The West & Gulf Couldn’t Sway These Lebanese Elections

Western media got interested in this month’s Lebanese election hoping “their” candidates would win. It became a different story when Hizbullah gained the most, explains As’ad AbuKhalil.

By As`ad AbuKhalil  Special to Consortium News

The recent Lebanese parliamentary election generated a lot of publicity in Western media. To be sure, free elections are rare in the Middle East, and Western media get excited over the prospects of success for what they dub as “pro-Western” candidates or coalitions anywhere. Also because foes of Israel and the U.S. were in the running, Western media become automatically invested in the outcome. This time, Western media decided that Hizbullah won “a majority of seats” in the election—as the headline of The Financial Times had it. The results were certainly a blow to Western and Gulf regimes who invest—politically and financially–heavily in Lebanese elections.

We can’t really talk about free elections in the Middle East—or anywhere else in the developing world for that matter. Not because people there don’t want them but essentially because Western governments and Gulf regimes won’t allow it. To be fair, the U.S. is clearly in favor of free elections, but only when the results guarantee a victory for its puppets. Thus, when Hamas won the legislative elections of 2006 (which the U.S. had been insisting on), the U.S. not only refused to recognize the free expressions of the Palestinian people but the U.S. worked on a covert operation to undermine the results and to overthrow Hamas in Gaza.

Historically, the U.S. (among other outside parties, chiefly Gulf regimes) intervened heavily in Lebanese elections through the provision of cash payments to its favored right-wing, anti-communist candidates. For instance, the 1947 election lives on as one of the most corrupt in Lebanese history, and former CIA agent, Wilbur Eveland, wrote about his adventures of driving to the residence of then president, Kamil Sham`un, with a load of cash to ensure that the right-candidates win. But the cash wasn’t really necessary because Sham`un forged the election anyway and arranged for the defeat of his opponents.

Chamoun: Fixed 1947 election.

In 1968, the U.S. was most likely behind the rise of the far-right coalition of “the tripartite alliance,” which included the Phalanges, who swept through the election and, in few years, would—with U.S. help—trigger the Lebanese civil war. (New U.S. archival materials show the extremely close relations between those parties and U.S. and Israel).

But the U.S. and Saudi Arabia surpassed all previous foreign intervention in Lebanon in the 2009 election, when they threw close to a $1 billion to sway the vote on the side of the March 14 coalition, which included the Muslim Brotherhood and right-wing groups—all dubbed “pro-Western” by U.S. media. The victor was arranged although the election was very close: no one side was able to rule without veto power by the other side.

In this election, the Saudis didn’t spend as much as previously probably because they thought it wouldn’t much difference since a new electoral system had changed the rules. But Western and Gulf governments convened a special economic conference in Paris to prop up the leadership of Sa`d Hariri, who claimed in the wake of the conference that he would be create no less than 900,000 jobs.

Elections in ‘Democracies’

Elections in democratic political systems are merely some of the people selecting representatives who speak on behalf of “all the people.” The propaganda about the virtue of elections is highly exaggerated in order to provide the political system with much more political legitimacy than warranted.

In the U.S., there is still a clear agenda to suppress wide political participation. The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world which holds the vote on a working day—and in the winter where much of the East coast is buried under rain and snow. Furthermore, the U.S. requires voter registration, when most democracies don’t. The low voter turnout in the U.S. is by design, and not by default. If the U.S. were to adopt a proportional representation system—which both parties won’t allow because they enjoy holding the exclusive monopoly over political representation—voter turnout would increase. Most world democracies have—at least partially or at some level—adopted proportional representation.

The leftist coalition during the Lebanese civil war years, the Lebanese National Movement, proposed political reforms in 1975. They included—among other things—the adoption of proportional representation at the national level, with Lebanon designated as one electoral district. The political class rejected that because they preferred the single-member district (at a small local level) since it facilitates the utilization of cash in swaying voters. Also, Lebanese national proportional representation wouldn’t fit well with regional sectarian leaderships.

