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Rafik Hariri’s legacy can be traced back to this once small city, on the Mediterranean, with its plentiful orange orchards and long history. He was born there, and his siblings and distant family are still living in the city. Rafik Hariri helped rebuild and renovated Saida’s infrastructure after the 1982 Israeli invasion, building roads, school, and various projects.
Thus, the two Sunni MPs of the city have always had a symbolic importance. In 2009, for the first time since the formation of the Future Movement (FM) party, it was able to win both seats. Unfortunately, in 2018 FM failed to repeat this feat and their old adversary Oussam Saad took the second seat in the place of PM Fouad Sinioura.
It is worthy to note that in 2009 Mrs. Hariri won with 25,500 votes to Oussam Saad’s 13,500. Indeed, MP Hariri received almost 64% of the total vote, with a record setting 68% participation, the highest in Lebanon. In 2018 Future Movement numbers fell in Saida to 15,308 against 10,255 for Oussam’s, with only a 54% participation!
So what happened? In this deep analysis of the results, I will try to find patterns in the numbers, and draw some conclusions. I will tackle this in two sections: turnout and voting patterns! This analysis has been made possible with the help of NDI, with whom i have been working on a data liberation project, to transform the Ministry of Interior official detailed PDF results into machine readable excel, and add sect and gender information. To learn more about this project please use this link.
It is clear that turnout fell significantly, especially among Sunni! Based on the a preliminary analysis of the numbers (link) this trend among Sunni’s seems widespread to most districts with Sunni majorities (Beirut 2, Tripoli, …) Indeed, during the last 9 years 10,000 new voters registered in Saida, with a majority of Sunni, however less people voted in absolute term in 2018 than in 2009
Even more significant, there are more female than male voters in Lebanon. Almost 53% (according to UNDP). Additionally, in relative numbers, women turnout is higher than men’s, yet in Saida, Sunni women turnout was lower than men, at odds with Shia and Christian women!
Women turnout, as previously mentioned, was lower than men’s. Even though the head of FM list in the district was a women, but that did not raise the turnout.
Although, Sunni women voted less than men did, but they supported MP Bahiaa at a higher percentage than men. (48.37% of women, voted for MP Hariri, as opposed to 44.90% of men)
This are very important data points, and once the rest of the districts are analyzed, it will be possible to draw correlation between several variables. For example is women turnout affected by the presence of strong women candidates, and do women vote more for women candidates?
Second: voting patterns:
I believe that Saida’s voting patterns might hold true for most of the other districts, and i will try to show that in future analysis. Indeed, Shia voters voted in mass and with a very high adherence to party instructions. Meanwhile Sunni voters were lethargic, and their vote was split and dispersed among many lists (see Beirut II as a perfect example), severely lowering its effectiveness. On the other hand, the Christian voters were more fired up, and more disciplined, but divided into different parties (FPM, LF, …) this sometimes played against them, in Jezzine for example.
Thus in Saida, Sunni turnout fell heavily, and from a 64% support to FM in 2009, to just 46% in 2018. On the other hand, shiaa voters in Saida adhered strongly to their party’s instruction and voted, cross confessionally, to their sunni ally at a very high 73% rate. This trend of shia voters, is especially salient in the Southern and Baalbek districts reaching high 80 or even 90% adherence. In Jezzine too this was even more evident, shia voted at a dizzying 92% for their Christian ally Azzar.
Lastly, preparation, training, and information, pay and pay very well. Saida suffered of one of the highest rates of invalidated ballots, at 3.14%. Meanwhile, in Jezzine it was half of that, at 1.55%. With the Ministry of Interior being busy with the overall organization of the election, it fell to the parties and NGOs to train their people and their supporters on how to vote and how to help voters during the process.
Thus, certain parties (Lebanese Forces come to mind) were able to prepare their electoral machine, train their people and observers, inform their electors, and they reaped the benefits, by doubling the number of their MPs. For example, their regions of Bcharreh had the lowest rate of invalid ballots at 1.71%. Others did not, and the invalid ballots rate in their strongholds was fairly high, robbing them of precious seats. For more analysis on the invalid ballots and turnout, check this link.
