[Contents] | [Part Two]

Lebanon's First Postwar Parliamentary Election, 1992: An Imposed Choice *

Farid el Khazen **

Unlike many other developing countries, prewar Lebanon had a long experience of elections and competitive electoral politics, both parliamentary and presidential. In the three decades from independence in 1943 until the outbreak of war in 1975, nine parliaments and five presidents were elected. Although elections were not always orderly, Lebanon's record in them continued to improve. indeed, from 1960, the country's parliamentary elections became increasingly competitive. Lebanon's last elections before the war in 1972 were the freest, most competitive and most orderly since independence.1 The 1972 parliament elected five presidents (though none of these elections took place in the official Hall of Parliament) and survived the war's various phases, multiple protagonists and conflicting aims until the Chamber's term was finally declared to have ended in 1992.

Lebanon's first postwar parliamentary elections held in the summer of 1992 were, by contrast, far more controversial and divisive than most of the prewar ones had been, particularly since 1960. The 1992 elections provoked the sort of sectarian polarisation the country had only seen during periods of crisis. The major dispute centred around the electoral law and the timing, namely the need to hold elections in the summer of 1992 as opposed to postponing them until more favourable political and security circumstances prevailed. The government's insistence on calling an election at that time despite the opposition of (and calls for postponement by) many political and religious leaders, was one of the ironies of the 1992 election. The majority of the electorate was either unconcerned with or opposed to the elections,2 which was unusual given that the Lebanese had been unable to take part in elections for two decades.

Thus, instead of the political competition between government and opposition that usually characterises electoral politics in the run-up to polling day in democratic political systems, the main issue revolved around the question of timing. How can one account for this anomaly? And how can one explain the lack of interest and enthusiasm by some and the vehement opposition by others, especially since people in countries deprived of elections long for the chance to choose their representatives freely?

The reasons for such unusual behaviour are analysed in the first part of this paper, in which the entire electoral process until polling day is evaluated - preparations for the election, making the new electoral law, opposition politics and timing. In the second part, which examines the conduct of the elections on polling day, the results are analysed and compared with those of previous elections. The final part deals with the political and communal repercussions of the 1992 elections in the light of changes that have taken place in postwar Lebanese politics.


Pre- and Post-Ta'if Politics: What has Changed?

The 1992 election was distinctive because it was the first to be held since the outbreak of war in the mid-1970s. It was also distinctive because it was the first to be held in accordance with the Document of National Understanding - known as the Ta'if Agreement - which parliamentary deputies had signed in the Saudi city of Ta'if in October 1989. The Ta'if Agreement was the draft of the amended Constitution, which created what was called the 'Second Lebanese Republic'. The First Republic, established by the 1926 Constitution, had been amended several times, most importantly in 1943 when Parliament ended the French mandate and announced Lebanon's independence.3

Although no parliamentary elections were held between 1972 and 1992, presidents were elected in 1976, 1982 and 1989. The presidential elections were held to avoid a constitutional vacuum. Parliamentary elections, however, were postponed because, constitutionally, Parliament could extend its term indefinitely as long as political and security conditions precluded legislative elections. There were several reasons for freezing the parliamentary elections. One obvious one had to do with the lack of stable security conditions.4 Another was the paralysis of state institutions and their fragmentation along sectarian lines. With the exception of a short period of relative calm in 1977, political crises beset the terms of Elias Sarkis (1976-82) and Amin Gemayel (1982-8). These crises peaked when Prime Ministers Rashid Karami and Salim al-Hoss boycotted the two final years of Amin Gemayel's presidency. In the decade before 1988, the state did not undertake its normal activities and was in effect replaced by Lebanese militias, the PLO and by Syria, Israel and later Iran. A third reason had to do with the absence of national sovereignty. In most parts of Lebanon, external actors enjoyed influence exceeding that of the Lebanese state and events were more the result of changing regional alliances and policies than of Lebanese internal politics.

The dominant trend in wartime Lebanon has been towards weakening state authority and steadily marginalising its institutions. This was tile situation in summer 1988, when an election to select President Gemayel's successor was attempted. The election did not take place because a configuration of local, regional and international forces undermined an orderly transfer of power.5 Unlike his predecessors, President Gemayel showed little willingness to effect an orderly transition of power.6 The two other influential figures of the Maronite community - the head of the army, General Michel Aoun, and the leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF), Samir Geagea - rejected what they considered the imposed US-Syrian nomination of Deputy Mikhail Daher as the sole candidate for the presidency. Damascus was in a sufficiently strong position to select the candidate it desired, knowing that influential Christian leaders would reject him. This brought the country to a political deadlock broken by the appointment of General Michel Aoun as head of an interim cabinet in the final minutes of Amin Gemayel's presidential term.

During the two years in which General Aoun held power, the political and security situation in the country deteriorated steadily. This period witnessed the fragmentation of the state into two de facto 'governments', one headed by General Aoun, the other by Salim al-Hoss.7 It was also at this time that successive violent confrontations took place and culminated in the military operation of 13 October 1990, which removed General Aoun from office and brought East Beirut and other Christian regions under Syrian military control. This event ushered in a new era of political history for Lebanon's post-1943 era and of Syrian-Lebanese relations in the post- 1975 period.

It is against this background that the genesis of the Ta'if Agreement and the making of the electoral laws in line with the new rules of the post-Ta'if era can be traced. The question that concerns us here is what made the election possible? Why was it held in the summer of 1992 and not at another date? What were the political and security differences between the situations in the summer of 1992 and in the preceding period?

The country's improved security situation and the cessation of hostilities did not, however, improve the political situation. While the reopening of previously divided regions encouraged a feeling of normality and peace among the Lebanese, the political issues, especially those relating to preparations for holding free and fair parliamentary elections, underwent little change. The political obstacles that had prevented the holding of elections since the mid-1970s had not been fully removed, and the postTa'if decision-making process is not confined to Lebanon's internal political structures either in the executive or legislative branches of government.

