Political: Lebanon’s first election in nine years is scheduled to take place on 06 May 2018, with distance-voting from Lebanon’s extensive diaspora having begun on 29 April.
The country has seen a wide array of internal political crises since the previous election, left without a President from April 2014 to October 2016, and repeated extensions of parliament due to failed attempts to reform the nation’s electoral system. Regional powers have also attempted to exert significant influence in the country, with Saudi Arabia widely blamed for the rapidly-retracted resignation of Saad Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister, in November 2017.
The new electoral system to be implemented during this election is a significant departure from that which led to the previous government. The previous system guaranteed proportions of the seats for each major faith within the country, whilst competing for a wider popular mandate. The revised law is designed to directly counter perceived problems with this approach, whilst still maintaining a balance between Lebanon’s diverse sectarian groups. Lebanon has been divided into 15 multi-member electoral districts, with religiously distributed seats approximately matched to local demographics. Voters within each district will have two votes, one for a regional party list, and a second for their preferred candidate within that list. Seats will then be allocated proportionally to the list with most votes, with candidates ordered within the lists by their share preferential vote.
The new law also facilitates diaspora voting for the first time, based at Lebanese embassies and consulates around the world.
The Lebanese political environment is likely to have shifted significantly since the last election; driven by significant internal issues stemming from poor government function, the civil war in neighbouring Syria, and ongoing regional power tensions embodied in the Saudi-Iran struggle. Combined with the implementation of the new electoral law, émigré voting, and a rash of independent candidates, this has had the effect of making the outcome incredibly unpredictable.
With electoral law and national political instability having consumed the majority of government time over the previous decade, it is likely that local policies with impact on daily life will be the main pull factor for voters. The country has undergone extensive waste-disposal strikes, persistent issues with electrical generation, and generally limited investment in the array of services used day-to-day by Lebanese citizens. Candidates seeking to address these issues stand a viable chance of breaking the traditional sectarian mould of Lebanese politics. This, in turn, has already led to fracturing of traditional political groupings which have evolved based upon the former, first-past-the-post, system. Groups with wider ideological differences have opted to stand on the same lists in some areas, focusing on local areas of agreement, whilst opposing each other in other districts. The parties and government to emerge from this election are almost certain to function differently to their predecessors.
The only group which has so far avoided the formation of any electoral alliances is Hezbollah, a political grouping whose paramilitary wing is widely seen as an equal to the Lebanese armed forces, and officially designated as a terror group by a number of western states. One potential outcome posed by the election is that Hezbollah’s single and unified message may allow it to substantially increase its parliamentary representation. Whilst unlikely, an increase in power for the Iran-sponsored, anti-Israel group could lead to significantly heightened tensions both on Lebanon’s Israeli border, and across the wider Middle-East.
Lebanon has experienced violent periods of sectarian unrest, including the 15-year civil war from 1975-1990, which resulted in the present power-sharing arrangement. The organisation of the country’s political system along such ethnic and religious lines means that these remain a prominent consideration to many members of the population, and provide ready-made fault-lines across which civil unrest may occur. Additional risks stem from persistent low economic growth during the most recent government; with economic policies likely to be a significant driver behind voting preference, after local issues. Considering the likelihood of the new electoral system producing a coalition government, dissatisfaction with the likely lack of a clear outcome may act as a sufficient spark for social unrest. Firearms remain prevalent in Lebanon, and significant unrest is likely to result in their use.
Travellers are advised to expect elevated security measures throughout Lebanon during and immediately following the elections, particularly in the vicinity of polling stations and political party headquarters. Rallies are also likely throughout the country, but particularly in Beirut. There is an underlying risk of violence at all political rallies or protests and travellers are advised to monitor local media in order to avoid them were possible.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ security measures when visiting Lebanon – airport meet and greet and a locally vetted driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection if conducting high-profile business. All travellers should make use of travel tracking and intelligence software in order to maintain situational awareness and permit employers to implement duty of care.