Finally, it is worthy to note that despite rampant sectarianism and the ugly inflammatory rhetoric that preceded the elections, there was small but significant cross-sectarian voting. 12% of Saida’s shia voted forMrs. Bahiaa Hariri and 34% of Christians, and she received 1,100 Christian votes for Jezzine. I firmly believe that political parties, focusing on issues politics (waste management’s, electricity, and environment) with a clear and organized agenda can make significant headway in the Lebanese political arena.
This leads us to the a very important question on why the civil society wave started in 2016 with Beirut Madinati receiving more than 35% of the vote in Beirut’s municipal elections, did not make a significant breakthrough in the parliamentary elections, winning only one seat. A question that I will deal with in depth in the next several articles.
Unfortunately, as i mentioned in my analysis of the turnout numbers, there are two mistakes that i was able to catch in the official numbers.
the first one:
it concerns Zahleh’s fifth counting committee, where a ballot box usually holding 600 registered persons plus or minus (as inferred by most ballot boxes in this sub-committee) had 315,617 as the number of registered. so to solve this issue i assumed that it was 617.
The second is similar to the first, but in Tripoli. Here too, a ballot that was supposed to hold in 600’s was put in for 62,581. again i corrected it as 625.
The detailed results are finally out, so after a thorough analysis of the turnout and other general numbers, I arrived to these conclusions. Unfortunately, before going into the analysis, it is important to note that I discovered two errors in the documents published on the official website (one added 62,000 and the other added 315,000 to number of registered, heavily skewing the turnout). I tried to correct them to the best of my ability. You can find more details about these errors in here. Fortunately, these errors are limited to the registered numbers, and do NOT affect the results. However, the fact that there are two errors might indicate that there are more…
First, the ‘official’ turnout number of 49.2% announced by the Ministry of Interior on Monday May 7, is not exact.*
The turnout number of the 2018 election is 48.02% (1,861,203 voted out of 3,875,981) There is a 5.35 % drop in Turnout between 2018 and the 2009 elections. Most of the districts saw a drop. The only district that showed an improvement in turnout was the Bekaa III (Baalbeck – Hermel), with an impressive 9.44% improvement. Meanwhile, another four direct held almost the same turnout between 2009 and 2018 Mount Lebanon IV (Chouf Aley) with -0.38 , South III with +0.38, Beirut (as the districting of Beirut changed between the elections, I had to make a combined turnout for both Beirut I and II) with +0.61%, and Mount Lebanon I (Jebeil Kesrouan) with -1.16.
Concerning, the blank and invalid ballots percentages, there was a similar trend for the blank ballots with 0.81% in 2018 compared to 0.68% in 2009. It is worthy to note that in three districts the blank ballots rose above the average reaching more than 1%, in South I (Saida and Jezzine), South II (Tyre – Zahrani), and North II (Tripoli, Minyeh, Dinnieh). In South II, the rate is understandable as there was only two competing lists, and many felt that neither represented them. So is the South I rate, where the field was highly politicized, but with no civil society list presents. However, for North II, it is a point that I will tackle after talking about the invalid votes.
As expected, there was a large increase in invalid ballots, due to the introduction of a new proportional electoral system. The rate of invalid ballots jumped almost 300% from 0.61% in 2009 to 2.09% in 2018!! In a district by district comparison the higher trend was similar in most, with the exception of the North II (Tripoli, Minyeh, Dinnieh) district that had 3.52% of invalid ballots, a full percentage point above all other districts!!
Both in blank and invalid ballots North II district is above average, in a statistically significant way. It would be interesting to keep an eye on this district, with all the judicial procedures being made. This district, has a history of having slightly above average Blank and invalid ballots, but that alone does not explain these big numbers. Indeed, in 2009 Tripoli was at 1.15% for invalid compared to a national average of 0.61%, and 1.14% in blank ballots for an average of 0.68%. However, it was not the district with the highest number, and was fairly in line the overall curve.
*All conclusions and numbers in this analysis are based on the detailed results published by the Ministry of Interior on this website. If anyone is interested by the excel sheet with all the numbers extracted from the official PDF documents, you can find it here.
