Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Vol. XX, No. 4, Summer 1997
Lebanon's 1996 Controversial Parliamentary Elections
Hilal Khashan is a Professor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut. He is spending the 1996-97 academic year as a visiting Professor at the Florida State University and McGill University (Montreal). He is the author of Inside the Lebanese Confessional Mind; Partner or Pariah, and completing a book entitled The Arab World at the Crossroads. His numerous articles appeared in journals such as Orbis, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, the British journal of Middle Eastern Studies and the Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies *.
Lebanon's eleventh parliamentary elections since independence took place on five consecutive Sundays beginning August 18, 1996. Voters in the country's five electoral provinces went to the polls to elect 128 deputies in the following order: Mount Lebanon, the North, Beirut, the South, and the Biqa'. These elections, the second since Lebanese parliamentary deputies convened in a mountain resort in Saudi Arabia, at the invitation of the Saudi government, and concluded the Tai'f Agreement. Ostensibly, the Agreement reformed the defunct 1943 National Covenant, rendered useless by the outbreak of the 1975 civil war, and placed Lebanon on solid democratic grounds. Nevertheless, there was broad Christian boycott of the 1992 parliamentary elections (the first since 1972), as well as virulent criticisms of the electoral laws which governed their administration. The tailored laws obviously favored certain progovernment candidates, and deliberately aimed at curtailing the electoral influence of the Maronite sect, especially in Mount Lebanon. A major component of Christian opposition for the 1992 elections derived from Syrian military presence in Lebanon. Many Christians argued that Syria would interfere in the elections to ensure the success of its local proxies.1
Christian boycott of those elections neither weakened Syria's advantageous position in Lebanon, nor deterred the pro-Syrian government in Beirut from introducing its own blueprint for reconstructing the country, as well as preparing it for the period of post Arab-Israeli conflict. Fear about further marginalization in Lebanese political life prompted significant members of Christian opposition to submit their candidacy for parliament in the 1996 elections. This turnabout came as a result of awareness that Syria's preeminent role in Lebanese affairs seemed secure, at least in the foreseeable future. Christian opposition shrank to a core of politicians who burnt bridges with the Syrian regime, and have been at loggerheads with the Lebanese ruling elite.2 It is against this backdrop of fading strategic opposition to the second Lebanese republic that the Lebanese parliamentary elections of 1996 took place. Candidates' vigorous campaigns and heightened public interest - even to some degree in the Maronite heartland - reminded longtime observers of Lebanese parliamentary elections of the pre- civil war lively atmosphere which accompanied their conduct.3 Apart from rejuvenating involvement in participatory politics, the 1996 parliamentary elections came under severe criticisms from disparate Lebanese groupings that included the diehard Christian opposition, Islamic fundamentalists, Syrian affiliates and moderate politicians.
II. The Issue: Undemocratic Elections
The adequacy of elections in a certain country (in terms of competitiveness, representativeness, and fairness) is a function of its predisposition towards democracy. The key requisites of democracy are mostly lacking in Lebanese polity. Seymour Lipset addressed the economic aspect of the conditions for democracy, and emphasized the need for achieving an acceptable level of economic development.4 Barrington Moore approached tile idea of transition into democracy from the perspective of tile political system's capacity to deal with conflict without resorting to authoritarian measures.5 Gabriel Almond and Sydney Verba emphasized the role of inter-elite relations in fostering democracy. Transition towards democracy could begin if, following a prolonged and inconclusive conflict, the elites decide to harmonize their mutual relationships.6 On his part, Dankwart Rustow stressed the importance of interactions among the social groups that exist in society. This required the prior existence of fairly complex social structures.7 Although a protracted civil war tends to produce a new political reality reflecting maturity and determination to avoid the pitfalls of the defunct order, something like this did not seem to have taken place in the second Lebanese republic. Public disaffection with the performance of the political system is more intense than ever. Sectarianism is rising and the quality of life is declining. Currency devaluation has stopped, but inflation has not. The ruling elite seems to take bureaucratic corruption and mismanagement for granted. In view of the fact that the Lebanese political process has no built-in mechanisms for determining responsibility and accountability, many politicians and administrators find it fairly easy to commit public trust violations with impunity. In a move that cut-tailed the freedom of expression in Lebanon, the government of Rafiq Hariri banned in 1993 tile right to demonstrate. The justification it gave argued that the country, rising precariously from a devastating civil war, could no longer afford political disturbances.
