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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 1 - Lebanon: A Century of Unrest and Wars

A Dysfunctional Political System

Éric Verdeil

Texte intégral

1The Taif Agreement (1989) reformed the political system by introducing a new power balance, implemented during the 1990s in the shadow of the Syrian presence. However, since 2005, regional tensions and their internal ripple effect have repeatedly blocked the decision-making process. As a result, the presidential and parliamentary elections have experienced several delays. The ensuing political vacuum has aggravated the shortcomings of the system, marked by sectarian and clanic dimensions and closely related to business interests.

Gridlocked institutions

2The post-Taif practices have imposed consensus as a requirement for major decision-taking, a principle that has become harder and harder to secure since the mid-2000s. In 2004, the disagreement on the 3-year extension of the presidential mandate of Emile Lahoud, backed by Syria, stood as the origin of a new cycle of violence experienced by Lebanon. In 2007, in the context of the severe tensions subsequent to the 2006 war, the inability of the Lebanese actors to find a successor to Emile Lahoud led to a presidential void. The election of Michel Sleiman, a former head of the Lebanese army, was made possible by the agreement reached in Doha in 2008 after violent clashes opposed various groups, in May of the same year. At the end of his term, in May 2014, the lack of consensus induced another long vacancy, filled only with the election of Michel Aoun in October 2016. In the meantime, the government was often partially or completely prevented from acting, either because of lengthy periods of consultation for the appointment of a Prime Minister (charged of establishing caretaker governments) or because of the resignation of some government members. Finally, the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2013 were delayed on many occasions due to the lack of agreement on an electoral law. This institutional deadlock is the political manifestation of the internal cleavages arising from Lebanon’s stance in the Syrian Civil War and reflects some of the relationships its various political factions sustain with regional actors. It results in the postponement of every decision, such as the designation of high-ranking officials. Likewise, no budget has been passed since 2004. In June 2017, the Parliament approved an electoral reform and elections have been planned for 2018, possibly paving the way for improvement.

Figure I-15: Periods of presidential vacancy and governmental deadlock (2004-2017)

Figure I-15: Periods of presidential vacancy and governmental deadlock (2004-2017)

A rigid system based on religious and clan affiliations

3Regional factors may explain the paralysis of the Lebanese political system, but its lack of flexibility also resides in the sectarian logic governing the distribution of key offices (Christian President, Sunni President of the Council of Ministers and Shiite Speaker of Parliament). Besides, the Members of Parliament are elected by the citizens of each constituency, taking into account their religious affiliation to ensure a fair representation of the country’s religious diversity. Nonetheless, the voting system has been questioned every time there is an election due to sectarian interests.

4However, this sectarian logic should not conceal other power relationships. Beside the political divisions, including the competition between the March 8 and March 14 Alliances, the process of voter registration fosters clan-based and localist rationales proper to villages and small towns: voters are indeed registered mainly in their villages of origin, not their residence area. As a result, 31 out of the 128 MPs have at least one close relative who sat or still sits in Parliament (father, mother, uncle, grandfather). This observation reveals the influence of families, which persistently occupy positions of power. The Hariri, Gemayel, Jumblatt and Frangieh families are well‑known examples of this. The 2017 legislative reform introduced elements of proportional representation but does not change the underlying principles of the voting system.

Figure I-16: MP seats and political coalitions in 2009

Figure I-16: MP seats and political coalitions in 2009

The collusion between political and business elites

5In addition to this turnover issue, the Lebanese political elite is characterized by very strong links with business actors, whether involved in real estate, banking, trade or industrial sectors. Recent data on share ownership and composition of the boards of banks provide clear evidence of these linkages. In 2013, 29% of the shares of 7 banks were held by eight families including a politician, sometimes even a leading one. One can thus earnestly question the independence of governmental bodies when it comes to policies related to banks’ and shareholders’ interests, for example regarding debt alleviation. Debt service amounts to 36% of the government budget. Yet the dividends arising from the Treasury bonds add up to 280 million dollars, i.e. 31.8% of all the revenues generated by the banking system. Significant debt-reduction policies would therefore result in the diminution of these political leaders’ incomes.

Figure I-17: Control maintained by the political establishment over the assets of Lebanese banks

Figure I-17: Control maintained by the political establishment over the assets of Lebanese banks

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure I-15: Periods of presidential vacancy and governmental deadlock (2004-2017)
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13212/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 30k
Titre Figure I-16: MP seats and political coalitions in 2009
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13212/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 115k
Titre Figure I-17: Control maintained by the political establishment over the assets of Lebanese banks
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifpo/docannexe/image/13212/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 72k

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