It’s been three days, and no official results has been made available. the Minister of Interior announced on TV the list of the winning candidates, without Akkar, where apparently recounts were being done. The results were read live, and no detailed results were supplied.
Officially that was it.
Meanwhile, unofficial numbers are floating around, such as these results of Beirut-2, and a semi-official list of winning candidates and their preferential votes was circulated on whatsapp.
We are still missing number of voters, invalid and white ballots, lists votes, losing candidates results… Unfortunately, the Interior Ministry official website is still empty and the wait goes on!
The official results and detailed numbers are still not out, casting a lengthening shadow on the electoral process.
Nevertheless, there are a few conclusion that can already be made:
1- the monolithic iron control of the Shiite duo (Amal and Hezbollah) over their constituency and regions, is intact, almost absolute, and crushing. They won a full slate in two southern regions, in a PROPORTIONAL law, with the precense of a small but significant minority in one of these regions.
2- the Lebanese Forces have significantly benefitted from the law, as their support is strong but scattered over many regions. Their numbers of MPs jumped by over 100%
3- The Aounist were able to limit their losses and maintain a large (possibly the largest) parliamentary block
4- Future Movement faced a daunting fight and had two challenges to overcome (check this for a more detailed analysis): a- energize their base and encourage the reluctant to come back into the fold. b- to significantly raise the turnout in all their regions, to increase the threshold and consolidate their support, while limiting the small lists ability to win seats. FM was successful in energizing its base but failed at raising the turnout. The result? FM parliamentary block has shrunk.
5- consequently, following the previous points, we now have a large block (that should reach 40+) formed by Hezbollah and Amal, including around 10 Sunni MPs, in addition to all the Shiite MPs except one.
Once the final results and detailed numbers are out, I will write a series of analytical articles.
During E-day and the early hours of counting, there are a few indicators that could help us discern the election trends before the full counting is done.
First and foremost are the participation numbers! Indeed these numbers are critical, especially for major parties, like FM, FPM, LF and Hezbollah and Amal.
For example, in 2009 in Beirut III district only 38% voted. In this election, FM needs to raise this into the mid-forties to ensure that most of the small lists will not reach the threshold, thus raising the number of seats FM will win. Similarly, in Tripoli and Akkar, the more people vote the better it is for FM. In Saida, it is even more important. In 2009, 68% voted, and for FM to get a shot at another seat they need to raise participation into the sixties.
In the same trend, Hezbollah and Amal need to raise the participation numbers in the two south districts and Baalebeck-Hermel to limit FM and the independent ability to gain seats. The more their constituencies vote, the higher the threshold, and the harder it is for independent to breakthrough.
An important caveat here: If the first time voters’ participation increases, this could have an opposite effect. Indeed, these voters could shore up the numbers of civil society’s lists and their chances of winning seats.
Another important indicator is the number of invalid votes casts. In 2009, the percentage was very low, around 0.61%. This year the number of invalid vote is going to significantly increase. This will have a significant effect. Therefore, after the polls are closed, it will be important to keep an eye on that number.
Find below the list of participation per district (based on several sources, such as the interior ministry and the NDI 2009 report on the Lebanese election) :
Beirut (with both districts) has 19 seats, making almost 15% of the the parliament. The number might seems big, but keep in mind, Lebanon is a very centralized country, with most of its economy, services, education, government institutions located in Beirut.*
However, it is not just the number of MPS that is important, winning in Beirut is highly symbolic and is almost a requirement for a President, or after the war for the Prime Minister.
Indeed, because of its symbolic status, Beirut districts have always been gerrymandered, to shore up or strike down a leader. For example, in 1957 elections ** President Chamoun added the largely Christin neighborhood of Achrafieh to a Muslim one. At the time, Christian outnumbered the Muslim, which insured the loss of all the Muslim leaders who oppsed Chaoun (like Saeb Salam and Abdallah Yafi). This is was one of the reasons of the 1958 civil war. Additionally, in 2000, the Syrian pro-consul in Lebanon Ghazi Kannan, specifically redistricted Beirut to ensure the defeat of Prime Minister Hariri. Fortunately, Rafik Hariri’s popular support was such, that it propelled him to win a clean slate of all the capital MPs despite the gerrymandering. Even in the latest electoral law, Beirut redistricting was the subject of many heated debate and negotiations.