There is no reason to assume that tile government's handling of the parliamentary elections should differ from its behavior oil other aspects of public policy. To be sure, complaints about irregularities in the promulgated electoral laws and possible fraudulent polling practices emerged even before the minister of interior announced the hastily-scheduled election dates. It would be normal to expect charges about the democratic shortcomings of parliamentary elections in Lebanon. in fact, it would seem odd to claim that competitive elections occur smoothly in the participatory domain of the Lebanese political culture. The pertinent literature on Lebanese politics and parliamentary processes provides strong supportive evidence. More than thirty years ago, Edward Shils noted the absence of civility from Lebanese politics. This behavioral deficiency, Shils lamented, was not limited to the mass of the population: "Much more important is the incivility of many of the members of the elite, the members of the great families, and tile zu'ama who dominate and speak for the primordial and religious communities."8 Edward Azar alluded to the issue of trust in Lebanese politics, and concluded that it was very poor.9 In a specific examination of Lebanon's serious electoral problems, Michael Suleiman hoped for "a clean and neutral government"10 to oversee parliamentary elections. Short of that, "inter- and intraconfessional rivalry is an inescapable part of the system."11 Enver Khoury remarked at the beginning of the 1975 civil war that confessionalism in Lebanon enhances polarization in times of acute tension.12
The Tai'f Agreement did not end, nor even contained confessionalism in Lebanon. In all fairness, no other agreement would have done so. Formal arrangements lack the mechanism for dislodging entrenched beliefs and the behavioral attributes attendant to them. Confessional ism thus remains alive in Lebanon. Nevertheless, one would expect the reformed system to show signs of improvement reflecting, among other things, tile lessons learned from the civil war. Instead, the core of Lebanon's post-Tai'f ruling elite, often referred to as the troika, appears to have succeeded in staging a silent coup under the pretext of maintaining balance to the Country's fragile political system.13 The troika has virtually shut out other - and less powerful - actors from the political system's decision-making arena. Protests against the troika's firm grip on the resources of the system came from across the Lebanese political spectrum. From one end of the spectrum, local communists condemned the ruling alliance, and considered the elections as a facade for legitimizing the entry of pro-establishment elements into the parliament.14 Somewhere at the other end of the spectrum, tile campaign agenda of Salim al-Huss's Salvation and Change Bloc charged that the troika arrangement in Lebanon was a political heresy and pledged to work for undoing it.15 The troika is indeed changing the contours of the political system by monopolizing authority and the allocation of available material goods. However, instead of alleviating the traditional deficiencies of the system, tile ruling club has actually exacerbated them.
The Tai'f Agreement legitimized political monopoly by allocating most prerogatives to the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Prime Minister. It has obviously lowered Lebanon's ranking on the continuum of democracy. Lebanese Christians have inadvertently contributed to the undemocratization of Lebanon by boycotting the 1992 elections. Voluntary withdrawal from local politics has encouraged the rising elite to transform tile Lebanese political system into an oligarchy. The controversial 1996 parliamentary elections provide an excellent starting point for evaluating the well-being of Lebanese politics more than seven years after the end of the civil war. Critics point to three general sources of irregularity which, in their view, discredit the latest elections:
The parliamentary elections were contested to a point where even judicious and nonpartisan political commentators of tile caliber of Fuad Butrus (a former minister of foreign affairs) spoke out against them. In a rare criticism of local politicians Butrus said: "The ruling troika has taken over the functions of the institutions and created serious political imbalances." 16 The Maronite Patriarch reacted negatively, and with varying degrees of intensity to tile different phases of the elections. After announcing the results of the elections in Mount Lebanon and the north (the two governorates supplying most Maronite deputies) lie condemned Lebanese democracy as "hollow."17 A few days later, lie toned down his comments on the results of the election in the Biqa', saying that the elections "did not take place in an ideal manner."18 In view of tile above, it is therefore the objective of the present paper to investigate the three sources of alleged irregularity in the latest Lebanese parliamentary elections. Studying electoral behavior is helpful in developing an informed opinion about one of the most important aspects of modern polity. In the context of Lebanese politics, it should help the analyst to trace the country's destination in the post-Ta'if period. Prior to investigating the grievances about the elections, it is necessary to report their outcome.
III. The New Parliament
The civil war caused the cancellation of four parliamentary elections that would have occurred between 1976 and 1988. Instead, the parliament of 1972 ended up renewing its mandate until 1992 when elections resumed. The new parliament - cut off from Lebanon's parliamentary tradition - is not properly rehearsed in democratic procedures. Due to the toll of years, only five deputies from the 1972 parliament returned to its 1996 successor.19 The composition of the present parliament includes about forty percent first-time deputies.20 A scrutiny of the outcome of tile elections reveals signs of depoliticizing the parliament. This does not imply that previous parliaments were competent in handling public policy, but they were definitely a hotbed of intense political debate. There are at least three distinguishing characteristics in tile make-up of the present parliament that make it truly unique to Lebanese politics.
(a) The Withering of the Fundamentalists:
The 1992 elections brought 13 deputies from three Islamic groups into the Lebanese parliament.21 It was the first time in Lebanon's 60 years of parliamentary life that religious Islamic groups had succeeded in placing deputies in this secular assembly. Obviously, Christian boycott and generally low voter turnout assisted in achieving this political penetration. The joyous days of the fundamentalists did not last long. In 1996 elections the Islamic groups lost five seats. The nearly 40 percent loss in parliamentary representation is alone telling. However, the implications of the fundamentalists' retreat go far beyond what percentages suggest. First, the electoral districts of Beirut and Mount Lebanon said a categorical no to the four religious candidates they elected in 1992. Second, Sunni fundamentalists operating under the umbrella of Jama'a lslamiyya received a severe blow in their home base in northern Lebanon. There, the only successful fundamentalist candidate received the lowest number of votes among all ten elected Sunni deputies.22 While several factors (such as possible Muslim disaffection and government hostility) could account for the fundamentalists' poor showing, it is logical to assume that the increase in Christian voter turnout - in comparison to 1992 - ranked foremost among them. The election returns in the Biqa' and the South, where Shi'is represent the majority of voters, showed that Hizbullah made Lip for most of its losses in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. This confirms the importance of the Christian vote in curbing the fundamentalists' penetration of tile parliament.
