really occurring, the Lebanese Forces, Kataeb and Christian "independents" of March 14 made vital gains in Beirut One, Zahle and Metn, while also maintaining their seats in Batroun.

The FPM although increasing the number of seats in their Change and Reform coalition to 27 from 21 were unable to gain enough to achieve an electoral win for the March 8 coalition.

The Results with Metn and Zahle to come

The results for Zahle and Metn are still to be confirmed. Zahle is expected to go 7-0 to March 14 from information thus far and in the Metn they are expected to win two seats resulting in 71 seats for March 14 and 57 seats for March 8. What a result for March 14!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

March 14 win!! ? Unofficial

It looks as March 14 have won the Lebanese parlimentary elections. Fireworks and horns from March 14 supporters are let off as exit polls reveal themselves. The blogger Qifa Nabki called it first in the world of Twitter as Zahle went March 14 7-0, in the West Bekka 6-0 and Koura 3-0 all upsets for March 8. Reuters qoute a unnamed Hezbollah offical stating "We've lost the election," the source, who declined to be named, told Reuters. "We accept the result as the will of the people."

Election Day @ 7pm Polls Closed

The Polls have closed and without significant incident, although there has been a lot of moaning about long queues at the polling station. Come on!! So all in all at the close of play for the voting process well done Lebanon!

Michel Ghanem on LBC has announced that 32 seats have been guaranteed for the opposition March 8 + FPM and 26 for March 14.

Now let the all important stage of the results begin!

Election Day - upto 5:12pm Beirut Time


The day began at 6am when I set off to Zahle. Going through Sassine in Beirut a heavy military presence was evident. There was a smooth flow of traffic on the way and on arriving at Zahle a military presence was notable at the entrance to the town but not heavily throughout the centre.


In Zahle voters were beginning to trickle through to the polling stations. Support for the two political factions March 8 + FPM and March 14 was highly visible, with supporters handing out their pre-printed ballots to supporters. The town was calm and apart from the chaotic parking and traffic all appeared to be running smoothly. Supporters from both coalitions were both happy however, this was first thing in the morning! Taxis were a noticeable addition to the scenery in Zahle I saw a several Hello Taxis transporting to the party headquarters of Skaff voters who I assume have been brought from abroad to vote.

10:30 am

Made way back to Beirut, again traffic was running smoothly and apart from supporters doing the usual contest with flags and political hand signals (maybe a will provide a guide to these one day!) all was calm.

11:30 am

Went over to the Dahiya to see what is happening in this part of town. All is calm and well organized. On the way going through the old airport road was nice to see Amal and Future supporters mingling (more or less).


Went to Beirut One, Sodeco, and saw that at lot of movement was occurring at Beydoun street. There I witnessed lots of army trying to control a situation between Nadim Gemayel supporters and FPM. Nadim Gemayel's sister (who I do not know the name of so someone please inform me if you know) trying to assist her brother's supporters but was being kept away. Then a man was forcefully removed, without too much resistance, by two army personnel that was cheered by FPM supporters. Another man was also arrested but was unable to see clearly what went on. The army quickly maintained calm and even allowed voters to continue voting while trying to establish full security.

Away from my personal experience

Interior Minister Baroud announced that by 3pm voter turnout was at 40% compared to 2005 where voter turnout was 45% in total and confirmed that significant security incidents have not occurred and traffic did not prove to be an issue.

At 5:12pm so far so good.

Friday, June 5, 2009

IFES Carnegie Final Election Brief

IFES and Carnegie gave a final briefing to journalists for the election on Sunday. Following the last joint briefing by IFES and Carnegie in April.

Richard Chambers, Party Head of IFES in Lebanon, stated that there is an electoral competition in almost all districts. March 8 and March 14 have presented candidate lists almost throughout the country and this has been added to by independent lists in some districts. Thus, these elections are the competitive in a while.