Reform as Political Bargaining Before and After Ta'if

Politics under the Ta'if Agreement have mirrored the politics of their making and elaboration. Ta'if was an extension of the conflicting interests of a number of local, regional and international actors. These interests took on two central dimensions: an internal one that revolved around the reform of the political system through agreements over power-sharing and ending the war; and an external dimension linked to international and regional political interests that varied from containing the 'Lebanese problem' to hegemony and control.8 The call for reform has marked Lebanese politics, particularly in the 1970s. It was expressed during the war in the Constitutional Document President Franjieh announced in February 1976. The Constitutional Document gave more power to the office of the prime minister and more balanced confessional representation in parliament. But it could not be implemented so long as the war continued. Another drastic restructuring of power in wartime Lebanon was made in 1985. The balance of power at that time facilitated the imposition of a Syrian-arranged alliance among the three principal militias - the Christian Lebanese Forces, the Shi'a Amal Movement and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. This move culminated in the signing of the Tripartite Agreement in Damascus by the three militia leaders on 28 December 1985. In the Christiancontrolled areas, Samir Geagea and President Gemayel rejected the Tripartite Agreement and the political repercussions of its failure shaped many of the events during the next two-and-a-half years of Amin Gemayel's presidency - the Muslim leaders' political boycott of President Gemayel; the re-entry of the Syrian army into West Beirut in 1987 at Prime Minister Karami's request; and the Lebanese Forces' control over East Beirut under Geagea's leadership.

This situation continued until the end of Gemayel's term in September 1988, when General Michel Aoun was appointed prime minister of an interim cabinet composed of the five members of the army's Military Council representing Lebanon's major sectarian groups. The three Muslim members who had agreed to join the cabinet had to resign minutes after the cabinet was formed. The 'war of liberation' announced by General Aoun in March 1989 and the subsequent war in East Beirut between the Aoun-led units of the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese Forces ended with yet another war resulting in the ousting of General Aoun, thus making room to start implementing the Ta'if Agreement.9

As mentioned earlier, Ta'if had a multinational dimension in which local and external actors were involved. Since reforms stipulated in the

Ta'if Agreement were directly tied to the country's military and political balance of power, the content of reform and the timing of these proposals were tied to the settlement of the conflict, which itself was linked to external actors - Syria and the PLO in 1976, Syria and Israel after 1984, and Syria and Iraq after 1988. The mediators of Ta'if included the Arab Tripartite Committee composed of the foreign ministers of Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. Before long, the external dimension came to dominate the internal one. More importantly, Ta'if's main external supporters who had played a balancing role in its making gradually disappeared from the scene. The Arab Tripartite Committee ended its active participation and the hitherto extensive US role diminished as well.10 These changes enhanced Syria's influence and bargaining position vis-à-vis both the other external actors and Lebanon.

The Ta'if Agreement had a dual role: to introduce constitutional amendments on the one hand and to interpret and implement them on the other. The text was fixed and its interpretation and implementation were continually subject to review and change connected with the shifting balance of power within Lebanon and the region. This situation helps explain the developments that led to Parliament's adoption of an electoral law, and the motives behind the decision to hold elections, despite the vehemence of the opposition and its criticism of both the electoral law and the timing of the elections.

Prior to Election Day

Political figures adopted several contradictory positions on the election and these were constantly revised as preparations for it advanced. Three main positions were discernible - support for holding the election on schedule; opposition to its preparation and timing; and fluctuation between rejection and acceptance. Among those without a clear position, hesitation probably best expresses the 1992 electoral scene with its conflicting opinions over the timing of the election and the inability of many groups to take a decisive stand. Most interesting were the multiplicity of positions and the gulf that separated them as well as the continual change of positions during a short period of only a few weeks.

Government officials were generally in favour of holding an election, but differed in the language of their support and in the way in which they expressed it. While the stand of some was characterised by frankness and clarity, hesitation and embarrassment dominated the positions of others. While President Hrawi, Speaker Husseini and Prime Minister al-Solh officially called to hold the elections under the new electoral law, their official public stands conflicted with the unannounced positions circulating among their supporters. The atmosphere of hesitation and caution was illustrated in the willingness of Hrawi and Husseini to consider proposals to postpone the elections put forward by opposition politicians, notably by former deputies Albert Mokheiber and Boutros Harb 11 only a few days before the elections. 12

Initially, Speaker Husseini was unenthusiastic about holding elections. He enjoyed influence both inside and outside Parliament, which he did not want to endanger. The elections were significant to him because of the likely changing composition of the balance of power in the new Parliament and because of his local rivalry with President Hrawi in the Bekaa'. The tug-of-war between the two had not abated since the beginning of Hrawi's presidency. The internal crises within the regime (both personal and political) reflected the disharmony between the two men. But Husseini's initial lack of enthusiasm for the election subsequently changed into one of support for it. He was also instrumental in passing the new electoral law in Parliament.

President Hrawi supported the election, reputedly to improve his position both domestically and in relation to Damascus.13 Prime Minister al-Solh held the least ambiguous position, for he was head of the government responsible for calling the election. Influential cabinet ministers close to Damascus, such as Minister of the Interior Sami al- Khatib, Minister of Defence Michel al-Murr, and Ministers Muhsin Dalloul and Abdallah alAmin, were the clearest and most decisive in all electoral matters, some even intimating that not holding the election could be the prelude to a return to war. 14

The positions of other groups, such as political parties and prominent political and spiritual leaders, varied extensively. The groups represented by General Aoun's movement, Dory Chamoun's National Liberal Party, Raymond Edde's National Bloc Party, and independent politicians, including the widely- supported former deputies Albert Mokheiber and Pierre Dakkash, rejected both the election and the Ta'if Agreement.15 This forthright position against the election was matched by an equally clear stand that supported holding the election and called for participation. This position was taken by Hizballah, which was the first to announce the names of its candidates in all of the electoral constituencies (except for the South).