The May 6 Lebanese election took place nine years after the previous one. Regional conflicts and Lebanese internal turmoil gave sectarian leaders the excuse to postpone the elections repeatedly. Sectarian leaders also had a hard time agreeing on a new electoral law. But the election of Gen. Michel Awn to the presidency in 2016 expedited the process of finally holding a ballot. His parliamentary bloc had been vociferous in calling for new elections. After long months of acrimonious negotiations, the sectarian leaders agreed on a new electoral law.

Aoun: Pressed hard for a vote.

Hizbullah and the progressives in Lebanon called for a proportional representation system, while Hariri and his allies fought against it. Hizbullah was willing to risk losing a few seats in return for the election of some of its allies from different sects, while Hariri knew that his broad coalition in parliament would lose substantially because most of his Christian MPs were elected in specially-designed districts where the majority Muslims vote for Christian and Muslim MPs.

The design of electoral districts is not a simple matter in Lebanon because the system has to balance different political interests with a sectarian arithmetic formulae (which is incorporated into the political system of the country). For example, the top posts of government (presidency, speakership, and prime ministership) are distributed among Maronites, Shi`ites, and Sunnis respectively.

Elections to the 128-seat Lebanese parliament must split seats evenly between Christians and Muslims though Muslims surpassed Christians demographically long before the 1975 civil war. It is estimated that Christians are now no more than a third of the population. There is a quota for Christians in the Lebanese parliament that keeps up the pretense that they are half the population no matter how different the demographic reality. In fact, the Lebanese state refuses to conduct a census for fear of upsetting Christians. The last census was conducted in 1932.

So Lebanese leaders agreed on a new electoral law that would mix the proportional representation system with the single-member district. They arrived at a law which divided Lebanese governorates as electoral districts but then gave the voter the choice to rank one candidate on the electoral list as his/her “favored” candidate, which basically prioritized sectarian preferences of voters. The whole purpose of proportional representation was defeated.

The law was quite complicated and the low voter turnout (around 49 %, less than the 2009 election) seems to confirm that many voters and even Interior Ministry experts did not fully understand the rules. The low turnout can also be explained by the low level of enthusiasm among voters and the diminished sense of expectations for change. Furthermore, sectarian leaders in Lebanon suppress the vote by not allowing 18-year-olds to vote. If they did it’s estimated that it would substantially increase the Muslim voters—especially Shi`ites.

Part Two will look closely at the election’s winners and losers and what it means.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam & America’s New ‘War on Terrorism’ (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service. 

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22 comments for “The West & Gulf Couldn’t Sway These Lebanese Elections

  1. Evan jones
    June 5, 2018 at 10:12 am

    Balanced reporting So unavailable in the western press. The path to globalism (feudalism) is well advanced, On every front. To try and keep the sheeple informed is huge, many thanks

  2. deschutes
    June 2, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    Excellent analysis, great to read about what is really going on behind the scenes in the Lebanon election, little surprise Israel and USA are doing their best to buy the election. Shameful, disgraceful behavior on the world stage. Little wonder the USA has so little respect or regard worldwide.

  3. Grady
    June 2, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Hezbollah didn’t even exist before israel illegally invaded Lebanon. It was and is a resistance movement with increasing political and military power. Hamas was assisted by isreal too in its nascent founding to counter the hated PLO and its just leader Arafat who rightfully upheld UN law a state for Palestine and right of return.

    “in the winter where much of the East coast is buried under rain and snow.”
    Not true. November is fall with little snow. But the rest is accurate.

  4. jsinton
    June 1, 2018 at 6:51 am

    What Mr. AbuKhalil fails to mention is that Hezbollah/Iran/Syrian clique is not loyal to Lebanon or the Lebanese constitution. We know that because Nasrallah himself gave a speech where he pledged loyalty to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over Lebanon, and sent the Arab social media sphere into an uproar. Iran had to ask Nasrallah to retract the speech, it was said. Add the fact that Hezbollah is a non-state military force that could plunge Lebanon into war at anytime with Israel, and you have a recipe for resistance to Hezbollah. So there is a lot more to this story that Mr. AbuKhalil doesn’t want you to know.

