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Lebanon’s elections: Effective majority despite claims to the contrary

From now until election day scheduled for May, the Lebanese will have to endure loud diatribes and vocal misrepresentations on TV channels. To begin with, an electoral system based on proportional representation is the last thing Lebanon needed, given its tribalism, sectarianism and political schizophrenia.
This system is alien to a country where religious sectarianism is now institutionalized and has permeated Parliament and all government positions, be they civilian or military. The Lebanese have never practiced proportional representation, and even those who pushed for its adoption disagree on its operational details due to their doubts, illusions and distrust of each other.
Sectarianism in Lebanon is today much worse than it was in 1975, when the civil war broke out. Then, at least, there were multi-sect parties and political groupings; clear-cut issues on which the Lebanese disagreed, such as the future of the political system and how to deal with Palestinian guerrilla organizations; an Arab regional system relatively capable of containing problems and sponsoring initiatives; and the climate of the Cold War, which prevented open-ended sectarian wars, whether in the shape of classic armed conflicts or terrorist attacks.
Regardless of how vehemently they may deny it, the Lebanese are much more sectarian than they were before the civil war. Secular and non-sectarian parties and organizations have all but disappeared, and many became weak and exploited vehicles of various intelligence services post-Cold War. The Arab regional order has collapsed amid failed states and horrific Arab setbacks in the face of the ascendancy of Israel, Iran and Turkey.
Last but not least, after the West’s victory in the Cold War, the divided and disintegrating countries of Eastern Europe sought refuge in nationalism — in some cases, under mafia-like rule and outright racism. Western leaderships mishandled the new world order, and suffered almost the same malady as winds of globalization brought about by the West’s historic victory created nationalist, racist and isolationist reactions that are redefining the nation state.
As a result, there are no more mechanisms capable of containing conflicts, and no serious and profound approaches to solving them, creating deteriorating hotspots worldwide. Given all of the above, come May Lebanon will be jumping into the unknown. The only sure thing is that the election will not be free of fear, pressures and threats.
Some Lebanese chose to ignore the reality of submission to a local disproportionate power backed by an even more powerful regional depth, so they claimed the need for stability to justify accepting the status quo. Now that submission has become a price worth paying to ensure stability, the election will be a foregone conclusion.
A few days ago, I read a brilliant article by the press adviser of a prominent Sunni political personality. The article says Hezbollah, which has pushed for proportional representation while exclusively keeping its military arsenal, is now claiming that it is only seeking — along with its allies — a third of parliamentary seats, which is enough to protect it from being marginalized by others.
But the truth, as the article explains, is that Hezbollah is shrewdly planning for an absolute majority through two sets of allies: First class and second class. Hezbollah, the article adds, is keen to portray them as independent within their sectarian communities, thus giving them false credibility.

Regardless of how vehemently they may deny it, the Lebanese are much more sectarian than they were before the civil war. Secular and non-sectarian parties and organizations have all but disappeared.

Eyad Abu Shakra

This applies not only to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) — founded by President Michel Aoun, which is actually in some form of alliance with Hezbollah — but also to the Future Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, which claims to its Sunni supporters that it is willing to cooperate with every group except Hezbollah.
This strategy by Hezbollah is backed by Iran, which is orchestrating political and military actions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is now so powerful, and its shadow-government network of organizations so sophisticated, that it can manoeuver freely.
Meanwhile, most of its political rivals have reached two conclusions: Any direct confrontation is futile; and Iran’s expansion and demographic presence would have been impossible without tacit international and Israeli acquiescence.
After the July 2006 war, many Lebanese realized it was launched by Israel against the state, people and economy, rather than against Hezbollah and its political and economic infrastructure. Even today, Israel has threatened to “bring back Lebanon — the whole of Lebanon — to the Stone Age.”
Furthermore, the tangible outcome of the 2006 war — which was supposed to keep Hezbollah’s military north of the Litani River, away from the border with Israel — was to give the organization free rein in Lebanon since 2008, and in Syria since 2011.
This background is a must to understand the recent conflict between the FPM and the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, which has taken extreme religious overtones and reached an unprecedented level of post-civil war agitation. It is also a must to comprehend why Hezbollah has so far decided not to be directly embroiled.
A third useful angle in reading Hezbollah’s silence, if not concealed smiles, is how the Future Movement continues to express its willingness to go into electoral alliances with everybody except Hezbollah.
The party is aware that proportional representation negated the need for traditional electoral alliances, which the Lebanese have grown accustomed to. The only real alliance Hezbollah wants from the Future Movement is mere cooperation under the pretext of stability.
Hezbollah’s core interest is in Aoun emerging as the strongest Christian representative, and Hariri as the strongest Sunni representative, as long as both men and their political vehicles remain part of its definition of stability.

Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.
Twitter: @eyad1949