Consequently, in the current law the capital was divided into two big districts: Beirut I, 8 seats with a clear Christian majority, and Beirut II, 11 seats, with a clear Sunni majority and a significant Shiite minority.
In 2009, Beirut was divided into three districts; I and III were similar to today’s districts, with Beirut II being a small district with only 4 seats. It was split and the seats divided among the two others. In that last elections, PM Saad Hariri handily won Beirut III, the district with a Sunni majority, and took all its seats (with around 78,000 out of 110,000 votes , in a majoritarian law). Beirut II was not fought over, and the seats were divided between the two opposed coalitions (March 8 and March 14). Beirut I district was fiercely fought over, and along with Zahleh, was the district that gave March 14 its 71 to 57 majority in parliament. March 14 won the five seats of Beirut I with a slim majority, defeating current President’s Aoun FPM.
Today, Beirut II is one of the most competitive districts, with the most number of candidates and lists (a total of 9!!), and a relatively low projected threshold of 12,000 to 13,000. PM Saad Hariri, still enjoys a large and strong following in the Sunni community. However, the new proportional law would make it impossible for the Prime minister to win a clean slate, like in 2009. PM Hariri and Future Movement number of seats in Beirut II will be directly linked to the participation levels of the Sunni, and how big of a majority PM Hariri still musters among them. In short, PM Hariri needs to raise the participation in Beirut II from 2009 38% to at least 50%, while still getting +60% support in the Sunni street, to win a significant portions of the seats (around 7 or more).
A total of 9 lists, are competing. PM Hariri’s Future Movement list “Moustaqbal for Beirut” is starting with strong base, with at least 5 seats, and a possibility for more, depending on the participation levels. However, they are strongly challenged by a coalition of Hezbollah, Speaker Berri’s and FPM.
This second list. Called “Wihdat Beirut”, enjoys a solid Shiite base of around 40,000 voters, and the backing of Al Ahbach organized and reliable voter bloc. They are starting with at least two to three seats, with a big possibility of winning more, depending on the participation level of the Shiite bloc.
Next come two lists who have a strong chance of netting a seat each or maybe more. The first is a list, called “Beirut el Watan”, supported by old allies of PM Hariri like Salah Salam who have taken a stronger stance against Hezbollah, and are allied to the Jamma Islamieh (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.) The second is the list called “Loubnan Harzan”, headed by Makhzoumi, a wealthy businessmen, who has been spending his money in Beirut for charity and politics. Makhzoumi’s chances are a bit less than the Salah’s list, but they look like it will win a seat. .
Next comes several civil society lists. In 2016 municipal elections, Beirut Madinaty came within a stone throw of winning, against an alliance of all political parties currently in power. One of the reasons they failed was the presence of a second civil society list, headed by an ex minister Charbel Nahass, who got exactly the difference between Beirut Madinaty and the mega parties coalition. Unfortunately, in these elections civil society did not learn their lessons, and were split among several lists. With this law, dividing ones base of support is the worst decision that can be made. It ensures the failures of all these lists, helping the entrenched parties get even more seats. The list “al mouaarada el Beirutiah” allied with General Rifi has the most chances of getting through, among the civil society lists.
The district with a Christian majority (for an analysis of the Beirut II district and the general background check here) . There are currently 134,000 registered voters. In 2009 only 32% voted, but this is expected to be higher. Nevertheless, with only 8 seats this districts will have the lowest threshold in Lebanon, ranging from 6,000 to 7,000 .
There are two main lists running: The first “Beirut al Oula” formed by a coalition of Kateab, LF, the Ramgafar Armenian Party, and Michel Faroun, a prominent political figure in Beirut I, who already won in 2009, and has a large network of voters and notaries that owe him their allegiance. This list is formed by a strong coalition and has several significant voters bloc. The list has a big chance of winning at least two to three seats.