Paul Salem, of Carnegie, stated that these are the first proper free elections since 1972 and outlined three posts-election scenarios:

1. Hung parliament what Salem sees as most likely. "This is where each camp holds large minorities and a group of independents, close to the President, holding the balance of votes," Salem said. Outside powers of Saudi, US and Syria are directly and indirectly trying to push for this occurrence Salem stated. Interestingly, Salem claims that Syria does not want an all out March 8th victory because Aoun has a difficult relationship with Syria and Hezbollah is closer to Iran. So for Syria the best result is a hung parliament and Syria successfully sold this idea to the US and Saudi as the best option, according to Salem.

2. March 14 win. March 14 have stated that they will refuse to grant veto power to March 8 but Salem warns this could lead to violence and should instead get clear commitments from March 8 to move forward on key political and economic issues.

3. March 8 win. Salem states that this could lead to a situation where there is a collapse in support for Lebanon from the international community and the Gulf states. This could lead to "a collapse in confidence in Lebanon and a precipitous decline into economic and social unrest."

The Curious Case of the Independents

What is an independent in this election?? Is it someone aligned with the President? Not according to Aoun as we have seen with the Jbeil Independent list, led by former advisor to the President Nazam Khoury, that has merged into the March 14 list. Michel Murr in the Metn who is on the Kataeb March 14 list. This allegiance with 'independents' has dropped President Sleiman into hot water, especially in Jbeil. Sleiman Franjieh has also come out forcefully against the President stating that he is making daily visits to his hometown of Amchit in Jbeil encouraging support for Khoury, now of course on the March 14 list.

Tripoli is a unique district for 'independents' that are independent from both the President and the two coalitions March 8 (plus FPM) and March 14. Najib Mikati, on March 14 affiliated list, and Omar Karami, on the March 8 list, are both big political figures in their own right and powerful enough to manoeuvre independently of the five big men that make up March 14 and March 8. Mikati is expected to be the next Prime Minister.

What elections?

These elections don't really matter because the fundamental conflicts that brought Lebanon to a standstill since 2004 have not been addressed, according to The International Crisis Group (ICG). In fact the ICG argues that these elections because of the electoral law and the agreements made at Doha will make the likelihood of any proper national reconciliation less likely not more. "The elections will further entrench existing political elites, the system of which they are prime beneficiaries and the structural paralysis it produces."

The ICG has just issued a report on the elections: Lebanon's Elections: Avoiding a new cycle of confrontation.

Recommendations made by the report:

To Lebanese Parties:

1. Recognize and accept the election results, while avoiding rhetorical incitement.

2. Reiterate support for the broad principle of power-sharing.

3. Relaunch, as soon as possible and under the president’s guidance, the national dialogue on strengthening Lebanon’s sovereignty, which was initiated by the Doha agreement but de facto suspended as elections neared.

4. Task a parliamentary commission, upon formation of a new government, with immediately drafting an electoral law that includes reforms set aside in the context of the Doha agreement, in particular:

(a) bolstering the independence and mandate of the Electoral Supervision Committee; and

(b) defining clear and practical rules governing campaign funding and propaganda.

5. Task a parliamentary commission, upon formation of a new government, with immediately drafting a law on the Constitutional Council, in particular granting the court the power to interpret the Constitution.

To both sides’ foreign allies (notably the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Iran) and actively involved third parties (such as France, Turkey and Qatar):

6. Accept and recognise the election results.

7. Avoid exacerbating divisions by, notably, encouraging a power-sharing arrangement.

8. Deal with the future government on the basis of its actual behaviour (in particular whether it respects international obligations), rather than its specific composition.