Other groups continually shifted positions and refused to make a definite decision until only a few days before the election. These hesitant positions and their development during the two or three months that preceded the election may be classified as follows:

1. Initial support for holding an election, followed by wavering and then participating in the process. Former Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, who at first called for an election but later avoided making public pronouncements on the issue, best represented this position. He remained hesitant until the last moment. His visit to Syria a few days before the election had a decisive effect on his decision to run and hastily to form an incomplete electoral list.

2. Fluctuating support for the election, criticism of the preparations and dissatisfaction with the general electoral scene. This position became one of non-participation in the end. The most prominent representative of this stand was Tammam Salam, who adopted the position of his father, former Prime Minister Sa'eb Salam. The latter, announcing his stand from his residence in Geneva, opposed holding an election in an atmosphere of sectarian polarisation, which ran counter to the principle of communal coexistence.

3. Lack of enthusiasm and dissatisfaction with the entire electoral process. Proponents of this position finally opted to participate in the name of realpolitik and to adapt to the powers that be. Walid Joumblatt's stand best expressed this position.

4. Scepticism and initial lack of enthusiasm superseded by the logic of the 'last chance'. Kamil al-As'ad, who decided to run despite the formidable political and security obstacles he faced in the South during the campaign and on election day, took this position.

5. Hesitation and waiting, or seeking a face-saving formula (if participating) and a way back (if not). The Kata'eb Party's simultaneous support and opposition, which later turned into a position of boycott malgré-soi, exemplifies this stance of I hesitation and inability to make a decision until after it became impossible to find a better alternative.

6. The 'non-position', or waiting for the balance to tip in one of two directions. The issue at stake here was one of not losing the electoral opportunity. This was the position of many deputies and independent candidates in all regions, especially in electoral constituencies where serious preparations for the election were being made.

7. The position of independent candidates in Mount Lebanon, where the boycott was strongest, was unique. It reflected the vicissitudes of all the electoral positions and took its final form a few days before the election. This stand was tied to conditions in the electoral constituencies, their special problems and particular political and sectarian make-up. Some Christian candidates in the Chouf and Aley linked their participation to finding a solution to the issue of the Christians displaced from the Mountain on the basis that it was difficult to justify running in a constituency where most of the voters were unable to return to their villages and regain their property and homes.

In Mount Lebanon's other districts, the decision to participate was taken after exhausting all means of political escape. This applied to the respected political figure of Nassib Lahoud, a Maronite candidate for the Northern Metn. In the constituencies of Jbeil and Ba'abda, the boycott opened the way for 'infiltrators' intent on entering Parliament at any cost, with or without the votes. Finally, the Kisriwan-Ftouh district had a distinctive situation in view of the region's political and sectarian makeup. The widespread opposition the election elicited, coupled with the opposition of the Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, made inevitable the withdrawal of the principal candidates, especially Minister Faris Boueiz and the two el Khazen family candidates, which led to the cancellation of the election. By-elections in this region were then held on I I October and were dominated by purely local political considerations.16

The multiplicity of stands, the hesitation and the inability of politicians to act decisively existed because final decisions on electoral issues were not strictly Lebanese and did not reflect domestic priorities. The issue of the election generated the same sorts of dynamics as those at play in the preparation and implementation of the Ta'if Agreement. This was particularly evident among some Christian groups, which first rejected the election, then sought a suitable political dressing for accepting it, and finally took a publicly supportive stand.

The boycotters' position reflected a refusal on principle to hold elections under unsuitable conditions, as well as a mixture of other political calculations. Gradually, these positions crystallised, gathering political momentum in favour of the boycott. The boycotting groups had lacked the ability to unify their ranks and to agree on a single strategy to enter the electoral contest. This inability was due to differences among some of the principal boycott leaders and their contending views of the Ta'if Agreement and the current regime. Opposition began with the passing of the new electoral law. Among the politicians and political parties expressing their opposition to (or criticism of) the new law were first the boycotting groups, followed by those who were hesitating and finally by those groups participating in the elections.17 The issue of the electoral law itself became secondary to the decision to hold the elections and begin preparing for them.

The positions of those such as the Kata'eb Party, the LF and Patriarch Sfeir, who not only supported Ta'if but played principal roles in its making, were indicative of the political crisis since Ta'if. The partial implementation of the Ta'if Agreement and its repeated violations alienated those Christian leaders who had given it the required political cover despite popular opposition. This situation widened the rift between them and the majority of Christian opinion. General Aoun had at that time enjoyed wide popular support that went beyond Christian public opinion. President Hrawi, however, lacked the minimum public support necessary to confront this difficult situation. These developments made the Christian leaders and political parties - even those prepared to expend political capital in support of Ta'if - increasingly unable to participate in the election. This, then, was a battle lost on two fronts: participation would mean the loss of al popular base; staying out of the process would mean the loss of a share of power in the regime.

Nowhere was this problem embodied more clearly than in the Kata'eb Party, whose leaders were principal participants in the Ta'if Agreement, putting the party in direct conflict with Aoun. Whether for sheer personal interest and an opportunity to remove Aoun from office or out of political realism, the party leadership went along with the Ta'if process, giving it urgently needed Christian political cover. It then found itself facing a difficult situation it could neither alter nor improve. Under pressure from former President Gemayel (who paid a brief surprise visit to Lebanon to express his opposition to the election), Kata'eb leaders, finding themselves in a no-win situation and faced with a fait accompli that the election was going ahead as planned, were forced to decide to boycott it at the last moment. This decision was taken after much negotiation with Syrian leaders, with the aim of postponing the elections by a few weeks.

The Lebanese Forces were no better off. Following their loss on two fronts - the loss of the popular Christian base during the war with Aoun and the loss of their promised share of political power in the post-Ta'if period - they were faced with only one option - to boycott the proposed elections. Of all the groups that participated in the Ta'if process, the LF may have been the biggest losers. The disbanding and disarming of the militias - stipulated by the Ta'if Agreement - was thoroughly implemented in areas that were under their control, while other armed groups, Lebanese or non-Lebanese, were either not dissolved or were treated leniently. Indeed, any parliamentary representation to which the LF could aspire would not return even a portion of the considerable influence it had before Ta'if. Even worse, any electoral defeat suffered would be the coup de grâce.

