A detailed analysis of SAIDA's 2018 electoral result!

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.
First, turnout:
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.

Details of the mistakes

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.
mistake one
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.
mistake two

A first look at the numbers!

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.
turnout 2018 2009
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!!
invallid ballot
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.

The Capital!

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.
Beirut I:
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 list are finally out!

After a tumultuous month, filled with Machiavelli’s political machinations and Shakespearean plots, the electoral lists for the next election in Lebanon, are set! 77 lists were officially registered, vying for 128 parliamentary seats in 15 districts!
It was a bumpy ride, filled with backstabbing, bluffs, and some last minutes surprises. Most political parties waited until the last possible moment, before unveiling their lists. Intense negotiations were still ongoing even hours before the deadline on midnight of the 26 March. All sides were keeping their cards hidden for as long as possible, trying to maximize their strength and weaken their opponents. Immense pressure was applied on various candidates to change their allegiance or even withdraw. In the last feverish days, a many candidates visited their sectarian leaders to withdraw their candidacy and support the party line.
In Saida for instance, the alliances kept shifting between the different parties. One day it was Future Movement’s Bahia Hariri with Aoun’s FPM, the next day Abed Rahman Bizri joined their list, to face off Speaker Berri’s Azzar and Oussam Saad. The day after, the alliance shifted and Bizri was out. Another day and in a complete surprise, Bizri was back in, with the Mulsim Brotherhood candidate in tow, while Bahia Hariri decided to run with independent candidates.
That was in the Saida-Jezzine district, the smallest in Lebanon. Imagine the chaos in the bigger districts. Indeed, in several big districts, candidates were being added and removed from list, just hours before the deadline! It was a roller-coaster, at time frustrating, but always exhilarating. I wonder how the candidates dealt with it!
However, now we are set. The official tally of lists in each districts is out and electoral campaign can go into overdrive.
On our side, we will start a series of article detailing the lists in each districts, and trying to do some forecasting. Additionally, polls will be published at a higher frequency, and we will be able to populate our Poll of Polls and have a clearer picture of the forecasts.

A market in full swing!

With the period for individual candidates registration closing fast (it ends on March 7, 60 days before elections), it is a general stamped!
Every major party has announced or will soon announce their list of candidates, as an opening bid in a very complicated and multi layered poker game.
However, the field of candidates will rapidly be filled with too many candidates, some known, and others not, some affiliated to the parties, but many not… There are many causes for this exuberance, but mainly:
First, fielding a large number of candidates will raise the price of any future negotiation or alliance. “I am sorry but I already announce Mr. X as a candidate in this district, I cannot support your candidate…” is a very convenient excuse. It forces the other party to up their price, offering another seat or two for that coveted spot!
Second, the parties need to field a large number of candidates, in case alliances shift and they will have to switch a few seats here and there. Especially, when considering the sectarian electoral mosaic.
Third, you never know what tomorrow brings, and that goes doubly in Lebanon. Better to have a few extra candidates, just in case! Maybe someone feels pressured, or maybe a party member switches allegiance.
Fourth, there is an old Lebanese scheme: A number of hopeless candidates would register nevertheless, knowing they hold a famous family name, or a few hundred votes, or a specific Ace up their sleeve, and they will wait. They will wait for the highest bidder to buy them off. Usually, they are paid handsomely! Oh, if only we apply that beautiful creative force into something fruitful and long-term!
March is going to be a month filled with drama, backstabbing, and Lebanese political horse-trading at its finest! Indeed, the real negotiations will only start after the candidate window registration closes. It is hard to judge the battle before each general has at least start lining up his soldiers.
When March 27 comes, and lists are set. Then the real campaign will start, as each party has formed their alliance and there is no more room for negotiations.
Then the roulette ball will start spinning… “rien ne va plus!”