Posted by: sean | June 8, 2009

Lebanon: As is

fortune-cookie lebanonFor sale: 1 Mediterranean country with varied climes, delicious cuisine and rambunctious and diverse citizens. Only serious offers need apply. No refunds or exchanges — country for sale as is, tel quel, mitl ma hiyye.

A couple of days ago, I had an idea for a blog post about the worst campaign posters. High on the list was to be, “I think there14 I am,” but to my mind, the “As is, As long as the sky is blue” should have taken the cake. Both Future (in blue) and Aoun’s FPM (in orange) used variations of the same slogan, Zay ma hiyye for the former and Mitl ma hiyye for the latter, to tell voters to vote the prepared electoral lists as is, without mixing and matching or any change at all. To my mind, the Future ad was even worse than the FPM one, because there was no picture of the list, and there was an addendum to the slogan: as long as the sky is blue. So we have the image of Lebanon, as is, as long as the sky is blue. Now that’s not much of a Future, is it?

Now the Lebanese definitely have some varied ideas on what kind of country Lebanon should be and what sorts of things should change, but with perhaps the exception of political leaders, I don’t know anyone that thinks the country is fine, as is. And even if the reference was clearly to electoral lists, it’s not a stretch to apply the slogan to the country as a whole, especially given the anti-change and holding-steady rhetoric of Future’s Christian allies in the Lebanese Forces and the Kata’eb.

future - as isAs with my predictions, though, I seem to have misread the slogan’s effectiveness, because it seems to have worked quite well. As I mentioned yesterday, parties were handing out premade electoral lists that could fit inside a fortune cookie. And by and large, people seem to have used them. At first I was surprised to see March 14’s 7-0 victory in Zahle and 5-0 shutout in Ashrafieh, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Given that Lebanon’s electoral districts have been fairly successfully gerrymandered on a sectarian basis, the prepared electoral lists turn the contest in each district into an all -or-nothing runoff. And looking at the results, that seems to be the case: Ashrafieh: 5-0; Koura: 3-0; Zahle: 7-0; Shouf: 8-0; Nabatiyah: 3-0; Bint Jbeil – 3-0; Tyre: 4-0; and the list goes on.

In fact, the only split district seems to be Beirut 2, where the results are as follows:

Shi’a — Hani Kobeissi – March 8  (Amal)
Armenian Orthodox — Arthur Nazarian – March 8 (Tashnaq)
Armenian Orthodox — Siboh Kalbakian – March 14 (I think he’s in Future, but I’m not sure)
Sunni — Nouhad Al-Mashnouq – March 14 (Future)

tayyar - tel quelBoth Nazarian and Kalbakian were running uncontested, and while there were some independents, March 8 did not even field a candidate for the Sunni seat, and March 14 left a blank spot on their list for the Shi’a seat. Which means that really, none of these four seats were actually even in play.

So in every single other district, the results were unanimous (with the exception of the 2 independents, one of whom I think is Miqati in Tripoli), which makes perfect sense if most voters voted using the little electoral lists handed to them by party organizers. Actually, I’d like to see the Beirut 2 ready made lists to see if each bloc only left enough space for their two candidates, not even giving their supporters the chance to write in the names of their opponents, who were for all intents and purposes running uncontested.

This is problematic for several reasons. First of all, as is the case with the electoral college and most congressional districts in the US, most districts just aren’t really competitive. Nevermind the paucity of choice between March 14 and March 8, many voters didn’t even have that choice. If you’re voting in the Shouf or Bint Jbeil, your options are severely restricted, and it’s like voting for the president in Mississippi or New York.

So now, March 14 has won, and there’s  a good chance that if a national government is formed that offers a veto to the opposition, we’ll see a repeat of the governing paralysis that we’ve experienced over last couple of years (with the glaring exception of Ziad Baroud, God bless his soul). In other words, Mitl ma hiyye, as is, or for those of you in Ashrafieh or Paname, tel quel.

UPDATE: For those of you who don’t read Arabic, Now Lebanon has put up a list of the winners in English. Also Ano in the comments has brought it to my attention that Metn was also a mixed result, and contrary to Beirut 2, there was actually some competition for those seats.

هاني قبيسي
أرثور نزاريان
سيبوه قلبقيان
نهاد المشنوق


  1. There is another split in Maten where aoun won 6 seats and March 14 2 seats (Michel el Murr and Samy Gemayel).
    There was a true battle there.

  2. I think Beirut II was agreed upon in Doha so that is why no one ran against anyone, and I think they will give the opposition some seats but no more veto1/3, and they’ll give the president’s people the extra places to maintain a balance.
    As for Ziad Baroud, he deserves a medal!

  3. Honestly I don’t care who really won, as this is a family run business, I mean elections. Sometimes I wonder if Lebanon does have new blood and new leadership other than Ja3ja3, Oun, Miqati, Jmael, Hariri, etc.. All I know that Lebanon woke up today with a new bunch of corrupted nuwwab and hope they don’t steal public money as much as their previous ones

  4. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    Ano: You’re right. I saw that this afternoon after putting the post up. But the larger point still holds, obviously.

    Ya Nona: I agree. Would that we had more politicians like Ziad Baroud. I don’t think people are asking for much — just do your job and don’t steal too much. And to get someone like Baroud who doesn’t even steal at all, that’s a godsend.

    Ali, I agree with you. I’m really glad that these elections went off without much of a hitch, but I’m afraid that they haven’t solved any of the structural and persistent problems that Lebanon suffers from.

  5. […] in terms of parliament composition, and the human province waxes about policies of March 14 and the future. Some things that caught my […]

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