The successes of Hizbullah in the South and Biqa' are tenuous and do not indicate strong grass roots there. Massive Israeli retaliation against Hizbullah's military activity causes great human and material losses to Shi'i civilians. Concurrently, the gradual return of central government authority equipped with a comprehensive development package, the strengthening position of the pro-establishment Amal movement - Hizbullah's Shi'i competitor - and possible future progress in the peace talks are bound to erode the raison d'etre of Hizbullah. A Lebanese daily interpreted the' defeat of the fundamentalists in the north and Beirut as an incentive by those who control Lebanese politics (this allusion normally refers to Syrian preponderance in Lebanon) to tile United States to apply pressure on Israel in the peace talks. Tile message is that progress in the negotiations will lead to the elimination of the fundamentalists from Lebanon's public life.23 Since the coming of the Likud party to power in Israel seemed to have stalled the immediate prospects of a peace agreement, there was no purpose - to use al-Anwar's argument - in totally defeating Hizbullah. Therefore, just a few days before the elections took place in the south, the Syrians convinced Hizbullah to reach a compromise with Amal movement, probably to avoid another setback .24 The tactical coalition in the south proved useful in the Biqa' as well. Such grand, but loose, coalitions tended to predetermine the outcome of parliamentary elections in 1996, sending in the process press outcries about the future of democracy and political parties in Lebanon. 25
Last minute coalitions spared Hizbullah additional parliamentary losses, but they also indicated that when the right time comes, the party will be evicted from the country's political life. In Lebanon, the fundamentalists' political weight grew as a result of the civil war and its intertwinement with the Arab- Israeli conflict . The complete resolution of both sources of tension, will most probably undo this growth.
(b) Shifts in Regional Political Influence
The 1996 parliamentary elections confirmed the political rise of the South and ushered in the revival of Beirut. They also demonstrated the decline of the north and the eclipse of Mount Lebanon. The political ascendancy of the Shi'is is one clear outcome of the Lebanese civil war. The south, now represented by Nabih Berri's parliamentary bloc, emerged as a major actor in Lebanese politics. Likewise, Rafik Hariri's parliamentary ticket prevailed in Beirut's electoral district. Hariri restored the traditional role of Beirut - long overshadowed by the civil war and the accompanying rise of militia groups. In both cases, the successes of Berri and Hariri extended outside their electoral districts. Berri's southern-based bloc included deputies from Beirut and the Biqa'. Similarly, Hariri's Beirut- centered bloc attracted deputies from the other four electoral districts. Under the leadership of Nabih Berri and Rafik Hariri, an improbable alliance between the Sunnis in Beirut and the Shi'is in the south is beginning to set the pace of political activity in Lebanon. Developments in other parts of the country (as verified by the latest parliamentary cycle) made the transition in the locus of power in this sectarian political system possible.
Until recently, the north actively competed with Beirut for the Sunni premiership position. Umar Karami, last northern politician to hold the title of prime minister resigned in the spring of 1992 following street riots against runaway inflation and currency devaluation. A provisional government headed by Rashid Sulh, a veteran politician from Beirut, replaced the defunct government and took charge of handling the 1992 parliamentary elections. Immediately afterwards, Rafik Hariri, a Saudi- naturalized construction tycoon from Sidon, was appointed prime minister by President Elias Hirawi following extensive parliamentary consultation. Mindful of the central role of Beirut, Hariri focused his political attention on the capital long before lie became prime minister .26 He was obviously keen to the fact that his success in Lebanese politics depended on carving a leadership niche for himself in Beirut. Therefore, when lie decided to run for parliamentary elections, he chose Beirut, not Sidon as the site for his bid. Sidon is part of the heavily Shi'i populated electoral district of the south. Dependence on the Shi'i constituency eliminates the possibility of a strong Sunni leadership rising from Sidon. Hariri's campaign slogans focused on the need for "unifying Beirut's decision."27 He launched sharp attacks against the capital's Sunni politicians and accused them of marginalizing the traditional role of the capital in Lebanese politics. Hariri performed well in the elections (with 14 out of 19 men in his list winning), and commanded a national parliamentary bloc with sympathetic deputies from outside Beirut; the main opposing ticket of former prime minister Salim Huss brought only two candidates, including Huss himself,' into the new parliament. Hariri's tactics succeeded and he restored the previous role of Beirut under his leadership.