9. Engage in a mediation effort or, if needed, support one undertaken by others.

10. Take steps to improve the political system by:

(a) backing civil society reform efforts toward systemic reform;

(b) insisting on strengthenig the Constitutional Council’s role; and

(c) denouncing, publicly and clearly, abusive electoral practices, such as vote-buying and the lack of standardised ballots.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Rather Confused Observation

As-Safir reporter Marlein Khalifeh reported on the bizarre press conference of the Francophone Delegation for Electoral Communication and Information. The press conference reportedly lasted less than half an hour as journalists were at a loss for questions as the panelists were apparently dazed and confused. Have no fear however, the fearless leader of this observation mission, or should I say Electoral Communication and Information delegation, Professor Albert Borgi stated: "Personally I've always criticized Observation missions and considered them as a mere electoral and pictorial joke most of the time." So instead of observing this mission is here to evaluate and bless the polls. For those that will do the thankless task of reading all the observation mission reports this report may be just what you have been waiting for!

Calm before the storm?

Many people have commented on the fact there has been relative quite in Lebanon just days before the elections. The occasional security incidents, since January, that have occurred so far have been mainly in Tripoli, Jebail, Batroun, Zahle and Saida. These security incidents have gradually stopped as the elections have drawn nearer, much to everyones surprise.

The usual sensationalist recriminations in the media have also been tame in comparison to the rhetoric that usually gets bounced around the Lebanese arena. Many Lebanese I have talked to have warned that this is just the calm before the storm and are preparing for the weekend to be when it will happen. "This is Lebanon" is the mantra.

What ever the reasons for the calm I think Lebanon should be proud of the fact that before a major internal political event the environment is peaceful and relatively constructive. Of course everything can change in an instant but lets applaud the calm, thus far, while not being complacent of a possible storm on the election weekend.

Citizen Observers

While there are many international observers that have come to monitor the elections in Lebanon, what about the 4 million Lebanese observers of this election? What is their opinion of what is happening on the ground? Well if Sharek961 gets of the ground we could soon find out. plans to utilize Lebanese citizens/observers across the country and have created a site that allows you to email ( , SMS (t0 7118 9118), Twitter (@sharek961) or place web reports on the site. The idea is that citizens share their election experience.

"Reports can address anything election-related happening around the country, from political rallies and polling queues to vote-buying and violence," the Sharek team stated in a press release.

It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback they get and Sharek961 have stated:

"Sharek961 does not attempt to verify reports and makes no claims as to their accuracy; as a neutral platform it publishes all material reports without editorial or censorship."

It will be interesting to see what kind of feedback occurs in such a free for all environment! Will we get the first bit of breaking news regarding electoral news from a citizen reporting to Shark961? Or will it just act as a platform for political slander? The choice really is up to the Lebanese.

The site was created by five Lebanese volunteers that have funded the project themselves and have been supported by a variety of organizations. The idea was taken fromUshahidi, which means "testimony" in Swahili, a Kenyan crowd sourcing information site.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Prediction Wallchart

Walking the streets of Beirut the other day I bumped into a choir boy who told me about the latest project he had been working on. "Every World Cup, to compensate for our repeated non-qualification, the Welsh have a tradition of predicting the results, which we colour in on a wallchart supplied by newspapers, so I decided to make a similar wallchart especially for the elections," he said. Enjoy!!

The Ministry Guide to the Lebanese Elections

The Offical Polling and Counting Handbook

Here is the polling and counting handbook that has been issued by the Ministry of Interior:

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The key battles: Saida

One of the most interesting electoral battle occurring outside the Christian areas is in Saida. The city of Saida is fascinating because although it is majority Sunna the dominant Sunni political organization, the Future Movement, does not have political dominance over the city, as yet.

For all the talk of a war between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon, this Sunni dominated city (84% of registered voters) currently has an incumbent MP Ossama Saad who is pro-Hezbollah and affiliated with the opposition coalition of March 8. Thus, Saida may illustrate the true nature of Lebanese politics which is less directly concerned with confession but more to do with networks of patronage and family connections/history in a given area that then becomes intertwined with confession. Saida also represents a district where a class struggle becomes more directly involved in the electoral process. With Ossama Saad making himself out to be a man of the people and emphasising direct contact with the people, while the Future Movement candidates Bahia Hariri and Siniora by their prominent political national roles obviously cannot offer this.

