WED 24 - 4 - 2019
Date: May 4, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon: Pollsters predict Parliament shake-up
Sabine Darrous| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: With only two days to go before the long-awaited parliamentary elections, the focus is shifting from the race to who will be the winners and losers and what shape the new Parliament will take. There is a general consensus among electoral experts that the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement will likely do well. They are expected to maintain their powerful presence and even see an expansion of the bloc in Parliament.

All of the 27 Shiite candidates backed by the Hezbollah-Amal alliance have a very good chance of making it to Parliament, according to pollster Kamal Feghali, who added that if a Shiite seat were to be lost it would be in the Baalbeck-Hermel district.

Hezbollah and its allies are expected to reach 45 or even 46 members – a bit more than a third of the 128-seat Parliament.

This will include Hezbollah and Amal allies from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the Syrian Baath Party and political figures such as former minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad, Popular Nasserite Organization leader Osama Saad and Jezzine district candidate Ibrahim Azar.

In contrast, Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement is expected to lose somewhere between eight and 10 seats, seeing its bloc go from 34 MPs after 2009 to 20 or 24.

But this is no big surprise for Hariri, who had already said during negotiations on the new electoral law that the proportional system would be costly for his party.

In the 2009 parliamentary elections, Future secured a sweeping victory under the winner-take-all electoral system, obtaining 34 seats and forming one of the biggest parliamentary blocs alongside its March 14 allies. The bloc subsequently saw three of its members withdraw: MPs Nayla Tueni, Michel Pharaon and Khaled Daher.

While Future officials did not deny the potential for a smaller presence in Parliament, they said this would not denote a failure.

“Let’s wait for the results,” Abed Moussa, a Future spokesperson said. He blamed the new proportional system for the party’s slim-down in Parliament but said that numbers did not define its political role in the country.

“Our political platform is not based on more or fewer numbers of deputies,” he said. Moussa noted that Future had agreed to the proportional system knowing that it would likely work against the party maintaining all its MPs.

“We approved it [the law] because we knew it would renew democracy and give an opportunity to all parties from civil society and others who were marginalized in the previous law,” he said.

Moussa said Future will remain the biggest Sunni representative and that its scope is not limited to one region, unlike other Sunni leaders such as former Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Tripoli and Abdel-Rahim Mrad in Western Bekaa.

Moussa added that Future is not the only party likely to lose seats, citing Druze leader Walid Joumblatt and President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.

According to Feghali, the FPM might see its 19-member bloc shrink to 18 or 20, pointing out that some candidates running on its lists might not join the bloc if they make it to Parliament. Former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, running on the FPM’s list in Kesrouan, said recently that he would be an independent candidate.

His colleague on the list, former MP Mansour Bonne, is expected to join the Future Movement bloc.

However, the FPM will remain the biggest Christian representative in Parliament even if it loses a few seats, which according to political analysts will be due to its “contradictory nature of alliances” and disputes between party leader Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil and several political parties. Political analysts believe that Bassil’s biggest concern is to maintain a strong bloc that will “safeguard” Aoun’s tenure.

FPM sources said that the party is working to direct preferential votes toward party members on their lists as a priority, placing less emphasis on allies on their lists.

According to Feghali, the Lebanese Forces is expected to boost its representation in Parliament from eight MPs to between 10 and 14, a big victory compared to its Christian counterparts such as Kataeb, who could lose one or two MPs. Former minister Sleiman Frangieh’s Marada Movement is expected to maintain its four-member bloc but could lose one seat.

Feghali said that the LF has made the best out of the proportional law.

He explained that, unlike the FPM, the LF has nominated one or two party members in each district that were strong candidates that had a good chance at winning.

As for Joumblatt’s slot, it will likely remain unchanged and he is expected to have between eight or nine MPs for his Progressive Socialist Party. “Joumblatt has always chosen to be a centrist, drawing close ties to what used to be March 14 while always keeping a channel open with Hezbollah and good relations with Speaker Nabih Berri,” one political source said.

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