The revitalization of the political role of Beirut went hand in hand with the north's decline. Hariri's assumption of the premiership since 1992 is likely to continue in the foreseeable future. Hariri, who enjoys broad regional and international support, is also building a formidable base of local clienteles. The need to stabilize Lebanon politically (especially after a devastating civil war), and to navigate the political system smoothly through the turbulence of the peace process, have apparently encouraged the concerned regional and international actors to avoid political turnover at the highest elite levels. 28 Working to Hariri's advantage is the general impression that he alone - as a successful businessman with strong international connections - can shore Lebanon during the period of its economic reconstruction. These were bad news for north Lebanon's political aspirants, especially Tripoli's Umar Karami. His 28-candidate ticket was battered in the recent elections by other competing tickets and virtually unknown independent contestants. Eleven members in Karami's ticket failed to enter the parliament, and some of those who succeeded were only loosely allied with him.29 Karami ranked 19th in terms of votes obtained by the north's 28 elected deputies, and came fourth among Tripoli's five Sunni deputies. The 11th Lebanese parliament does not include a powerful northern leader capable of rallying an adequate number of deputies behind him, nor in checking the resurging role of Beirut represented by Rafik Hariri, the wealthiest man in Lebanon.
The eclipse of the historical role of Mount Lebanon (tile Christian heartland) in the country's affairs is best exemplified by tile government's deliberate division of tile governorate into six electoral constituencies, while, for example, constituting a single constituency from the two governorates of tile south and Nabatieye. This has meant that the Maronites, unlike the Sunnis and Shi'is, would not be able to create a parliamentary bloc of their own.30 The mountain was further weakened by the appointment in 1989 of a Maronite president of Lebanon from the peripheries.31 The only Maronite bloc emerging from the 1996 parliamentary elections has four deputies led by the President himself. This does not compare with the blocs of Hariri and Berri, each composed of 20 deputies.
(c) The Fall of the Parties and the Defeat of Syria's Men:
The Lebanese are a politically-aware people; yet despite it, probably partly because of it, the majority of them have neither endeared the leaders of parties nor their slogans. Due to numerous factors that included sectarian tensions and apprehensions and the small constituency, patron-client parliamentary representation, tile political parties had limited access to the parliament. The devastating consequences of the protracted civil war in terms of human and material losses and the loss of sovereignty contributed to the retreat of ideology along with its parliamentary spokespersons. Obviously, aversion to tile parties has been more than matched by resentment of Syrian preponderance in Lebanon, as well as its quite a few local proxies. The latest elections provide striking support for this turnabout. The list of losers includes, in addition to the fundamentalists, the head of the Maronite Phalangist
Party, the pro-Syrian secretary of the Ba'th Party and the candidates of the Ahbash movement as well as all leftist hopefuls. Scores of pro-Syrian candidates lost in most governorates in what a local daily described as an expression of "muted resentment of the government and those behind her [an allusion to Syria]."32 Even the success of certain pro-Syrian candidates is sometimes a sign of resentment and apathy than otherwise. In Beirut, for example, the unpopular Maronite candidate of the Syrian Nationalist Party ranked last in the number of votes received by all 21 deputies elected in Beirut. He got slightly more than half the votes of the 20th ranking deputy.33 The only exception to pro- Syrian candidates' misfortune was probably in the Biqa' governorate. Geographical proximity to the Syrian heartland, major cultural and economic interaction with her, and the former's paramount interest in this part of Lebanon all meant that Syrian-connected candidates and parties stood a good chance of getting elected there.
IV. Assessing the Validity of the Grievances
There were few voices praising the government's handling of tile elections. Sulaiman Franjiyeh, a clan leader from Zgharta in north Lebanon who secured a seat in the new parliament, exonerated the government from any wrongdoing. Ali Khalil, who won in the south, went to the extent of describing the elections in his governorate as "ideal and civilized."34 Other than these sporadic words of appreciation, the general mood sounded gloomy. Criticism of the 1996 parliamentary elections focuses on three aspects pertaining to official manipulation, absence of serious campaign issues, and the disruptive role of big money. Although previous elections were certainly not free of similar charges, the magnitude of alleged violations this time far exceeded previous charges. 'File failure of several candidates affiliated with Syrian patrons, and others with ranking Lebanese government officials, seem to have had little impact on the intensity of protest against tile government's handling of the elections. This section looks into these grievances and assesses their validity.
A. Official Manipulation
Critics citing official manipulation of the elections often blame the government on three accounts: faulty administration procedures,35 rigging of ballot returns, and use of coercion to influence voters.
(a) Administration of the elections
The electoral laws that governed the 1996 elections reserved a special status for the Druze in the predominantly Maronite Christian populated Mount Lebanon. Unlike the other governorates, each treated as a single constituency, Mount Lebanon was divided into six constituencies. Apparently, the government made a major concession to accommodate Druze leader Walid Junblat. Junblat's militia fought the Maronites during the civil war and expelled tens of thousands of them from Druze-controlled parts of the Mountain. Governmental advocates of treating Mount Lebanon differently than the other governorates argued that a single constituency in the Mountain would result in the defeat of Walid Junblat. Citing concern about Lebanon's precarious peace, the government decided - only this time - to divide Mount Lebanon into electoral constituencies reflecting the governorate's religious characteristics. This unpopular decision invited sharp criticisms in nearly every walk of life in Lebanese society, including right wing opposition. The list of critics included former President Amine Gemayel who considered the elections sham, and decried the contradictory rules which applied in different governorates. He regarded the policy on Mount Lebanon an attempt to deny the "anti-Syrian voters adequate representation."36
The government's electoral policy on Mount Lebanon represented a basic violation of standard democratic procedures. The justification given by the government for its electoral decision is inadequate. Operationally, the implementation of the policy meant that the Maronite vote would not influence only the election of Druze representatives. As it turned out, the Hizbullah candidate in the south Metn constituency obtained substantial Shi'i support, but lost the bid for election due to overwhelming Maronite preference of his secular competitor. The same thing happened to Sunni fundamentalist candidates in northern Lebanon who were defeated mainly because of the Christian voting pattern which did not favor the fundamentalists.