Ossama Saad, who inherited his parlimentary seat from his brother who died in 2002, has never faced an election before, as in 2005 the two Sunni seats were allocated to Saad and Bahia Hariri in an agreement. A lot has changed in Lebanon since the last proper election in Saida in 2000 and Future, along with many anaylsts, expect to win both Sunni seats in Saida. However, Ossama Saad does have significant support in Saida especially among the trade unions and it will be a tightly run contest. Saad is not at all pleased that Fouad Siniora is challenging his seat in this election and has made clear that he will not make it an easy contest. The possibility of violence in this district has been raised by analysts.

Saida in detail

Currently, the candidates running in this district are:

Future Movement (March 14)
Bahia Hariri, the sister of assassinated former PM Rafik Hariri
Fouad Siniora, the current Prime Minister and former confidant of Rafik Hariri

The Popular Nasserite Organisation (PNO) (March 8 affiliated)

Ossama Saad, brother of deceased former MP Mostapha Saad and son of PNO founder Maarouf Saad who was assassinated at the beginning of the civil war.

The voters in Saida are split between the Future Movement, the Popular Nasserite Organization (PNO) and Jamaa Islamiya. Saida was previously part of a larger district but now has its own district with two Sunni seats agreed at Doha. The historical particularities of Saida have meant the political landscape has been divided between the political and family heirs of assassinated former PM Rafik Hariri (Future Movement) and Mostapha Saad (PNO) (both pictured left).

Future have been involved in intense negotiations with Jaama Islamiya, with reports stating that the Prime Ministers office was used for the negotiations that could lead to complaints to the Constitutional Council post-election. The result of these negoitations was a seat in Beirut District IIIwas given to the Jaama Islamiya by Future to ensure that Jaama tell their supporters in Saida to vote for Future. The giving away of one seat in Beirut III by Future Movement to Jaama Islamiya can be seen as the Movement ensuring that those in the Sunni community sympathetic to Hezbollah and March 8 are marginalized, while other opponents are given more room often at the expense of their own supporters. This has also occured in Tripoli and has been quite a painful process for the Future Movement.

Mostapha Saad (pictured on the right) has made clear his anger that Future has decided to field two candidates for this district and not, as has been traditionally done, leave one seat empty. A media storm was whipped up when Siniora announced his candidacy and Ossama Saad has ensured the pressure continues. Saad has warned of a fierce conflict during and after the elections.

While, the risk of violence is present in this district the voters of Saida will for the first time have a chance to express what kind of identity the city will have. Will it be a Future Movement city that would confirm the party as the representatives of the Sunnis in the South and position the city as a March 14 heartland? Or will the voters of Saida maintain the city as neutral with a candidate Saad who is sympathetic to Hezbollah and affiliated with March 8 balanced by Bahia Hariri?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council has arrived! Here is your essential guide from IFES:

The clear and present dangers

Some are still predicting that these elections will be violent because after all, as I have been told, "this is Lebanon."

The clear and present dangers to these elections are currently:

1. The Israeli maneuvers that will take place on 31st May-4th June - Hezbollah in particular are warning that these maneuvers mean "that the Zionist entity [is] getting ready for war."

2. The continued uncovering of Israeli spy networks - The uncovering of these networks is increasing the tension in Lebanon especially because some of the networks have been linked to political parties in Lebanon, such as the spy Ziad Humsi to the Future Movement. So far 30 Israeli spies have been arrested the latest being an army colonel. Lebanon has officially complained to the UN about these spy networks.

3. Political rhetoric - Although there have not been too many fiery speeches, as the election draws closer politicians may try to galvanize support by upping the political rhetoric. Thus, far the only highly controversial speech has been the Nasrallah comment that May 7 "was a glorious day" that created anger and disbelief, even among those that are pro-the resistance.

