U.S.-Backed Alliance Wins in Lebanon

Hady Amr
Hady Amr, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution
Hady Amr Former Brookings Expert

June 17, 2009

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Slightly more than half of Lebanon’s voters turned out in what was billed as a “hotly contested election.” It was obvious that the votes would be counted in a transparent way, given that supporters of each alliance were willing to pay to fly Lebanese voters in from around the world to participate at great expense. But much like the 2000 U.S. presidential elections, where Gore won the popular vote but lost the electoral votes that were counted to Bush, Hizballah’s losing coalition received more total votes than the pro-American winning coalition, leaving the potential for lingering conflict over “unfairness.”

The underlying system has many deep problems that continue to plague the country, causing sectarian division and corruption. Lebanon could learn a lot from its neighbor Israel in administering a proper election. Lebanon has no government ballots. Party activists generally hand the heads of families (or the voters themselves) a slate of names on a piece of paper and those pieces of paper are often put directly in the ballot box, leaving little room for personal choice.

Far worse, Lebanon’s electoral system actually apportions seats by religion. Seats in each district are specified by sect: Greek Catholics, Orthodox, Maronite, Sunni, Druze, Shia, etc. If an American were told in advance that their congressional delegation would be composed of, for example, a Jew, five Christians, a Muslim, a Hindu and an atheist, he or she would be offended if it didn’t sound like the beginning of a tasteless joke. Candidates should run based on the force of their ideas, not how their parents pray.

Further, the fixed Lebanese sectarian system actually builds up the divisions between groups instead of reducing them, and has been a rallying cry for those who feel disadvantaged, sparking unrest. If South Africans—particularly White South Africans who had everything to lose—could put behind their despicable history of segregation to embrace a one-person, one-vote proportional representation system, so too can the Lebanese.

The elected Lebanese parliament members are fully vested in this system and so no change will come about in Lebanon unless international pressure calls for a true proportional representation system in Lebanon as in Israel or South Africa, combined with a final and permanent end to any group carrying arms, including Hizballah. Only then do the problems of Lebanon’s sectarian strife have the opportunity to fade.