This aspect of handling the parliamentary elections suggests that the ruling Lebanese elite have a considerable input in screening domestic political players. The arrangement for Mount Lebanon ensured the triumph of Walid Junblat and his Druze supporters, and the certain defeat of Hizbullah's candidate. The opposite policy elsewhere in the country allowed the emergence of sectarian dominated blocs; Shi'i in the south and Sunni in Beirut. To illustrate the point, it may be worth mentioning that the successful Maronite candidate in Ba'albek (in the Biqa' governorate) found himself compelled to seek the support of Hizbullah. It is evident that the Tai'f Agreement concerns itself more with maintaining sectarian balance (a new version of it that does not recognize Maronite primacy) than modernizing, and subsequently democratizing, the Lebanese political system.
Democratic elections necessitate government's impartiality and active involvement of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in campaigning, either on behalf of certain candidates or by advocating specific issues of public interest. The proper administration of parliamentary elections does not require the resignation of the government, as members of the opposition have demanded and appointing a provisional one to ensure the correctness of the procedures. In principle, there is little sense in seeking the resignation of the incumbent administration, the people's legitimate representative, in advance of the elections. One would expect the institutions of the political system to perform their functions, including those related to elections, with a fairly high degree of subsystem autonomy. In practice, this is not entirely the case in Lebanon, due to its weak institutions and the interactive nature of their functions. There are no reasons to believe that a neutral provisional cabinet would have administered the parliamentary elections in a more disinterested manner. The essentially neutral cabinet of Rashid Sulh, which administered the 1992 elections, received severe criticisms for its inefficient performance. In view of the clientalistic attributes of the Lebanese political system, the ensuing government tends to take the form of a loose executive assembly, largely with indeterminate loci of authority. This decreases the ability of an honest executive leadership to ensure bureaucratic compliance with official guidelines and regulations. In the political history of modern Lebanon, therefore, it never happened that the administration of parliamentary elections went on without severe criticism from both tile opposition and the losers.
In the recent elections the government repeatedly reiterated its determination to administer the process correctly, and to maintain an equal distance from all candidates. 'File local and regional political atmosphere encourages the further development of stability and predictability in Lebanese affairs, hence providing a motif for the troika's entente. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the further stabilization of Lebanon demanded it predictable outcome for the parliamentary elections. It never occurred in previous elections that so many government officials sought, and achieved, entry into the parliament. In a major development in Lebanese parliamentary elections, most of the new deputies are affiliated with blocs, even if loosely. Most of these blocs (such as Hrawi's, Hariri's, Berri's, Murr's) have established a modicum of cooperation among their leaders. The newly emerging conventional wisdom in Lebanese politics is one that accepts the Tai'f Agreement (without questioning the method of its implementation), and acquiesces to Syrian preponderance in Lebanon. Maronite opposition notwithstanding, there appears to be far more parliamentary hopefuls who are willing to accept the terms of the game than it can allow, or afford.
The fairly small Lebanese political pie entails careful distribution of its slices, and ensuring that key confessional warlords or zu'ama Leaders) are not dropped. Can this happen without deliberately misadministering the parliamentary elections? Fair elections require, among other things, full awareness of the rules and regulations governing their administration. In established Western democracies, the electoral laws are characterized by consistency, universality, and durability. Candidates do not normally expect dramatic procedural changes, and in case they happen, they are adequately alerted to foreseeable changes well in advance. In Lebanon, the electoral laws and procedures change periodically, apparently in order to serve the ruling elite's preconceived preferences or policy options. This has been more the norm than the exception in Lebanon's more than half a century of parliamentary experience. Three examples will probably illustrate the point: in 1960 the government separated Sidon from its qada' (county and e1ectoral Constituency) so that tile City's Sunni deputy Would not be elected by the Shi'i and Catholic voters in the qada'. in 1992 the Christian city of Zahle in the Biqa' (hometown of President Elias Hrawi) voted for its three deputies; the unstated reason was preventing tile Muslim majority in the governorate from interfering with the preferences of the city's voters. As stated earlier, the government in 1996 designated Mount Lebanon as the only governorate with more than a single electoral constituency to ensure that the Maronites would not interfere with tile leadership of Walid Junblat.
The government announced its policy on the electoral laws less than three weeks before the beginning of the first round of elections. The candidates were at loss as to the size of the voting constituencies, making it impossible for them to form lists well ahead of the election date. As it happened, the lists took shape only a few days before the election date. Due to the short governmental notice, most voters must have found it difficult to form an educated opinion on the lists and candidates (many of whom announced their candidacy after the government had disclosed the electoral law).