While the Kata'eb Party and the LF acted with political considerations in mind, Patriarch Sfeir's opposition to what he termed the 'imposed elections' resulted from factors unrelated to personal or political interest. An open and cautious political moderate, Sfeir was pushed into a hardline position, taking an unambiguous and strong stand on a highly politicised and controversial issue. This was an indication of the degree to which communal relations were polarised. In a series of Sunday sermons beginning in April 1992, Patriarch Sfeir concentrated on Christian objections to implementing the Ta'if Agreement in general and to the conditions surrounding the holding of a parliamentary election in particular.18 Two years after his important role in giving Ta'if the stamp of Christian legitimacy when Aoun's popularity was at its height, Sfeir I faced a fait accompli: a Ta'if Agreement violated in both letter and spirit by three governments of 'national unity', all of which had been formed under the Ta'if banner. Officials sought to 'consult' with Christian political and spiritual leaders after decisions had been made. Thus, Prime Minister al-Solh visited Patriarch Sfeir to 'consult' with him about the content of the electoral law the day after it had been passed in Parliament.

Christian grievances and objections were not without justification. First, there was the problem of displaced Christians who had lost their property and homes following the 1983 war of the Mountain.19 This humanitarian and political problem, which concerned all sects and whose solution was required by the Ta'if Agreement, was not only a marginal issue on the agenda of the three governments formed in the wake of Ta'if, but it also turned into a political dispute between Druze leader Walid Joumblatt and then Minister of State Elie Hobeika.

Adding to these grievances was the selective dissolution and disarming of the militias. Hizballah, for example, despite being one of Lebanon's most heavily armed groups, supported by Iran and Syria, was excluded. While many Christians were content to see the Lebanese Forces trimmed down to size, they objected to the unequal manner in which the disbanding was implemented, especially when the government indulged the other militias such as the Shi'i Amal and the Druze PSP, and when heavily armed Palestinian camps continued to be outside the control of the Lebanese authorities.

Moreover, the formation of cabinets with uneven representation clearly reflected the new political formula of the post-Ta'if era. The appointment of Christians with pro-Syrian leanings in the three post- Ta'if cabinets did not help strengthen national unity; rather, they worked to reinforce the negative political atmosphere and lack of trust in the regime's proposals.

Finally, Christians objected to adopting a new electoral law that violated the Ta'if Agreement. Two issues are important in the law - the number of deputies and the division of electoral constituencies.

The Making of the Electoral Law

Part of the reforms envisaged by the Ta'if Agreement involved the need to redress the imbalance in confessional representation in Parliament by equalising the numbers of Christian and Muslim deputies. This issue was actually settled at an earlier date, in the Constitutional Document of 1976, but had not been implemented because no elections had been held since that time.

The Ta'if meetings decided on 108 parliamentary deputies distributed evenly between Muslims and Christians. This meant that nine seats were added to what was previously a 99-member Parliament. Some pro-Syrian deputies in Ta'if had supported raising the number of deputies to 128. This issue provoked a long debate - especially with the members of tile Higher Arab Committee - and was resolved only after Prince Saud alFaisal secured Syria's approval of a settlement that decreased the number to 108, provided the government appointed deputies to fill vacancies.20 At Ta'if, many opposed raising the number of seats and the issue had been closed temporarily. Several matters at the time were more urgent than the number of deputies. When the election file was reopened three years later, the situation had changed dramatically. By 1992, the earlier balance of power both within Lebanon and between Beirut and Damascus had changed considerably. Amid speculation and rumours in the press about the number of deputies, the Council of Ministers decided to adopt 134, an addition of 26 to the 108 agreed on in the Ta'if document. The stated reason for raising the number of deputies was to modify the representation of some sects (Druze and Greek Catholic). The tacit reason was to make the number 128 more acceptable to its opponents.

Table 1: Distribution of Seats by Sect and Constituency, 1992




Beirut 19 1 2 1 3 1 1 1 6 2 1
Mt Lebanon 35











 Aley 5 2 1








 Ba'abda 6 3








2 1
 Chouf 8 3 1








 Jbeil 3 2










 Metn 8 4 2 1 1







 Kisirwan-Ftouh 5 5










North 28











 Akkar 7 1 2









 Batroun 2 2










 Bsharri 2 2










 Denniyeh 3











 Koura 3











 Tripoli 8 1 1









 Zgharta 3 3










Bekaa' 2











 Ba'albak-Hermel 10 1







2 6


 West-Bekaa'-Rashayya 6 1 1






2 1 1
 Zahleh 7 1 1 2 1




1 1


South and Nabatiyyeh 23











 Bint Jbeil 3











 Jezzine 3 2










 Marje'youn 5








1 2 1
 Nabatiyyeh 3











 Sidon 2











 Tyre 4











 Zahrani 3











TOTAL 128 34 14 8 5 1 1 1 27 27 8 2

Notes: MA = Maronite; GO = Greek Orthodox; GC = Greek Catholic; AO = Armenian Orthodox; AC = Armenian Catholic; P = Protestant; MI = Minorities; S = Sunni; SH = Shi`a; A = Alewite

Table 2: Distribution of Seats by Sect, 1943-92


'43-7 '51 '53 '57 '60-72 '92 Change

Maronite 18 23 13 20 30 34 +4
Greek Orthodox 6 8 5 7 11 14 +3
Greek Catholic 3 5 3 4 6 8 +2
Armenian Orthodox 2 3 1 3 4 5 +1
Armenian Catholic - 1 1 1 1 1 0
Protestant - 1 - - 1 1 0
Minorities 1 1 1 1 1 1 0
Sunni 11 16 9 14 20 27 +7
Shi`a 10 14 8 12 19 27 +8
Druze 4 5 3 4 6 8 +2
Alawite - - - - - 2 +2
TOTAL 55 77 44 66 99 128 +29

