Tayyar.org published a map today showing the number of Christian electors Samir Geagea has supposedly “sacrificed” when he and his parliamentary block abandoned the “Orthodox proposal” last wednesday. Interestingly enough, the electoral map the Free Patriotic Movement site chose to publish seems to assume that the 2009 districting will be followed in the coming parliamentary elections. Judging from the recent parliamentary dynamics, this scenario doesn’t seem to unrealistic. But this isn’t the purpose of this blog entry. Let’s go back to the map and see what exactly it says and what it doesn’t say.
Instead of illustrating the usual grievance voiced by every single Christian political group at some given point, the map presented by tayyar.org places the emphasis on a new argument, that of the disenfranchisement of Christian voters.
That extremely common “christian” grievance that we’ve been hearing since 1992 objects to the “political marginalisation” of Christians throughout the post-war area. It revolves around the argument that too many Christian MPs are elected by an overwhelming number of muslim voters and a negligible number of christian voters. In 2005, that number accounted to 67% of Christian MPs (43 out of 64) while in 2009, the change in districting brought down the percentage to 36% (23 out of 64 MPs). This phenomenon had always existed in Lebanon, but was marginal before the civil war. Since 1992, it became the rule on account of three changes: the dramatic demographic decline of Lebanese Christians, the specific choice of districting schemes, and the strong communal mobilisation of Sunnis, Shiites and Druze behind the Future Movement, Hezbollah + Amal and the Progressive Socialist Party. These three factors meant that Christian candidates in districts with a strong muslim majority could only make it to Parliament by being co-opted by the head of the dominant muslim led/based patronage networks. One can well imagine that such a co-optation has its price, especially when one takes into account the fact that the size of each parliamentary bloc determines to a large extent its share in governmental portfolios and resources (state resources and the country’s resources through tailor-made legislation). The largest beneficiaries of this system are undoubtedly the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1990s, they mostly co-opted “independents” who had little political influence and support within the Christian communities. But since 2005, they’ve accepted to co-opt some Christian candidates with greater Christian “credentials” or representativity.
Instead of focusing on the lack of representativity of some Christian MPs, as the FPM has consistently done since 1992, the tayyar.org map zooms in on Christian voters. This maps pinpoints the number of registered Christian voters in districts where Christian voters have little chance to influence the outcome of the elections. This brings into focus not only the districts in which Christian candidates must be co-opted by the head of the patronage networks to make it into parliament, but also those districts that are generally overlooked by Christian political parties because they elect no Christian MPs, such as Bint Jbeil, Minié-Dinnié, Sour, Saïda & Nabatieh who aggregate 51185 Christian voters. This new interest in districts that have been up to now neglected by Christian political groups can only be explained by the hopes that the Orthodox proposal had awakened and the political significance it gave to voters rendered irrelevant by the lebanese electoral system and the post-war political configuration.
Electoral virtual reality
An unsuspecting viewer might take the map “literally” and assume that the voters it situates geographically actually reside in these districts. But that would be ignoring one of the most striking particularity of the lebanese electoral system. It doesn’t simply divide the country territorially, it heavily engineers the electorate by neutralising a fundamental principle in liberal democracies: that people vote in their place of residence. The lebanese electoral system has replaced that basic electoral principle by another one: the compulsory registration by the Ministry of Interior of voters according to their “noufous” (civil registry) that states their region of “origin” (i.e. that of their forefathers or their husband’s forefathers). So the Lebanese electoral map never reflects the actual distribution of the Lebanese population but creates a totally fictitious one that doesn’t take into account neither the migrations (voluntary or forced) nor the emigration that took place during the last century. We are not talking about minor demographic changes here, but one that affected a large proportion of the resident population (Lebanese and Palestinians). Even though this phenomenon hit all Lebanese communities, it had particularly affected the Christian communities for whom displacement and emigration were mostly permanent. Interestingly enough, most of the regions this maps highlights have been particularly affected by these demographic changes. Indeed, during the wars of the 1975-1990, most of their Christian population had either voluntarily fled or was forcefully expelled from nearly all these districts (excluding the regions controlled by the Southern Lebanese Army up to 2000). Despite an official returnee policy (or possibly because of all its shortcomings and its cynicism), most of the Christians inhabitants of these regions have not returned to their towns during the post-war years. So out of the 467.479 “disenfranchised” Christian voters that the map counts up, only a small minority actually lives in these districts. Most have either emigrated or have resettled in the “Christian heartland” (roughly the districts left unaccounted & uncoloured). Consequently, their vote on a personal level has very little political meaning in a district from which they are more or less estranged; and it carries very little political weight on a collective level because these districts are dominated by Muslim led & based patronage networks who do not even seek or need their votes. The “Orthodox proposal” that this maps indirectly seeks to support would have certainly given their vote more relevance and more political weight. Except for the hassle (and cost) of loosing half a day to get to a distant polling station, these voters would have challenged politicians, inciting them to court them and to listen to their needs.
Unconsidered voters & communal blind-spots
This map only takes into account Christian voters and totally ignores non-Christian voters who suffer from the same problem (even if it’s on a smaller scale). It reveals the extent of the FPM’s communal navel-gazing. This party is surely not the only lebanese political group to suffer from this fixation. It’s actually widely shared across the political spectrum dominated by communal leaders who claim to represent and to cater to their community’s interests. But in this particular instance, it underlines the extreme short-sightedness of a political party that doesn’t realise the importance of looking beyond its communal group even when lobbying for an extremely radical change in the electoral law that needs the backing from all communal groups.