(b) Rigging of ballot returns
In Lebanon it is customary for candidates to accuse the government of rigging ballot returns. Government officials concede and argue (not without some truth) that total control is beyond their reach. In defending their seeming helplessness, some officials claim that both pro-government, as well as opposition, candidates take advantage of electoral irregularities.37 in fact there is a gap between making and implementing laws ill Lebanon. Bureaucratic corruption is endemic and the successive governments' efforts to reform the performance of the public sector have not produced any significant results.38 Salim Huss judged the outcome of the elections in Beirut, which resulted in the defeat of most candidates on his list and the sweeping victory of Hariri's. He asserted that rigging was not an isolated activity of undisciplined election officers, but a deliberate choice of ranking government officials. Huss charged that "fake civic extracts [these are used in Lebanon for voting in lieu of voter's I.D.] were issued for imaginary persons"39 to vote for tile prime minister's list. What usually happens in Lebanese elections is that civic extracts are issued for dead people. This is possible because the government does not keep up-to-date population records. Voting lists still show a large number of valid voters born in the nineteenth century. In accounting for the violations committed during elections in Mount Lebanon, a conservative Saudi Arabian daily reported that "the dead rose and voted freely in front of observers and heads of polling centers."40
Leftist candidate Samir Franjiyeh, who lost the contest in tile north, accused the authorities of reducing the number of votes lie obtained by ten thousand.41 While it is difficult to ascertain veracity of this accusation, there were inexplicable voting trends. In the Biqa, for example, reports mentioned that about 55 percent of actual voters cast their ballots during the last hour before closing the polls.42 Does this incriminate the government in rigging the elections? There is no proof, although there is some circumstantial evidence. Only government officials have prior access to the voters' lists. At least a third of the Lebanese live abroad; emigrants are known in their communities. It is therefore not difficult to issue false civic extracts bearing their names, for illegal voting by other persons. Inexplicable omissions of eligible voters from voting lists occur frequently; it is worth noting that such omissions occur more in villages (where preferences are known and voters engage in bloc voting) than in cities (where preferences are less known). For some reason, errors take place mostly in villages supporting opposition candidates. A Beirut daily revealed that "one third of Arsal's - a town in Biqa' - 10,000 voters were unable to vote because of errors in the voters' lists."43
In justifying his defeat, former deputy Albert Mansur, claimed, but did not substantiate, that "the elected deputies were agreed upon in advance... [and given] fake votes."44 It is difficult to implicate government officials directly in rigging the elections. They can always say that irresponsible civil servants are the culprits, often dismissing the effect of voting irregularities because the opposition benefited from them as well. However, the mere fact that irregularities occur with the government responding to them in a nonchalant manner indicates lack of sensitivity to the sanctity of the one man, one vote democratic creed. It also demonstrates that the ruling elite apparently have not fully integrated the lessons of the country's protracted civil war.
(c) Use of coercion
Habib Sadik, one of the major losers in south Lebanon's elections, accused the speaker of the house, who led the leading list in the south, of "breaking the law and violating the voters' basic human rights by inciting the use of violence against one of his supporters."45 Use of violence against a single campaign volunteer, repugnant as it may be, certainly is insufficient to make a case against the speaker of the house. The Parliamentary elections proceeded fairly peacefully; much less violence occurred than one would have expected in a country emerging from a bloody civil war. Compared to similar elections in the Third World, elections in Lebanon were generally smooth. But this does not imply, by any means, that the elections ended in a correct manner. Sheer violence, a characteristic of previous, mainly pre- civil war, elections gave way to tacit coercion. Elie Chalala mentioned one aspect of this coercion pertaining to the government's manipulation of recently naturalized Lebanese citizens of Syrian origin. Describing the constant Shuttling of voters between Syria and the polling centers of the minister of interior's constituency in Mount Lebanon, Chalala said: "... scenes of transporting large numbers of new citizens to the ballot boxes and handing them pro-government ballots to be cast in the open illustrates the real attitude toward those who became naturalized: mere contempt."46
Intimidation served as a useful technique to coerce many individuals to vote for certain lists, especially in Beirut and the south. In Beirut, Rafik Hariri told the city's voters to choose between moderation - which lie represented - and the extremism of islamic fundamentalism. He also cautioned the voters that in case lie lost, lie would resign his official position as prime minister.47 Similarly, Nabih Berri in the south advised the governorate's voters that safeguarding Shi'i political achievements and maintaining large government spending in the south depended on his personal weight. In Lebanon's clientalistic system, these tactics proved highly successful.