Next comes the second strong list, “Beirut el Oula al Kawiah”, formed by a coalition of FPM, Tashnak, and Future Movement. This list, minus FM, is similar to the one that ran and lost against March 14 in 2009. FM switched their votes to the FPM, bringing a significant Sunni bloc of at least 6,000 voters. They have the upper hand, especially with several heavyweights like former Minister Sahnwai who is very popular in the area, and the famous Tashnak organized and precise voting bloc. The list would probably approaches 4 seats.
We are left with three more civil society lists. Once more, they committed the same cardinal sin, civil society did in Beirut II district and all over Lebanon. They split their voters’ base among three different lists, of which some have more chance, especially with the low threshold. Michelle Tueni’s “nehna Beirut” and “Koulouna Watani” have some chances of winning one or two seats.
It is important to note, that in 2016 municipal elections Beirut Madinati civil society list got around 20,000 votes from this district. Such a number would have given such a unified civil society list in this election three seats. However, splitting their votes among three lists diluted their strength.
*according to some reports around half of the country’s population live in the greater Beirut metropolitan area, and more than half of the GDP is produced there.
** The two elections of 57 and 60 and the 1958 civil war are the subject of my master thesis titled “Representation and Stability: A Comparative Study of The 1957 and The 1960 Elections In Lebanon.”
- The oldest candidate for the upcoming elections is 90, Mr. Mikhail Daher, and there are 12 candidates in total who are 80 years old and above. Meanwhile, Lebanon’s median age is of 30 years, and 40% of them are under 24 years old.
- Tyre – Zahrani district has the lowest number of running lists with 2
Beirut II has the largest with 9
- The largest projected threshold will be in the district of Tyre – Zahrani or Akkar with around 22,000.
The smallest will be in Beirut I with around 7,000
- Here is a breakdown of the different lists colors:
The deep South, the stronghold of Speaker Nabih Berri and his party Amal. Despite Hezbollah pressure and influence, Speaker Berri has been able to cement his control over this area, while keeping it relatively liberal. Indeed, you can still have a drink on the seaside, while enjoying a swim in Tyre, as opposed to the rest of the south, which have fallen under Hezbollah more strict and conservative hegemony.
Historically, the region has been under the influence of a few feudal families like the As’ad and the Ousseiran, with a significant communist and leftist presence. With the advent of Moussa Sader and the civil war in 1975, these families lost their predominance to the new kids on the block: Hezbollah and Amal. It was in the late 80 and early 90’s that Hezbollah’s predominance grew, as they got rid of most of the communist and leftist opposition.
In 2009, Speaker Berri list won handily with an average of 90% of the votes cast. However, only 51% (125,000 out of 245,500)** of the registered voters participated, due mostly to the nature of the majoritarian law and the lack of viable opposition (14 March candidates did not run in that district).
It is not longer 2009, the law is proportional, and despite having the smallest number of running candidates in all districts (13 candidates in a district with 7 seats) and the smallest number of lists (just two). Speaker Berri and Hezbollah are faced with a well-rounded list, formed by Riad Assaad, a scion of the old family, and an young engineer with a good political and social presence in the area. He is allied with a few independents from different backgrounds (leftist, and some old communists), in addition to a christian from President Aoun’s FPM.
However, with a high threshold, estimated at 21 or 22,000, and a small and fractured Sunni and Christian minority (they both form less than 20% of registered and even less than that of participating voters) the opposing list is facing with an uphill fight. The battle will be fought around Riad Assaad list ability to break through the threshold to just win a seat. Meanwhile, speaker Berri’s strategy revolves on shoring up the Shia participation and vote, to consolidate his grip over Tyre, and ensure that the christian minority in Zahrani stays loyal to him, without drifting to any christian political party (Aoun’s FPM).
With an increased heated rhetoric and attacks against the opposing list, it seems al As’ad list is gaining momentum, and it might win that symbolic seat. Such a win would show that Hezbollah and Amal’s twin monopoly on Shia districts representation is degrading, and an alternative -albeit small- independent Shia movement is growing and taking shape.
*the disrict is officially called Tyre – saida villages, which includes Zahrani and is very confusing
** number are rounded for ease of reading