    • Abe
      June 1, 2018 at 11:28 am

      The alleged “speech” appeared in March, ahead of the May parliamentary elections set to be held in Lebanon.

      What “jsinton” conveniently neglects to mention is that the alleged “speech” was recognized as a fabrication, one of many bogus media operations in Israel’s ongoing information wars against it neighbors in the Middle East.

      “We know that because… it is said” is the standard propaganda formula.

      “So there is a lot more to this story that [fill in the blank] doesn’t want you to know” is the usual BS delivery line for the rubes.

      Thanks for playin’, “jsinton”.

      • jsinton
        June 1, 2018 at 12:36 pm

        Yes, Nasrallah denies the speech ever happened. However, there are multiple videos of Nasrallah on the Internet “hoping Lebanon becomes part of the ‘Greater Islamic Republic'”, and of course Hezbollah freely admits its funding and arms from from Iran. Does that sound like loyalty to Lebanon?

      • Abe
        June 1, 2018 at 2:35 pm

        “However, there are multiple videos of [fill in the blank] on the Internet”

        Video circulated online shows a young Nasrallah saying: “Lebanon should not be an Islamic republic on its own, but rather, part of the Greater Islamic Republic”. The remarks are understood by the Lebanese electorate in the context of Nasrallah’s 1989 brief study in an Islamic seminary in the city of Qom, considered holy by Shi’a Islam, in Iran.

        Israeli and Saudi propaganda efforts did not diminish Hizbullah’s standing in the recent Lebanese parliamentary elections.

        • Piotr Berman
          June 1, 2018 at 5:33 pm

          I read that Nasrallah switched his marjah from a Lebanese ayatollah to Iranian Supreme Leader. Nevertheless, observations show that he is not a puppet. In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not impose religious principles, and it shows considerable patience in forming coalitions etc., and while it enjoys Iranian support, I see no evidence that it follows some instructions to its detriment. Presumably, both Nasrallah and Khamenei are too sophisticated for that. The relationship of Hariri with Saudis shows what happen when neither the patron nor the junior partner show cleverness, and at times descent to utter idiocy.

          A small country has to have friends, and political parties typically follow some foreign patrons, and that may happen even in medium-sized countries in European Union. Moreover, the population tends to be quite cynical about it. But “Western influence”, particularly mediated by fickle Gulfie despots, has worse and worse record. And “lords of IMF” are not so good either.

        • Abe
          June 1, 2018 at 11:32 pm

          Shiite authorities in the history of Shi’ism have an important role in the religious, political and social thought of their communities.

          In Shia Islam, marja? (plural: mar?ji?, also known as a marja? taql?d or marja? d?n?, literally meaning “source to imitate/follow” or “religious reference”, is a title given to the highest level Shia authority, a Grand Ayatollah with the authority to make legal decisions within the confines of Islamic law for followers and less-credentialed clerics.

          Several senior Grand Ayatollahs preside over hawzas, religious seminaries. The hawzas of Qom and Najaf are the preeminent seminary centers for the training of Shia clergymen. However, there are other smaller hawzas in other cities around the world, such as Karbala in Iraq, and Isfahan and Mashhad in Iran. The living Maraji worldwide are mainly in Najaf and Qom.

      • Abe
        June 1, 2018 at 3:17 pm

        Let’s be clear about the nature of the anti-Hizbullah propaganda fabrication.

        Israeli and Saudi propaganda claims, which have been floated for years, allege that the video is a “speech” where Nasrallah “pledged loyalty” to Iran, and that Hizbullah “takes orders” from Iran.

        Financial and material support from Iran has supported Hizbullah’s ability to protect the country’s sovereignty and resist Israeli-Saudi-U.S. Axis military aggression, both directly against Lebanon and in neighboring Syria.

        Israeli and Saudi propaganda targets that support.

  5. Kenny
    June 1, 2018 at 1:08 am

    Seems the author believes gerrymandering only happens in Lebanon. It is, after all, a American word.

    • Peter Dahu
      June 3, 2018 at 9:11 pm

      Having read the Angry Arab blog for years, I can assure you that the author understands gerrymandering exists in the US.