B. Role of Big Money
Most of the criticisms about the role of big money in influencing the course of the parliamentary elections aimed at the person of Rafik Hariri, the wealthiest individual in Lebanon. He was criticized not just for the way lie ran his personal campaign in Beirut, but also for pumping money into the campaigns of his allies throughout Lebanon. Former deputy Isam Nu'man, who lost his bid for the Druze seat in Beirut to Hariri's candidate, described the latest elections as the worst since independence because "authority wedded itself to money."48 Using strong terms to discredit the democratic attributes of the elections, Elie Chalala emphasized the factor of money: "... the Lebanese are still bound by primitive loyalties: clannish, tribal, sectarian, feudal, and, of course, financial." 49 These criticisms, mostly espoused by individuals expressing commitment to the ideals of liberal democracy, miss the point. Democracy, especially in its liberal form, tolerates the power of big money. In his explanation of the elements of liberal democracy, Robert Pinkney observed that:
Big money has always been a decisive factor in Lebanese politics, including parliamentary elections. Wealthy businessmen seeking to enter political life through a seat in the parliament usually paid their way into powerful lists. The 1943 National Covenant which regulated political activity in Lebanon until the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 sanctioned economic partnership between the Maronites and the Sunnis. The government accorded major economic interests such a special treatment until the entire system became known as a big company. 52 Apart from personal prestige, many deputies regard parliamentary representation as an economic investment, given tile clientalistic nature of Lebanese politics.53
The fact that there is little new to the charges against the role of big money in Lebanese elections should not put the issue to rest. It is possible that the intensity of criticisms about the abuses of money in the Second Republic stems, to a considerable scale, from expectations by many Lebanese that the implementation of the Tai'f Agreement would contribute to genuine political reform. To the chagrin of local observers, political practice nowadays is reminiscent of the pre-civil war days.
C. Bland Elections
Parliamentary elections, or their equivalent, are a cornerstone of democracy. Modern representative governments, the inheritors of ancient Greek city-state democracies, rest on such elections. Representation entails choice on the basis of clear policy alternatives. Short of that, elections lose much of their raison d'etre. An examination of campaign slogans by most Lebanese parliamentary candidates reveals poor articulation of electoral issues, and concentration, instead, on traditional values related to affinity, loyalty, and honesty. Even the strong parliamentary lists that advocated commitment to transforming the parliament into an arena of competitive blocs seem to have failed to present their constituencies with clear and implemental programs of actions. A local newspaper commented on this saying: "The powerful but issueless canned lists [implying the assembly of disparate, often ideologically incompatible candidates for mere electoral purposes] predominated and ruled out the possibility of real competition."54 A striking exception is Salim Huss's Salvation and Change Bloc (SCB) which presented a comprehensive campaign agenda to its constituency in Beirut. The detailed content of the electoral message of SCB, and the clarity of its presentation, did not seem to have an impact on the outcome of the elections, as only two out of 14 candidates in Huss's ticket made it to the 1996 parliament.55 This suggests, at least in part, that the driving operational considerations of Lebanese elections are more influenced by traditional sources of legitimacy than issues of universal utility. A review of campaign slogans used in the 1996 parliamentary elections clarifies this point.
Campaigning for position in Beirut's politics, Hariri raised the slogan of "moderation vs. radicalism," 56 but did not attempt to explain how his moderation differed from his opponents' radicalism. Hizbullah, an obvious source of the country's political instability according to Hariri, responded by adopting a slogan demanding putting an end to "certain individuals" [a reference to Rafik Hariri] hegemony over the state's resources.57 Najah Wakim, a diehard opponent of the prime minister's policies and a rival of his two nominees for Greek Orthodox's representation in Beirut, resorted to exhortation to sway public opinion. He called upon the voters to "wake up"58 and make the right decision. Wakim tried to appeal to Beirut's voters by extolling his own personal qualities which included "bravery and integrity," and disparaging the "intimidating tactics" and "misleading promises" of the prime minister.
An-Nahar, the most-widely circulated Lebanese daily, judged the electoral messages as "mostly empty moral talk... delivered by some narcistic candidates."59 Leading candidates (such as Huss and Hariri) described themselves as "the conscience of Lebanon." Following their example, lesser-known candidates embraced mottoes such as "the conscience of the north." or "the voice of the people." Most electoral messages ranged from entreaty to romanticism as one large street poster read "ask your heart," while another considered the election date as the voters' "rendezvous with faithfulness." Many candidates seemed thoroughly preoccupied with individualistic pursuits, even when they tried to address issues of public concerns. A representative example is offered by the inscription on some of Rafik Hariri's tall street portraits which read: "the man of principles, values, development and reconstruction."
The election campaign provided a unique opportunity to learn about some aspects of the Lebanese political mind. Available evidence hints at traditional political authoritarianism embedded in the leader cult. Campaign managers for a number of candidates in different parts of the country found it useful, for example, to display for them posters reading "may the Almighty safeguard you." In Tripoli, the inscriptions on Umar Karami's huge paintings introduced him to the public as "the sovereign."
Failure to come to grips with the requirements of modern politics persisted even when some candidates made an apparently deliberate effort to present fresh ideas to their constituencies. One candidate summarized his objective, if elected, as "working with the people for building a state protecting individual liberty and dignity." Important as they may be, liberty and dignity are two venerated abstractions of little practical utility in that they are not transferable into policy outputs. Using a similar approach to attract voters, the program of another candidate included one yes and two noes: "yes for a new political vision... no to the concept of clan and tribe... no to the politics of hypocrisy and deceit." The pattern of advocating political righteousness and moral principles recurred so often that some press observers of Lebanese elections announced "the absence of ideas in Lebanon's current elections."60
The truth is that the logic that dominated the 1996 electoral elections replicated previous elections in striking details. Comparing the content of the campaigns in the recent election to previous ones is outside the scope of the present study, but it is safe to say that all of them employed similar electoral symbols and messages to influence the voters. There is no evidence that tile civil war has modified most Lebanese parliamentary aspirants' campaigning style. Apart from the survival of traditional political values, the war has not altered the clientalistic nature of Lebanese political performance. Hence, the guiding principles of Lebanese parliamentary operations in the postwar period echo those that prevailed before the war.