Table 3:Distribution of Seats by Muhafaza, 1943-92


1943-7 1951 1953 1957 1960-72 1992 Difference

Beirut 19 13 7 11 16 19 +3
Mount Lebanon 17 23 14 20 30 35 +5
North 12 16 9 14 20 8 +8
South* 10 14 8 11 18 23 +5
Bekaa' 7 11 6 20 15 23 +8

Note:*The Constituency in the South in 1992 was composed of two Muhafazas: the South and Nabatiyyehr

The objections that had been put forward were neutralised as Parliament adopted the number 128, though no one knew why 134 had been proposed or why 128 was accepted in the end.21 The question remains: was the number based on demographic, regional or sectarian considerations, or was it simply a political decision, the goal of which was to serve the interests of certain parties? In either case, proper parliamentary representation was the least important consideration in this regard (See Tables 1, 2 and 3).

Electoral Constituencies: Last-Minute Bargains

Another issue of equal if not greater political importance was the random engineering of multi-member constituencies. The division of these constituencies into varying sizes, rather than on the basis of expanded constituencies was a grave violation of the Ta'if Agreement. The Ta'if Agreement's adoption of the muhafaza (without specifying its size) was meant to strengthen national unity, as voters who belonged to various sects would be able to choose, in the expanded constituency, representatives who also belonged to more than one sect. This is not possible in the small constituency, where the numerical majority of a particular sect would dominate both voters and candidates and subsequently lead to the adoption of extreme positions.22

In addition to the violation of the principle of the expanded, mixed electoral constituency, the division of constituencies was designed to serve sectarian, political and sometimes personal interests. Previous eras, especially that of President Chamoun, had seen the number of parliamentary deputies and the division of electoral constituencies changed to influence the outcome of elections. Chamoun targeted leaders from all communities (especially Maronite leaders), more specifically candidates for the presidency. Thus, the political game was balanced because the criterion applied to all communities and regions. In 1992, however, a selective method was employed, which was meant to influence election results to serve not only one politician or another but a sect or region at the expense of others (see Table 4).

Table 4:The 1992 Electoral Law Compared with Previous Electoral Laws


Beirut North South* Mt Lebanon Bekaa'

Number of Electoral Constituencies 1992 Single Constituency Single Constituency 7 Electoral Units, Qada' Single Constituency 7 Electoral Units, Qada' 6 Electoral Constituencies 3 Electoral Constituencies
Compared with Previous Electoral Laws Single Constituency, 1943-47 Single Constituency, One Electoral Unit, 1943-47 Single Constituency, One Electoral Unit, 1943-47 6 Electoral Constituencies 1960-1972 3 Electoral Constituencies 1960-72

Note: * The Electoral Constituency in the South in 1992 was composed of two Muhafazas: the South and Nabatiyyeh.

In Beirut, the size of the constituency was not a problem. The capital was made into one constituency in which candidates were elected on the basis of the entire constituency and not on that of electoral units within a wider one, as in the North and South where the muhafaza constituted the constituency. Beirut was thus the only constituency in which an election took place on the basis of the muhafaza.

The capital was easy to deal with in the absence of competition between leading candidates. There were two reasons for this. First, the Christians lacked a leader of the standing of Pierre Gemayel, who had occupied Beirut's sole Maronite seat from 1960 until his death in 1984. Second, the absence of electoral competition for Beirut's three Sunni leaders - former Prime Ministers Rashid al-Solh and Salim al-Hoss, and Tammam Salam, son of former Prime Minister Sa'eb Salam - exacerbated the political vacuum. Beirut's six Sunni parliamentary seats gave these three leaders an opportunity to be elected.

With regard to the other regions (the North, the South, the Bekaa' and Mount Lebanon), proposals continued to oscillate between small and expanded electoral constituencies until a few days before the passing of the electoral law. At first, the creation of two constituencies was proposed for the North, one with a Maronite majority that would give influence to Suleiman Franjieh (grandson of the late president) and the other with a Sunni majority in which Omar Karami would be the most effective player. This proposal, however, was replaced by the single electoral constituency on the basis of the muhafaza with the understanding that the two leaders would join forces in one electoral list. This was because an alliance would be relatively easily attained and because some candidates would be unable to guarantee the required number of votes in their small electoral constituencies, making them dependent on support from other regions. Another reason was to abort the possibility of Samir Geagea's candidacy. In a two-district scenario, Geagea would have constituted a challenge to Franjieh and other Christian politicians, notably Kata'eb leader George Saadeh.

In the South, there was little room for manoeuvre. An expanded constituency was adopted by merging the muhafazas of the South and Nabatiyyeh. The border region was a tense, unstable militarised zone controlled by Israel. Elections on the basis of a small constituency would make this region vulnerable to Israeli domination and provocation. For this reason, an amendment was made to the electoral law stating at the last moment that the elections as a whole would not be cancelled in case polling did not take place in any particular southern constituency. But the other unstated political reason for the merger of the two muhafazas was to allow Amal leader Nabih Berri greater room for manoeuvre and thus more influence and control.

The political situation in the Bekaa' and Mount Lebanon, where the 1960 electoral law was applied, differed radically from other areas. There, to guarantee various individual, sectarian and political interests, the qada' rather than the muhafaza constituted the constituency. In the Bekaa', competition between President Hrawi and Speaker Husseini for local leadership meant dropping the muhafaza as the electoral district.

In the same manner, Walid Joumblatt's opposition to a muhafaza-wide electoral constituency in Mount Lebanon, in which he would have less influence, succeeded. Damascus supported Joumblatt's veto after several proposals to divide Mount Lebanon into two or three constituencies were dropped. Joumblatt's position reflected two considerations: the first was to guarantee Druze political influence in the Chouf and Aley where there is a large Druze population (as opposed to Mount Lebanon as a whole, where Joumblatt would be subject to the votes of the Christian majority).