  6. mike k
    May 31, 2018 at 7:39 pm

    Elections will not save our world, they are part of the problems we are facing. Their pretensions to fairness make people think they have a fair shot at choosing their leaders. Not only are the elections rigged in favor of the rich and powerful, but the electorate has been miseducated and propagandized into a state where they are incapable of really understanding the issues, or how they are being cheated. It’s like a phony election for a nation of zombies.

    • Petouche
      May 31, 2018 at 11:10 pm

      Elections are such a smart way for making people feel like they matter, if you think about it. I like to think that taking part in elections is like watching a football match. You buy gear of favorite team, you cheer for them, you feel involved in their victories and defeats but in reality you have no control over the matchs and it’s only the players who make the big bucks in the end.

      • mike k
        June 1, 2018 at 7:39 am

        Good point. And nicely stated.

    • john wilson
      June 1, 2018 at 4:31 am

      Your’e probably right, Mike, but be fair to the US voters. They had the choice between an ogre and a witch. Of course, they could have voted for the green party or whatever, but betting on a three legged horse is just too risky, especially if the horse most tipped to win is Mrs Clinton. There is ever the fear factor when it comes to voting.

      • mike k
        June 1, 2018 at 7:44 am

        Voters are screwed whichever way they vote. The recent presidential “race” was no different. Until voters revolt and demand meaningful elections, voting will remain a meaningless scam better served by avoiding participation in it.

      • Piotr Berman
        June 1, 2018 at 5:45 pm

        It is debatable if Mrs Clinton was a witch. For starters, few would deem that she is bewitching. In US politicians are sometimes compared to cookware. Some cookware has no-stick property, e.g. when coated by Teflon. But an old Teflon pan with coating that peels off, burning any food that you try to fry, would characterize her better.

      • Ken
        June 3, 2018 at 6:56 pm

        “(T)hey could have voted for the green party or whatever”.
        An objective observation of policies promoted by candidates would define which of those represents one’s personal values.
        If people were to give it a try at acting on conviction rather than fear, inarguably there would be a chance for manifesting change.

    • Piotr Berman
      June 1, 2018 at 5:11 pm

      It is a bit like declaring aspirin to be worthless because it does not cure cancer. Yet, it has many good uses.

      Elections alone do not save anyone, but in most cases no alternative seems better. There is a saying “You can make it foolproof, but not damnfoolproof”. Leaders exposed to the election test avoid screwing up everything, at least to the best of their ability which may be mediocre, but all to often they are “above average”. Most importantly, imagine that you conceive a plan to “save our world”, or stumble upon a manuscript that contains such wisdom. How do you work on such a plan? Bloody revolution? Color revolution with limited bloodshed? The best way is to convince other citizens what is good, and if it takes time, so but it — alternatives will not make anyone happy.

      In the case of Lebanon, elections allow to reap consequences of mistreating puppets and humiliating them. It used to be that a Saudi puppet lived a blessed life, and fellow citizens felt gratitude for the crumbs of Saudi munificence secured by the puppet. Then there were news items about woes and neglect. Falangists petitioned for 30 million dollars — to no avail. The “young master” Hariri got two billion dollars of potential spending power to shore up Lebanese military and get some influence, but he was not able to spend any of it. And from there it went downhill.

    • Butterfly effect
      June 1, 2018 at 5:20 pm

      Voting for a political candidate may be an exercise in futility, but voting with your dollar might make a difference. Whenever we can avoid shopping at Amazon, Walmart and other large corporations, we are doing our part to diminish the power and influence of corporations. The rich and powerful will take notice if we hit them in their wallets.

  7. jose
    May 31, 2018 at 7:12 pm

    The reporter of this article is correct when he asserts that “The US is clearly in favor of free elections, but only when the results guarantee a victory for its puppets” The most recent example occurred when Hondurans voted out the corrupt president Hernandez and elected a left wing candidate instead. When it was clear that Hernandez was not going to win, the voting process was stop. And when it resumed, Hernandez was ahead in the final tally. Almost every country in the region called the gambit a theft except US. Why? Because Hernandez was the “puppet”

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