Lebanon's Divisive Democracy: The Parliamentary Elections of 1992

By Harik, Judith P.; Khashan, Hilal | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Lebanon's Divisive Democracy: The Parliamentary Elections of 1992


Harik, Judith P., Khashan, Hilal, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


INTRODUCTION

RECENT ELECTIONS IN SEVERAL ARAB COUNTRIES have stirred debate over the meaning of Arab democracy and the possibilities of its taking root in Arab societies where liberal traditions previously had been lacking.(1) It is more than a little ironic, and perhaps prophetic, that the Arab state which was considered most democratic and which had an established electoral system--Lebanon--should be the one to suffer from a heated debate over the feasibility of holding elections at this time. The Ta'if agreement of 1989, which theoretically ended the Lebanese civil war, called, among other things, for electing a new parliament. The previous parliamentary elections were held in 1972, three years before the eruption of the civil war which made it impossible for the normal political process to continue. Until recently, nearly all Lebanese factions agreed on the need to elect a new representative parliament to replace the 20-year old one which was no longer viewed as legitimate. But when the current government's efforts to arrange for elections appeared serious, considerable opposition was voiced against them mainly by the Lebanese Maronite community, which feared that a new parliament would enact laws to end its privileged position in Lebanese society and politics. New regional political trends as well as the ongoing peace talks, with the possibility of the conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel, have focused international attention on the debate over the electoral process which took place during the summer of 1992.

Was it the form or the predicted results of the electoral process that again emphasized the differences between the Lebanese communities? And how would the elections affect the health of Lebanese democracy, its future stability and regional pacification? This study is important because it attempts to understand the opinions of Lebanon's war generation on several contentious issues involving the parliamentary elections. These young people were raised in fear of bombardment, and in sectarian isolation.(2) Some carried guns and will do so again if the situation demands it. They also constitute Lebanon's hope for eventual national reconciliation and productive social and political change. The attitudes of the younger generation are thus an important indication of the direction in which the country is moving politically. Therefore, this study will investigate the following relevant topics: 1) their awareness of the democratic process in the Lebanese context; 2) respondents' views as to whether the elections should be held on schedule; 3) their expectations on whether elections can be held under democratic conditions; 4) their views on the candidates they prefer to represent them in parliament, and 5) the actual expectations of respondents concerning the results of the elections. The data came from a national survey the daily al-Safir conducted during the summer of 1992. The sample consists of 1,436 respondents between 19 and 39 years of age. All regions in Lebanon were included in the sample in proportion to the size of the population. Two-thirds of the respondents were Muslim and one-third Christian, and one-third of the sample were women. Non-reliable responses were deleted from the analysis of the findings.

THE LEBANESE ELECTIONS OF 1992 IN FOCUS

Local observers and scholars have repeatedly decried the impotence and subservience of Lebanon's legislative body to the executive branch.(3) In fact its major function has been as a means through which members peddled influence at the state level by supplying local constituencies with the services they exchanged for allegiance. Thus, as in many other developing countries, patronclient relationships played a key role in influencing the public-oriented policies of the legislature. Parliamentary activity was usually marred by deep-seated acrimony that manifested itself in heated and, often, inconclusive debates. As the Lebanese civil war went on unchecked, the arbitrational role of the parliament in national politics was virtually neutralized. …

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