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.

9 comments:

  1. Deen, the 800k vs 700k count is misleading because it doesn't take into account the many districts where only one of the blocs was represented. If we count only those districts where voters had the choice between March 8 and March 14, you get 60% of votes for march 14 and only 40 for march 8. This alone should show how futile it is to look for different ways to look at the numbers and how dangerous it can be to publicize just the one way that is advantageous to one's side. The results have been accepted by all parties, so let them lie.

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  2. Joumana you make a very good point but what I am saying does not contest the results in anyway.

    All I am saying is that treating these election results as a statement that "all Lebanese" voted for March 14 ("Muslims, Christians and Druze") is factually wrong. Freidman's anaylsis argues that Lebanon is not polarized politically and that the majority of Lebanese went March 14. This is wrong and is illustrated by the popular vote. Lebanon is still a fractured and highly polarized country politically suggesting otherwise is wrong.

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  3. Very interesting article! I def prefer when you write opinion articles like this. It also gives me a much-sought opportunity to roast your unyielding argumentative style ;)! My problem here is with myth number 3 - 'Obama's speech won the elections for March 14...'. I had already read Tisdall's article and did not think thats an exact interpretation of his view. On the second paragraph, he points out 'It would be fanciful to claim that Obama's bridge-building speech to the Muslim-world in Cairo last week, attractive though it was, crucially influenced Lebanese voters. (...) but...appears to have struck a chord." This is more nuanced that stating, point-blank, that 'it won the elections.'

    Moreover, about Patriarch Sfeir, Tisdall says: 'an eve-of-poll demarche by Boutros Sfeir, spiritual leader of the country's Maronite Christians, may have done the trick.'I don't know if you are including him in 'most western commentators' but I have the impression he does attribute the deserved importance to this speech. In any case, by referring the Patriarch, Tisdall adds one more element to his argument about March 14's victory and thus elaborates further on the view that Obama's speech did not 'won the elections'.

    So maybe, Tisdall was not a good option! But other than that all good!

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  4. Deen I think you're taking a very skewed view of the elections in general. On points 1 and 2 you seem to have adopted M8 talking points regardless of their merits.

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  5. "I would even doubt many in Zahle even know who Biden and Clinton are and am suspicious as to how much the Sunnis of Zahle like Obama"

    Any one else think that's a pretty big assumption to make in a commentary attempting to expose Journalists whom may have intentionally or not misrepresented the truth regarding the results?

    I give you one star for this article.

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  6. Great discussion!

    -Blacksmith Jade I am really interested to know about your view regarding points one and two. I accept, without agreeing, to Joumanna's point on the popular vote; is your opinion the same? As for the first point the FPM is still the largest single Christian party. March 14 Christians did not get a significant majority becuase the FPM and Change and Reform are still a powerful force in Lebanese politics and even increased their seats. What are the merits of the other arguments?

    -Bolines! I really reject the analysis that Obama had an effect on the Lebanese election i.e. getting people to the voting booth only! Tisdall is an astute journalist that uses slippery language but the main theme of the whole article was that: "Lebanon may be just the beginning of the "Obama effect"." I reject the analysis that Lebanon is the beginning of the "Obama effect" with regard to how voters behaved on election day as a myth. If there has been an "Obama effect" it has been top-down and this election was not its beginning. If there is an "Obama effect" it began with the cooling down of rhetoric with Iran and Syria.

    -Anonymous I accept that was a sloppy comment and will take it out as a result (you are my best editors after all!) but one star! Cold.

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  7. In regards to Friedman, I can only suggest reading this article:
    http://www.nytimes-se.com/2009/07/04/the-end-of-the-experts/

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  8. That's really really really funny!!

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