4. Clan violence/political violence related to the elections - In the Bekka the first 'election related' death has occurred with a clash at a Future Movement office the cause of the clash is not known. It is likely that these kind of clashes are tied up in the local family disputes that is manifested also into political affiliation. However, the risk of family feuds developing into election related ones is a danger.

Will calm reign?

The Der Speigel report - This report illustrated the calm political climate at the moment. This explosive report stated that it had received information that Hezbollah was responsible for assassinating of PM Rafik Hariri . If this story occurred last year would there have been such a calm and calculated reaction by the two coalitions? A match was struck but has been promptly blown out by all sides. Hopefully this is a sign that these elections will pass without too much trouble.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Freedom and Resistance Day

Some pictures I took from Freedom and Resistance day . Here is a Hezbollah view of what the speech was about.

Main point of the speech: Der Speigel report is an Israeli plant and accusation. We are friends with everyone in Lebanon special focus on the Druze and Walid Junblatt. Basically more conciliatory speech than the previous two that Nasrallah has delievered.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hezbollah and the Hariri Tribunal

Just two weeks before the elections Der Spiegel journalist Eric Follath claims to have uncovered - from unnamed sources "close" to the International Tribunal - that Hezbollah are responsible for Hariri's assassination:

"SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack."

This allegation of course has been strongly rejected by Hezbollah that see this article as a smear and nothing more. Those that also see this article as rubbish are coming up with interesting details that have been listed by Syria Comment. One of the most interesting facts is that this article appears to be very similar to a Le Figaro article in 2006, according to Syria Comment.

The Der Spiegel article gives fascinating detail about one particular character that is central to the allegation of Hezbollah's involvement.

A reckless plotter Abd al-Majid Ghamlush in the attack, Follath claims, unraveled the network when he phoned his girlfriend on one of the "hot phones":

"Ghamlush's recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45. A southern Lebanese from Nabatiyah, Salim is considered to be the commander of the "military" wing of Hezbollah and lives in South Beirut, a Shiite stronghold."

Leaking Tribunal

What should be most worrying is that this leak has occurred at all.

It is unfathomable as to how at such a sensitive time in Lebanese politics and just after the four generals release that such a prominent leak could occur; especially two weeks before an election Hezbollah are expected to do well in.

If the Tribunal can not keep its own house in order how can it solve one of the most complex murder mysteries of modern times? Further to this, how will it be able to substantiate the claims that Hezbollah was involved with the assassination of Hariri with the claims out in the open?

If of course Follath fabricated this story then of course that is its own story. However, Der Spiegel is not a mickey mouse publication and apply high standards to their journalism. Follath is part of their investigative journalism team so it really is a Der Spiegel report. Some are pointing to Follath's book on Mossad to show his ties to the Israelis but no real allegations show an obvious bias.

Political Ramifications

In terms of the political effect that this news story has had: Israel has already jumped on the chance with Israeli FM Liberman calling for an international arrest warrant to be given to Nasrallah.

Of greater importance for Lebanon's internal stability is the wise choice thus far of the Future movement to not comment on this article. Although some are suggesting that the Future Movement may have planted the story to dent Hezbollah's chance of getting elected. There is no proof of this. Hani Hammoud, a spokesperson for MP Saad Hariri, refused to comment on the Der Speigel report.

“We do not comment on any media or other kind of reports if the source is not the Special Tribunal,” Hammoud said.

This report will turn the heat up on this election in terms of political rhetoric and the possibility of electoral violence. While the international tribunal now has to continue its investigations in an even more politically tense and suspicious environment. Has this leak sent the International Tribunal into oblivion rather than anyone else?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Biden tying aid to votes

Vice-President Biden is in town and among the tabouleh surrounding his visit he has said nothing new. The policy that US will tie aid to votes was reiterated and the standard we support no one expecpt for the people that we support.....

Biden, the highest US ranking official to visit Lebanon in 26 years, stated “We will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the shape of the new government”. Biden then did a lovely rhetorical circle by stating that “I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. I come here to back certain principles.”

