The President of the Lebanese Republic must be a Christian Maronite elected by a two-thirds majority of the legislature, and he heads the executive branch of the Lebanese Republic. If no candidates are able to meet the two-thirds majority requirement in the first round of voting, voting proceeds to the second round. In this round, an absolute majority suffices to elect the president. The president holds a six-year term, and may be re-elected only after a break of six years.
Election Laws, Systems and Processes
Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy in which the people constitutionally have the right to change their government. However, from the mid-1970s until the parliamentary elections in 1992, civil war precluded the exercise of political rights. According to the constitution, direct elections must be held for the parliament every 4 years. Parliament, in turn, elects a president every 6 years. The last presidential election was conducted in 1998, but instead of holding a new one in 2004, the parliament passed a constitutional amendment to extend the incumbent president’s term exceptionally for an additional three years. The required two-thirds majority was easily met because the prime minister, who had earlier opposed the measure, lined up his supporters in favor of it. Only twenty-nine deputies voted against it, and three were absent, but four ministers resigned in protest against what they viewed as external intervention in Lebanon’s internal affairs. Public opinion polls also indicated substantial majorities of Lebanese opposed to the amendment. On September 2, a day before the Lebanese parliament voted for the amendment, the United Nations Security Council had voted 9-0 (with China, Russia, Algeria, Brazil, Pakistan, and the Philippines abstaining) for Resolution 1559, co-sponsored by France, Britain and Germany, demanding “strict respect of Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon,” and, consequently, the holding of the presidential elections as stipulated by the constitution and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon. On the other hand, the Arab League, influenced by Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Syria, viewed the Lebanese parliament’s decision as an internal affair and exercise of state sovereignty. The Lebanese government’s decision had come after months of severe conflict between opponents and supporters of the constitutional amendment. The opponents considered the proposed amendment unconstitutional because it was carried out under pressure from an external power and for the sake of one specific person, the incumbent president. The supporters argued that regional considerations and United States pressure on Syria in favor of Israel have priority over local considerations, and that the extension of President Lahhoud’s term is needed to protect Lebanese resistance in the south and to fortify Syrian-Lebanese relations.
The unicameral legislature is the National Assembly, composed of the Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwwab). The 128 members of the Chamber of Deputies are elected by popular vote for four-year terms. Candidates must be at least 25 years of age. Candidates are elected by a party-list system from five multi-member constituencies, which correspond to the five governorates. Seats vacated in between elections are filled through by-elections. The 128 seats are equally divided between the Christian and Muslim communities. The seats granted to each community are further subdivided between various sects based on their proportions in the Lebanese population. The public selects from among various party lists, each of which conforms to the pre-established allotment of seats among confessions. Voters are free to cross out as many names as they choose from the list. Information on the distribution of seats among religious groups is available to the public, disseminated in many forms, including via the Internet. Citizens vote for all candidates, not just members of their own religious orientation. The country is divided into 13 electoral districts, and in each district there are lists of candidates from the various religious communities from among whom voters may choose, although a fixed number of candidates from each list must be elected. Some candidates belong to various political parties but most of these parties are in fact local, and represent the local political or confessional interests. These groupings then form informal alliances in the Assembly.
The Governor of each province appoints a president for each of the polling stations within his region. Elections are directly overseen by these local officials. The ten-member Constitutional Council that was created in 1990 judges the constitutionality of governmental acts and also adjudicates in the event of litigation during parliamentary and presidential elections. Elections are governed by the Electoral Law, the most recent version of which was promulgated in 2000.
Voting is not mandatory, and any Lebanese citizen—male or female over the age of 21—is eligible to vote in national elections. Naturalized citizens may run for parliamentary office only after ten years following naturalization. Political parties in Lebanon are governed by the 1909 Law of Associations, which applies to both political and non-political organizations. According to this ruling, organizations are required to inform the government of their establishment and of the by-laws of the association. The law has been modified since 1909, but its basic premise remains unchanged.
Political parties may be formed and play a role in parliamentary elections. However, most are based on sectarian interests. Since the emergence of the post-1943 state, national policy has been determined largely by a relatively restricted group of traditional regional and sectarian leaders. The 1943 national pact, an unwritten agreement that established the political foundations of modern Lebanon, allocated political power on an essentially confessional system based on the 1932 census. Until 1990, seats in parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims; at that point the ratio changed to parity. Positions in the government bureaucracy are allocated on a similar basis. Indeed, gaining political office is virtually impossible without the firm backing of a particular religious or confessional group. The pact also allocated public offices along religious lines, with the top three positions in the ruling "troika" distributed with the presidency going to a Maronite Christian, the premiership to a Sunni Muslim, and the presidency of the National Assembly to a Shia Muslim.
The 2008 Election Law established a Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign. The Commission’s two main areas of competence relate to campaign financing and media issues. The Minister of Interior and municipalities supervises the Commission’s work and may chair its meetings, but does not have the right to vote.
The Lebanese parliament elected on May 25, 2008 the commander of the Lebanese army General Michel Sulaiman as Lebanon's new president for a 6-year term. General Sulaiman's election was approved by 118 parliament members out of 127 members who attended the election session. The position of Lebanon's president had been vacant since November 24, 2007 following the end of the term of ex-President Emile Lahhoud who remained in power from 1998 to 2007, a period which included an extended 3-year term based on an exceptional one-time constitutional amendment approved by the Lebanese parliament in September 2004.