Without a solution for the displaced Christians, Joumblatt remained incapable of guaranteeing himself Christian support in the elections or at least getting the numbers his father received in prewar elections. The second was that in a small constituency he would be able to preserve his strong influence within the Druze community, especially in Aley, where he would face competition from the Arslan family. In an expanded constituency, he would be compelled to make alliances with Christian leaders from all parts of Mount Lebanon (outside the Chouf and Aley), as would his Arslan rival, thus weakening his hold over the Druze community and forcing him to deal with strong Christian politicians.

Given this uneven electoral mapping, the 1992 electoral law was in fact three laws in one: Beirut followed the muhafaza arrangement in voting and representation; the North and South adopted the muhafaza in voting while representation was on the basis of the qada'; and in Mount Lebanon and the Bekaa', constituencies were divided on the basis of the qada', as in the 1960 electoral law.

The Political and Sectarian Implications of Uneven Multi-Member Constituencies

Given the selective application of the Ta'if Agreement, what electoral and political implications can we derive from the unequal division of electoral constituencies? What was their effect on sectarian relations in the postwar period and on the stated objectives of strengthening the bonds of national unity? The electoral law, with its narrow sectarian and political features, led to the following results: first, with regard to the ratio of seats to voters, there were very large and unprecedented differences among constituencies. While in the electoral laws of 1943 and 1951 the two largest districts comprised 17 seats in Mount Lebanon and 14 in the South, the rest varied between 13 and 4. In the 1960 electoral law, Beirut's first constituency and the Chouf were the largest electoral units, each holding eight seats. By contrast, the 1992 law lacked balance. In the North, the South and Beirut, Voters elected 28, 23 and 19 deputies respectively, while in Jbeil, Kisirwan and Ba'abda, three, five and six were elected. Thus, voters in the North, South and Beirut chose 25, 18 and 13 deputies more than those of Jbeil, Kisirwan and Ba'abda respectively. The difference in the number of seats was highest in 1992, with a difference of 25 seats for every voter, compared with ten in the closest example in relation to the laws of 1943, 1947 and 195 1. (See Table 5.)

Table 5: Discrepencies in the Number of Seats per Voter in the Largest and Smallest Constituencies, 1943-92


1943-7 1951 1953 1957 1960-72 1992

Seats in Parliament 55 77 44 66 99 128
Largest Constituency 17 Mount Lebanon 14 South 2 Several Constituencies 6 Beirut's First Constituency 8 Chouf and Beirut's First Constituency 28 North
Smallest Constituency 7 Bekaa' 4 Akkar 1 Several Constituencies 1 Several Constituencies 1 Sidon 3 Jbeil
Difference 10 10 1 5 7 25

The voters' lack of familiarity with the large number of candidates in the expanded constituencies makes the problem even more acute. Candidates were given insufficient time to make themselves known to the electorate, for they themselves did not know in what kind of electoral district they would run, with whom they would make alliances and which constituency to target. These unknowns remained unresolved until five weeks before the elections in the North and the Bekaa', six weeks in Mount Lebanon and Beirut, and seven weeks in the South.

In a matter of a few days, candidates were supposed to campaign and make electoral alliances without knowing who their running mates would be. In fact, most electoral lists were officially announced four or five days before polling.23 This contrasted sharply with prewar elections when electoral laws were passed several months in advance or were established from previous elections, and when preparations and electoral, campaigns began six months to a year before election day.

The electoral constituencies, of sundry numerical and geographical sizes, were designed to serve a variety of purposes. The desired objective of a district with a given size determines its function. If expressing the priorities of the electoral base is the desired objective, then a small or medium-sized constituency, in which voters have direct contact with their representatives and can easily reach them and hold them accountable, is the most suitable. Likewise, the representatives are most aware of the needs of the voters and most concerned with complying with their wishes.24

While an expanded constituency leads to more political and sectarian mixing among people, it strengthens candidates from certain sects. While it encourages the formation of two principal lists in competition with one another, it reduces the options and manoeuvrability of other candidates, especially when the period of preparation for elections is short, as it was in 1992. Examples of this type of division are the two large constituencies of Beirut's first district and the Chouf under the 1960 electoral law, where each district had eight seats. In the Chouf, two electoral lists were drawn up, one headed by Kamal Joumblatt and the other by Camille Chamoun. The choice of members for each of these lists reflected the two leaders' influence rather than their representativeness. A similar pattern occurred in Beirut's first district, where Pierre Gemayel occupied a position of influence that enabled him to choose the list's members from which no Maronite opponent would threaten Gemayel's leadership within the electoral constituency.

By and large, where no established political figures capable of competing with the main leader of a given electoral constituency are present (such as a local notable or son of an influential political family), candidates on the leader's list are chosen regardless of the constituency's size or numerical electoral weight. In pre-1975 Lebanon, this occurred in the South, where Shi'a leader Kamel el-Asa'ad had significant influence extended throughout three qada's (Nabatiyyeh, Marja'youn and Bint Jbeil). The stronghold of the Karami family was the city and qada' of Tripoli. In Beirut's third district, the Salam family enjoyed wide influence. In Zahleh and Western Bekaa', the Greek Catholic Joseph Skaff had an electoral base within the entire muhafaza. Finally, in Ba'albak-Hermel, the Hamadeh family was influential. The same situation prevailed in 1992 in Ba'albak-Hermel, the Western Bekaa', the Chouf and the South. There were two reasons for this: the first was the formation of coalition candidate lists that included the constituency's principal sectarian leaders (as in the North and South); and the second was the electoral boycott of the principal Christian leaders and political parties.

