Can the FPM regain its electorate?
Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/07/2009
Three extremely vigorous debates over the interpretation of the outcome of the parliamentary elections began before the final results were even published. Two of them involved the FPM: how much of its electorate did it actually loose, and why it lost it. We have discussed these issues in a preceding post. We will ask ourself today how likely it is for the FPM to regain its electorate.
He who represented 70% of Christians
Since 2005, General Michel Aoun boasted that he represented 70% of Christians. This slogan meant two things: that he was the undisputed Za’im of the Christian communities, and that the other Christian blocs, parties and MPs owed their seats to Muslim votes. This wasn’t very far from the truth, but did it serve the FPM? Not really. Even though his bloc scored as well as those of Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Nabih Berri & Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun was denied the same recognition and an equivalent share. His position improved when two pillars of the Quadripartite oligarchy recognised him as the christian Za’im. But it wasn’t enough to make him an equal partner of the Big Four, and his share in power (and ressources) remained significantly smaller than the others (and some would argue smaller than the oligarchy’s other Christian junior partners). The results of the 2009 elections will likely have no effect on Aoun’s & the FPM’s share of power. Their significant electoral downsizing will probably be of no consequence.
The FPM’s score in 2005 was both monumental and unexpected. The party was just emerging from years of persecution, its leader had just returned from exile, it had little media backing, didn’t provide social services or distribute state ressources… And withstanding all this, it benefited from a massive score that established it as Lebanon’s largest (and dominant) Christian party, one ready to enter into Lebanon’s communal politics withstanding its long-established anti-communal stand. As it entered Parliament, the FPM embodied a principle that it had long fought, that of communalism. The votes it had received were overwhelmingly Christian and the bloc it formed was a Christian one (except for one MP). These characteristics were confirmed in 2009. During these past elections, the FPM had to build on 2005’s protest vote, experience an electoral cross-communal alliance and survive an electoral Bulldozer.
From protest vote to accountability?
Pundits and foes have analysed the FPM’s 2005 score as being a protest vote, and the 2009 score as a setback rooted in accountability. The first claim is quite difficult to rebute. The 2005 “Orange Tsunami” (as Jumblatt called it) was to quick and massive a phenomenon to be analysed in terms of political adherence. How could people have voted for a party by conviction at a time when the party and its leader were shifting so quickly and with no clear view of what the party could accomplish when in power?!
As for accountability, it is quite difficult to measure, especially if you take into consideration the new challenges the FPM had to face in the past elections: in 2005, it surprised all the political actors by running against the Quadripartite Alliance. Its foes didn’t have the time to adjust to this shift and counterattack. In 2009, the party was experiencing its first truly cross-communal alliance (with the two shiite pillars of the quadripartite oligarchy), and its foes worked on defeating it by backing by any means possible any person or party that was willing to fight it (hence the squabble for seats).
A Party on the wane?
It’s quite hard to predict anything related to the FPM because of the unpredictability of its leader. So the question is, will his supporters follow him wherever he chooses to go? This is after all the case for Walid Joumblatt, Saad Hariri, Hassan Nasrallah, Nabih Berri: however they choose to situate themselves locally and geopolitically, whatever political adventure they embarked on, the support they enjoy never wavers or withers. This doesn’t mean that their constituencies are excessively compliant or particularly docile. When a Sunni voter votes for Mustaqbal (Future Movement), when a Shiite voter votes for Hezbollah-Amal, when a Druze voter votes for Ishtiraqi (Progressive Socialist Party), he/she knows that this party will best guarantee his/her “share of the cake”, defend his/her communal group, and keep on providing social services. With the FPM, this is not the case. Voting for a communal Za’im is a useful and tactical vote for Lebanese Muslims because of the hold the Quadripartite oligarchy’s has on Lebanon’s ressources and institutions (public, communal and private). The FPM doesn’t have any of those ressources or strengths. So those who vote for it do it out of conviction (or stubbornness?). How long will this last?