Thus, the same dance between America and Iran is being played out in Lebanon. However, all we be pleased that the tempo is slower and although there is no love music the death metal has at last been put away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

EU Media Monitoring

An interview with Mirella Marchese, the head of Media Monitoring as part of the EU Observation Mission.
What is the main objective of international media monitoring?

The main goal of media monitoring within election observation missions is to assess whether parties and candidates gain fair and equitable access to the media, whether political contestants are covered in an unbiased manner, whether the media adhere to regulations on coverage.

Will there be an interim report of media abuses or will reporting only occur after the elections?

In accordance with standard election observation missions’ methodology and in line with the principle of non-interference in the election process, media monitoring findings will be issued at the end of the campaign and will be part of a Preliminary Statement presented immediately after E-day. A more comprehensive analysis will be part of a Final Report normally issued within two months of the completion of the electoral process.

Are the qualitative and quantitative methodology used standardized for all countries or is the methodology tailored to each situation?

A standard media monitoring methodology used by an election observation mission would produce an analysis of the distribution of media time and space given to political contestants. The project aims to provide a clear and reliable observation of the distribution of time and space, based on the measurement of the precise amount of coverage received and its tone. The quantitative analysis of the amount of media coverage and the tone of the coverage constitutes the core of methodology adopted by every mission. However, same variables in the research design can vary according to the different contests. The media analyst will need to refine the monitoring methodology according to the media and political landscape, to the different kinds of elections and to the legal framework in a given country. The methodology usually includes a qualitative analysis, too. The qualitative analysis can focus on a range of different aspects including: instances of hate speech and inflammatory language, media coverage of voter education, the formats used to cover election issues.

What is the size of the media monitoring team?

A media unit of an election observation mission is usually composed of a media analyst and a number of national media assistants. The number of media monitors depends on the size of the sample selected for the analysis. The European Election Observation Mission to Lebanon is currently working with a media monitoring team of 14 media monitors. Our monitored sample includes 8 Lebanese TV stations and 4 newspapers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"May 7 was a glorious day"

A lot of discussion has occurred regarding the two speeches that Hassan Nasrallah has given: the first on Friday where Nasrallah made the curious decision to focus his speech on the May events of last year and the second on Tuesday where he focused on the more expected subject of the upcoming Israeli maneuvers.

While the Tuesday speech mentioned nothing of real note in what was said Nasrallah was fiery in his delivery. It almost seems Hezbollah are bored with the current calm that is prevailing over Lebanese politics.

The Friday speech was particularly strange. Nasrallah decided to focus much of the speech on the events of May, which seems curious given that March 14 where having such a difficult time in galvanizing their supporters on the memory of last May. Nasrallah caused particular consternation by stating:

"I say that May 7 was a glorious day for the resistance in Lebanon. Consequently, May 7 has put Lebanon on the right track towards solution and pulled it out of the stalemate that was imposed on it. "

These comments also put Michel Aoun and the FPM in a very difficult position with its own position and Aoun stated that he "understood" why Nasrallah would make such a statement.

Many seasoned analysts, such as
Qifa Nabki and the Angry Arab, are at a complete loss to understand what on earth Nasrallah was trying to do in this speech. Angry Arab goes as far to say that this speech is giving weight to the argument that Hezbollah want to lose this election.

Oriente Lux believes that Nasrallah just wanted to make clear that Hezbollah was in the right during the May events. Explaing that Nasrallah wanted to make clear that May 7th (when Hezbollah undertook the military take over) should not be the focus by May 5th (when the cabinet decisions against Hezbollah's telecommunication network) was made.

Personally I think it was a case of over confidence and a political miscalculation, which to Nasrallah's credit are not frequent occurances. The result of his speech could be that he gets bums off seats and into voting booths for March 14. Those people that are not for the March 14 coalition but cannot tolerate Nasrallah stating that the ""May 7 was a glorious day" will now be more likely to put their vote in that booth or take the money being offered.