The Lebanese government had governed the country until the various political parties agree on electing a new president. On May 21, 2008 - The 17 month-old Lebanese crisis came to an end when the Lebanese leaders reached an agreement -The Doha Declaration - on all disputed issues. The parties agreed that the parliament's speaker will invite the parliament to convene on May, 25, 2008 to elect the reconciliatory candidate, General Michel Sulaiman as Lebanon's president.
Latest parliamentary elections in Lebanon took place on June 7, 2009 according to the 2008 Election Law that allocates 128 seats among 26 electoral districts, as per the Doha Agreement. The new Election Law established a Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign. The Commission’s two main areas of competence relate to campaign financing and media issues. The Minister supervises the Commission’s work and may chair its meetings, but does not have the right to vote. 587 candidates competed in these elections for 128 seats in the Parliament. Only 12 of the 587 candidates were women. The number of registered voters was around 3,257,224 representing around a 7% increase in the number of citizens registered for the 2005 elections. Financial resources played an excessively large role in the electoral campaign. In addition to reports of direct vote-buying, it was evident that the provision of health, education and other welfare services by permanent foundations and networks affiliated to different political groups played a significant role in achieving electoral support. The participation rate in these elections was 54,08%. The March 14 coalition retained the majority by winning 71 out of 128 seats in the parliament while the 8 March coalition won 57 seats. Four women were elected and will constitute 3% of the new parliament, even less than the 5% representation in the outgoing parliament.
Legislative elections in Lebanon took place in 4 phases between May 29 and June 19, 2005. These were the first legislative elections in 30 years to take place in the absence of the Syrian military presence, a fact that gave these elections remarkable vitality. The elections were conducted according to the electoral law of the year 2000 despite the admission by most political parties and leaders that it is an unfair law as far as the distribution of electoral districts is concerned. The elections covered 5 governorates: Beirut, South Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, Biqaa and North Lebanon. Every citizen 21 years old or over was eligible to vote. The total number of registered voters was 2.8 million, of whom 1.2 million did vote. The rate of participation was 42.9%. It ranged from 36% in Beirut to 55.5% in Mount Lebanon. 432 candidates competed for 111 out of 128 parliamentary seats because 17 seats were not contested and the winners were declared before the voting took place in Beirut, South Lebanon and Mount Lebanon. All major political parties, groupings and personalities ran in the elections. Christian political parties and groupings that had boycotted the elections of 1996 and 2000 participated in the current elections, most notably the "Free Patriotic Stream" led by General Michel Aoun, and the "Lebanese Forces Stream" led by Samir Ja'ja'. The elections were characterized by unprecedented alliances and coalitions across the political board that left very small chance for independent candidates to win. In general, the main battle was between the coalition of opposition political parties and those parties loyal to the regime of president Lahhoud. The final results gave a stunning victory to the opposition coalition that won 72 parliamentary seats and controlled around 90 seats out of 128 seats thereby gaining the power to pass any legislation and to nominate the prime minister and the speaker. Election results carried 61 new deputies into the parliament while keeping out many prominent political leaders. Female membership in the parliament doubled from 3 to 6 female deputies representing 4.7% of deputies. The elections were monitored by several missions of foreign observers, including 62 observers representing the European Union. The Lebanese society for Democratic Elections monitored the elections, as well as local representatives of all candidates. Major political blocks in the current parliament are: "The Future Stream" established by the late prime minister Mr. Rafiq Hariri (mainly Sunnis); Amal Movement and Hizbullah (the Shiite community); the Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumbulat (the Druze community) and the Free Patriotic Stream led by Michel Aoun (the Maronite community).
Municipal and neighborhood-level mayors [Mukhtar] elections in Lebanon took place in May 2010 in four rounds. The first round was held in Mount Lebanon, the second in Beirut and the Bikaa, the third in South Lebanon and the fourth in North Lebanon. The election process involved 964 municipalities of which 212 or 22% were uncontested. Another 7 municipalities did not hold elections for reasons relating to withdrawal of candidates or to decisions made by the government for special reasons. The number of registered voters was 3,311,000 and the participation rate was around 74% for the 4 rounds. However, one cannot speak of an average rate of participation because the voting rate was very low in some municipalities and very high in others. The total number of candidates in all 4 provinces was 24,000 (males and females) who competed for 11,424 municipal seats. Women comprised 6.5% of total candidates. At the neighborhood-level mayors (Mukhtar) elections there were 6053 candidates of both sexes who competed for 2578 seats. Women comprised 33.2% of those candidates.
Earlier Local elections were held in May 2004, to elect 15,300 mukhtars and municipal councilors. Turnout tended to be low, reaching only 20% of the voters in Beirut because of dissatisfaction with the electoral law, and it was not much higher in Tripoli. Only in Mount Lebanon and in the South, where Hizbullah won 87 out of 142 contested municipalities, was the turnout high. Although the list supported by Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in his home town of Saida was defeated, his list won in Beirut, and that of a potential rival as prime minister, Omar Karami, lost in Tripoli.
Local elections were also held in May and June 1998. In 2001 another round of municipal elections took place in the newly liberated areas of South Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.