In addition, the electoral constituency based on the muhafaza according to the 1992 law differed from the muhafaza as an electoral constituency adopted by the 1943 and 1951 laws. The difference lay in elections taking place on a dual basis, where the muhafaza was taken as the electoral constituency and the qada' as a unit within it. In previous elections when the muhafaza was the electoral constituency, voting for candidates was based on the entire muhafaza. Winning candidates received the largest number of votes according to the sectarian distribution of seats in the muhafaza, without taking the qada' to which the candidate belonged into consideration. In other words, the winners represented the entire muhafaza and not a specific qada'.

The 1992 law changed these criteria, with candidates being elected on the basis of two considerations: the vote count was taken for the entire constituency or muhafaza, but candidates competed on the basis of the smaller electoral unit (or qada' ). This meant that a candidate in a specific constituency could be elected deputy with a majority of votes in the muhafaza while receiving fewer votes than his competitors at the level of the qada', the electoral constituency in which his or her candidacy was announced. This ran counter to the principle of true parliamentary representation from the standpoint of the deputy representing his electoral constituency first -before being considered a representative of the muhafaza. Under such conditions, candidates who enjoy popular support in their home regions might not win in elections against candidates who might win for political, sectarian, financial or other reasons.

This dualism was also apparent in the results of the 1992 election, especially in the muhafaza of the North. In the qada' of Batroun, the Maronite candidate Manuel Younes, who received the majority of votes in the qada' (5271 against his opponent's 927), won with difficulty over his competitor Charles Ayyoub, who gained approximately 98 per cent of his votes in other constituencies. The difference between the two was only 232 votes. This was also the case in Akkar, where the difference between Riyad Sarraf and Ibrahim Shuman, candidates for the Greek Orthodox seat, was 421 votes. Sarraf received the majority of votes in the qada' (14,859 against 9975) while Shuman, a candidate on the Karami-Franjieh list, received a larger number of votes in other parts of the constituency (30,973 against 27,5 10). A similar result was recorded in Dinniyeh (qada' of Tripoli) where candidate As'ad Harmoush beat his opponent, Hamad al-Samad, by 211 votes.25

The 1992 Electoral Law: Who Elects Whom?

The lack of equitable sectarian representation in the 1992 electoral law was another factor that rendered it unsatisfactory. In the absence of a non-sectarian electoral law, the formula of an expanded district, raises the question of who elects whom in a society as confessionally polarised as Lebanon. In mixed electoral constituencies, where the numerical majority belongs to a certain sect, minority sects often feel underrepresented.

The two significant cases in the 1992 law were the South and the constituency of Jbeil in the muhafaza of Mount Lebanon. In the South, where there are approximately four times as many Muslim voters as Christians ones (397,017 as against 107,793), the five Christian deputies depend almost completely on Muslim voters to win their seats. This is also so in Jbeil, where Christian voters outnumber Muslim ones by five to one (51,944 to 11,835). Likewise, the single Shi'i deputy is elected by the votes of the Christians who form the majority.26 There were similar cases in the following constituencies: Ba'albak-Hermel, where Muslim voters elected two Christian deputies (Greek Catholic, Maronite) and the ratio was five to one in favour of Muslims (135,449 versus 26,773); the Western Bekaa', where the ratio was around two to one in favour of the Muslims (65,719 versus 35,629) and there were two Christian seats, one Maronite and one Greek Orthodox; Zahleh, with a two to one ChristianMuslim ratio (82,141 to 36,591), and two Muslim seats, one Sunni and one Shi'a.27 The total result was that nine Christian deputies were in effect elected by Muslim voters (five in the South and four in the Bekaa'), while three Muslim deputies were elected by Christian voters (one in Jbeil, and two in Zahleh). The net difference was that six Christian deputies are elected by Muslim votes.

In the constituencies of Aley and the Chouf, the imbalance was not only one of demography but of politics as well. In 1992 there was no political competition between the Chouf's traditional leaders. Indeed, not only was there no Maronite leader capable of competing with Walid Joumblatt, the displaced Christians were not physically present in the region and had no safe access to it. The result, therefore, was that seven Christian deputies in Aley and the Chouf (five Maronite, one Greek Catholic and one Greek Orthodox) were elected in 1992 by a majority of votes that came from non-Christian voters (Druze and Sunnis). The same was true of the Chouf's two Sunni deputies on Walid Joumblatt's uncontested electoral list. Sunnis are a minority in the qada' in relation to Maronite and Druze voters.

In Beirut, there was a different type of imbalance in sectarian representation. While the numerical difference between Christian and Muslim voters is not large (176,077 versus 161,786), the absence of established Christian leaders made the election of Beirut's ten Christian deputies dependent on Muslim voters (the five Armenian deputies won uncontested).28 The same situation held for Beirut's Druze seat and, to a lesser degree, the two Shi'a seats, both influenced by the Sunni voters who constitute a majority in Beirut. In the election of minority sect representatives in any constituency, voters from the majority sects in the constituency are the most influential factor.

Whether the reasons were demographic (connected with the division of constituencies based on the 1992 electoral law) or political (resulting from changes that occurred during the war) such as the absence of strong leaders and the problem of the displaced, the imbalance in representation in the 1992 elections favoured Muslim and Druze voters. They were able to exercise decisive influence in electing 26 Christian deputies (nine because of the definitive difference in the number of voters in some constituencies, seven because of the problem of the displaced, and ten because of the boycott and the absence of effective Christian leaders), while the influence of Christian voters was decisive for three Muslim deputies (Jbeil was an exception in 1992 because of the Christian boycott). The net result was that 23 Christian deputies were elected to the 1992 Parliament by voters from other sects; this constituted 35.93 per cent of Parliament's Christian deputies and 17.96 per cent of its total.

Tables 6 and 7 show the distribution of deputies who depended on votes from their own sect and from outside their own sect to gain seats, according to the 1960 and 1992 electoral laws and the 1972 and 1992 Parliaments. According to the 1992 law, the Shi'a community enjoys the largest amount of real representation, distantly followed by the Maronites and Sunnis. The other communities' real representation was very weak, as shown in Table 6. In the Greek Orthodox community, for example, none of its 14 deputies was elected by a decisive Greek Orthodox vote, while the Greek Catholic vote was decisive in the election of only two deputies (in Zahleh) out of a total of eight seats for the community.

