Lebanon’s elections, now slated for next spring, could see some major blocs losing seats, but the country’s new electoral law is unlikely to drastically change the balance of power in Parliament, analysts said Wednesday. They said that the telling outcome of this law, agreed by Cabinet Wednesday, is that since none of the parties were able to take a dominant position over the rest, all the major parties agreed to lose out equally.
“Lebanese parties balance each other vis-a-vis other parties and blocs. If the electoral law had only driven down the representation of one party then that would have been a problem.
“But since all the major parties will see their representation going down, then that is accepted and you have balance,” Hilal Khashan, chair of the political studies department at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star.
“The smaller blocs such as the Marada [Movement] and the Kataeb Party will have increased representation, but they will never be able to threaten the major parties, they remain too weak.”
Khashan added that the new electoral law would not result in any drastic changes.
He also said he expected no major new alliances to emerge in the lead-up to election day, adding that the current political equation will largely remain.
“For example, Hezbollah will not ally with the Free Patriotic Movement in the south because of their [Hezbollah’s] relationship with the Amal Movement,” Khashan added.
As well as the remaining alliances, Khashan said the new proposal did not represent a step away from entrenched sectarian politics.
“It will recycle the same sectarian leaders under the guise of a new electoral system,” he said. “The conversation started off as trying to bring about a secular system but it devolved and has resurrected the old confessional system,” he added.
Other analysts agreed that the law did little to shift toward a less sectarian system.
“If you look at the map of the electoral law you get the impression that the districts have been tailored to fit sectarian modes of representation rather than cross-sectarian or nonsectarian representation,” said Bassel Salloukh, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University of Beirut.
Makram Rabah, a political analyst, described the law as a “disappointment.” “This is not a proportional law, it is a veiled version of the 1960 law and the [sectarian based] Orthodox Law,” Rabah said.
“This law entrenches sectarianism and has made sectarian rhetoric the norm now, and that is very worrying,” he added.
He said he also considers the FPM will likely be weakened by the new system, attributing its new position to the “selfishness” of the party’s head, Gebran Bassil.
“He is desperate to become an MP because everyone is looking at the next presidency and Gebran Bassil cannot be a president if he is not an MP first,” Rabah added.
“[Prime Minister] Saad Hariri is against the ropes and is the biggest loser in this equation.”
Overall, he said he believes Hezbollah stands to gain the most from the law. “Yes, they lost seats somewhere but it all balanced out,” Rabah said, adding that several smaller allies of Hezbollah were expected to gain seats.
With the law still hot off the press and parties still reacting to the final agreement, it remains unclear if the FPM-Lebanese Forces alliance can stand the test of a national election.
“The FPM and the LF are with each other and are against each other at the same time,” Talal Atrissi, professor of sociology at the Lebanese University, said.
“They want to claim Christian representation and make the Christian vote strong, but they are also competing on the MPs as both of them are looking toward the next presidency,” he added.
As Bassil continues to posture in his long-term bid to achieve his presidential ambitions, LF Leader Samir Geagea is not standing idly by.
He will either seek to either place himself as kingmaker – ensuring that the road to Baabda runs through Maarab – or to run for the presidency himself.
Instead, Atrissi said local, tactical alliances would likely emerge.
“So the LF would ally with the Kataeb in one region for example and with the FPM in another,” Atrissi explained. “We do not have nationwide alliances in Lebanon, they will be different across areas.”
Atrissi also said he expected the number of Future Movement MP’s to decrease.
“For example, in Tripoli all the indicators say that [former Justice Minister] Ashraf Rifi will be running for elections and he will be able to compromise the Future Movement’s list,” he said.
With the final bell still ringing on the bruising and drawn-out battle to form the new electoral system, it remains too early for the political factions to have publicly laid out exactly how they will run their elections come Spring 2018, and exactly what sort of alliances will emerge.