V. The Parliament in Lebanese Politics
The Lebanese parliament is probably the most institutionalized legislative assembly in the Arab world, as parliamentary elections take place regularly in Lebanon. Despite the cancellation of four consecutive elections due to the civil war, holding them resumed immediately after concluding the Tai'f Agreement. To be sure, ratifying the Agreement constituted tile first major activity performed by the first post- civil war parliament. Still, the performance of the Lebanese parliament resembles, in many respects, other less institutionalized Arab parliamentary assemblies. In the absence of viable parliamentary blocs, the opposition has not posed a serious factor in policy making. As a result, the parliament acts, for the most part, as a mere ratifying assembly, as it rarely succeeds in blocking the government. Instead, the resolution of conflict takes place on the basis of accommodation and cooptation without intervention by the parliament, much like several other Arab countries.
The 1996 parliamentary elections attracted widespread local attention that focused on its weak democratic orientation. The unresolved question concerns whether impartial elections would have resulted in a better political system? The answer is probably negative since the Lebanese parliament is largely peripheral to the country's political conversion process. Hrair Dekmejian contended that that political aspirants in Lebanon regard the parliament only as a stepping stone into the cabinet, where politics and economics link. He said: "Despite the secondary role that the chamber [parliament] plays vis-a-vis the executive branch, it is the major pathway into the cabinet... Thus any serious aspirant to political power in Lebanon must consider his chances of being elected a deputy."61In view of this, most accusations related to the fairness of the elections rang hollow. Of course, the implication is not to promote passivity or acquiescence. Instead, the debate on the controversial elections needs expansion to encompass the role of the parliament in Lebanese politics, something that the critics seem to have conspicuously avoided.
No doubt, tile Lebanese parliamentary elections of 1996 left a lot to be desired in terms of democratic procedures and behavior. Political liberalism and democratic semblance that prevailed before 1975 have retreated during the course of the civil war. The main concern at the present is that these setbacks would become acceptable to most Lebanese by official institutionalization and political resocialization. The continued presence of Syrian and Israeli troops on Lebanese territory is certainly conducive to the further undemocratization of Lebanon. This paper cannot conclude the debate on the recent elections, but it can enrich the literature by referring to five pertinent points.
First, government handling of the elections was less than satisfactory. It failed to persuasively defend its electoral law which seemed to further weaken the political influence of the Maronite community. Also, many ranking officials sought, and won, parliamentary representation. Again, government officials did not succeed in convincing the public that they did not involve themselves in irregular electoral behavior. Circumstantial evidence indicated certain use of official position to manipulate the outcome of tile elections.
Second, many critics of the elections used the occasion as an opportunity to try destabilizing the government by dramatizing the extent of its violations. Often, they indirectly portrayed the 1996 elections as an evidence of the undemocratization of Lebanon without substantiating their assertions. Some critics manifested more eagerness for scoring points against the government than concern about the elections process. The truth is that there was no evidence suggesting that the recent election differed significantly from its previous predecessors; past electoral violations are thoroughly documented in the literature on Lebanese politics.
Third, aside from official behavior, the elections revealed that the democratic constraints in Lebanese society seemed quite significant in influencing the course of the elections. Most parliamentary candidates did not deal with electoral issues and limited their campaigns to moral preaching and pep talk. judged from the theoretical imperatives of democratic politics, the level of development of Lebanese economy, and the societal cross-cutting nature of the country's nongovernmental organizations - as well as other aspects of intersectarian interaction - it seems difficult for a viable democracy to thrive there.
Fourth, the Lebanese parliament does not function on the basis of party competition. This fact weakens the argument of the critics about the merits of clean elections. It is by no means implied here that violations should be sanctioned or tolerated. The question is that the procedural correctness of parliamentary elections is insufficient to resolve the crisis of parliament in Lebanese politics, Personal and parochial interests continue to prevail in parliamentary discussions thus making the assembly largely ineffective vis-a-vis the government. Lebanese politics needs to shift its emphasis from particularistic to universalistic issues, since it is only in this context that parliamentary life can acquire breadth of scope. Universal political issues and party-led competitive elections reduce the ability of the government (or undisciplined bureaucrats) to commit serious elections violations, The modernization of Lebanese politics is not easy since it demands restoration of territorial sovereignty, full elite commitment and unity, as well as a stable regional environment.
Fifth, the Lebanese political elite appear to have begun to realize the importance of broad political coalitions and bloc formation, as the last few years have witnessed a definite shift in that direction. Although the ruling elite face the tall order of containing widespread corruption and nepotism in politics and administration, their ability to' work together under obviously difficult conditions is a welcome development in Lebanese political practice. Hopefully, this trend will develop to forge the basis of a new Lebanon in which the parliament will eventually assume its expected role in a modern polity.
*"The Despairing Palestinians" in 1992.
Created by the Digital Documentation Center at AUB in collaboration with Al Mashriq of Høgskolen i Østfold, Norway.