Had there not been a Christian boycott, this structural disequilibrium would still have remained because the Christian boycott affected Mount Lebanon and, in particular, the constituencies with a Christian majority (Jbeil, Kisirwan, Northern Metn and Ba'abda). In the remaining constituencies, the boycott lowered voter turnout but did not affect the results because the demographic balance leaned strongly in one direction, notably in the constituencies of the South, the Western Bekaa' and Ba'albak- Hermel. In the qada' of Ba'abda, and perhaps in Beirut, the results might have been different had Christian voters and leaders participated in the elections.

Table 6: Number of Winners by Votes of the Candidate's Sect and by Votes of Other Sects, 1992


(a) (b) (c) Number
of Seats
(d) Difference

Maronite 14 20 26 34 40 +6
Greek Orthodox 0 14 0 14 0 -14
Greek Catholic 2 6 0 8 2 -6
Armenian Orthodox 0 5 0 5 0 -5
Armenian Catholic 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Protestant 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Minorities 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Total Christians 16 48 26 64 42 -22
Sunni 20 7 13 27 33 +6
Shi`a 15 12 29 27 44 +17
Druze 4 4 9 2 0 -2
Alawite 0 2 0 2 0 -2
Total Non-Christians 39 25 51 64 77 +21

Notes: (a) Candidates elected by a dominant majority of voters of the same sect (no dependence); (b) Candidates in mixed constituencies where support from voters of different sects is needed to win the election (partial dependence); (c) Almost total dependence of candidates of a particular sect on voters from sects other than that of the candidate to win the election; and (d) Real representation computed by addin the number of seats dependent on voters of candidate's sect to the number of seats totally dependent on voters of other sects (for example, for the maronites, 14+26=40).

The Timing of the Elections: An Enigma!

More than any other electoral issue, the timing of the 1992 election was enigmatic. Preparation for the elections did not revolve around discussions over the candidates' political programmes and opposition to' government but about the timing of the elections. The issue of timing raised the tone of the political debate and deepened the sectarian divide , primarily because some groups insisted on holding the election in the summer of 1992 despite calls by many political and religious leaders for postponement. The issue of timing was aggravated by the government's unwillingness (or inability) to come up with a face-saving formula. Some groups, such as the Kata'eb and some independent politicians, could have re-evaluated their position regarding participation had the election been postponed. Indeed, a number of proposals were put forward suggesting a postponement of anywhere between three weeks and six months; one suggested a postponement of three years, in other words until the end of the term of President Elias Hrawi. All these ideas were rejected, including last-minute suggestions for 'improving the electoral conditions' that had received the implicit approval of Patriarch Sfeir.29

Table 7: Number of Winners of the Candidate's Sect and by Votes of Other Sects, 1972


(a) (b) (c) Number of Seats (d) Difference

Maronite 21 9 6 30 27 -3
Greek Orthodox 2 9 0 11 2 -9
Greek Catholic 1 5 0 6 1 -5
Armenian Orthodox 0 4 0 4 0 -4
Armenian Catholic 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Protestant 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Minorities 0 1 0 1 0 -1
Total Christians 24 30 6 54 30 -24
Sunni 14 5 5 19 19 0
Shi`a 12 8 2 20 14 -6
Druze 4 2 3 6 7 +1
Total Non-Christians 30 15 10 45 40 -5

Notes: (a) Candidates elected by a dominant majority of voters of the same sect (no dependence); (b) Candidates in mixed constituencies where support from voters of different sects is needed to win the election (partial dependence); (c) Almost total dependence of candidates of a particular sect on voters from sects other than that of the candidate to win the election; and (d) Real representation computed by addin the number of seats dependent on voters of candidate's sect to the number of seats totally dependent on voters of other sects (for example, for the maronites, 21+6=27).

What, then, was the 'secret' behind the rush to hold parliamentary elections on 23 August 1992 given that the Lebanese government was. not the only party to the decision30 and that the appointment of 40 deputies to fill vacant seats and correct the disequilibrium in sectarian parliamentary representation had taken place only a year earlier? Deprived of basic state services and unable to bear the economic burden resulting from the sharp decline in the value of the national currency (at a record low in August 1992),31 the average Lebanese did not consider the election of new representatives a priority.

No single reason determined the holding of elections in August and September 1992 rather than at some other date. Some tied the issue to the redeployment of Syrian troops in the Bekaa' which should have taken place in September 1992, two years after Parliament approved the constitutional changes called for in the Document of National Reconciliation. Others linked the issue to the emergence of a new regional balance of power in the aftermath of the second Gulf war and to the Arab-Israeli peace talks. Still others linked the timing to the upcoming presidential election in the United States.

All attempts to postpone the election failed, including a move by five independent Maronite deputies and Kata'eb leaders to gain a three-week reprieve.32 Their discussions with Syrian officials and particularly with Vice-President Abd al-Halim Khaddam and Chief-of-Staff Hikmat al-Shihabi failed.33 Syria's position was firm and brooked no discussion, even with Christian parties close to the Syrian leadership. Regardless of the link between the timing of the election and internal or external considerations, holding the election on the announced date became a matter of principle for Damascus, especially after the opposition intensified its campaign and succeeded in mobilising public opinion against the election.

Whatever Syrian calculations were in the beginning, as preparations for the election got under way the issue turned into one of Syria's role and influence in Lebanon. The Syrians saw in regional developments and in Washington's ambivalence about the parliamentary election in Lebanon an opportunity to stick to their hardline position on its timing. Washington sent contradictory signals about its attitude towards the election, with its tacit position differing from its official claim of opposing elections held in an atmosphere of political discord. US tacit support for a fait accompli in Lebanon is 4 policy the Syrian leader-ship has come to understand since the mid-1970s and has learned to turn to its advantage.

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