Since I have nothing to do but write a dissertation, I spent last night trying to make some sense of the numerical aspects of the elections. This year, thanks to Minister of Interior Ziad Baroud, blank votes were counted separately and not together with invalid votes. This went down well with eleven thousand one hundred and ninety-seven voters, or 0.82% of cast ballots (Sean has a table with the breakdown of blank votes per district). It might not seem much, but one has to keep in mind the voting conditions at various polling stations and that this is the first time a distinction between “blank” and “invalid” votes is implemented. Given that in Lebanese elections no one is ever sure how many of the eligible voters are actually alive or around, abstaining from the vote in protest might be misinterpreted as, well, death. That is why I think the blank vote is important — it not only protests the lack of choices, but it also asserts a presence, both physical and political.
My other perfect excuse for procrastination was “the popular vote.” Hassan Nasrallah brought it up in his speech last night when commenting on the election results and Al of Ex Oriente Lux picks up on this issue. Nasrallah said the opposition probably has the popular vote and that he will leave it to the professionals to figure it out. According to a study cited by al-Akhbar (bottom of the page), the opposition received 54.5% of the popular vote, whereas the ruling coalition received 45.5%. I find it funny that the total adds up to 100%. As far as I know, we have not succumbed to the two-party system yet and there was a visible amount of votes cast for people not running on either lists, especially in Hizballah and Amal’s backyards.
Now I am no professional, but here are the numbers I got when, instead of taking the voters as blocks of with or against, I added the total number of votes cast for the total number of candidates in three categories: opposition 50.4%, ruling coalition 46%, and other 3.6%. I only did the numbers once and I might have missed an affiliated independent or two, but not any with a considerable number of votes attached.
These numbers are, of course, distorted on many levels, one of the main distortions being the opposition within Sunni and Shia turfs. This is particularly significant in majority Shia areas where the ruling coalition presence is weak, the “existential” confrontation is low priority, and the challenge comes from friendly quarters. Such was the case in Baalbak-Hermel and Hasbayya-Marji`yun where opposition competitors received some 10% of the vote.
As Ibrahim al-Amin points out in the al-Akhbar article linked to above, had there been a system of proportional representation, a bloc representing a substantial number of the Shia would most likely emerge. Which is why, all calls to the contrary notwithstanding, Hizballah has no interest in improving Shia representation — and I have posted on this before. That is why I find that Hassan Nasrallah’s passing comment on the popular vote has little to do with rights or justice. I see it instead as a performative utterance that indulges the feelings of underrepresentation that the Shia (rightfully) have and tickles the demographic fear the rest suffer from. All the while papering over the more complex realities that assure the indefinite continuation of the status quo.