The Doha debates have reached an agreement on electing General Michel Sulayman as president, to be followed by the formation of a national unity government giving the Opposition veto power. Given that these were foregone conclusions in case of an agreement, it was the electoral law which constituted the final bargaining chip. Initially, the Opposition had suggested using the 1960 law, but the ruling coalition wanted a change in districts to reflect changing demographics. Hizballah categorically refused any changes in the south, leaving Beirut as the gordian knot in the negotiations.

According to the 1960 law, the Christians would compete over 8 seats in district 1 (Ashrafiyah, Rmayl, Mdawwar, Sayfi, Marfa’, and Mina al-Husn); 3 seats would be open to contestation in district 2 (Zqaq al-Blat, Bashurah, `Ayn al-Mraysah); and the Sunnis would get 5 seats in district 3 (Ras Beirut, Mazra`ah, and Msaytbah).

The ruling coalition’s proposal was to include Mdawwar and a majority Sunni area in district 2 and change the seat allocations to 5 (district 1), 8 (district 2), and 6 (district 3). This would have meant effectively that 14 seats, including 2 of 4 Armenian seats, would have been “elected” by a majority Sunni electorate in districts 2 & 3. This would have forced the Tashnag to broker a deal with the Hariris in order to save their hide in Mdawwar, which, in turn, would have constituted a blow to Aoun by depriving him of the Armenian vote. District 2, thus, became the bone of contention.

The compromise reached gives Hariri 10 seats, leaving the other 9 open to competition:

  • District 1 (Ashrafiyah, Rmayl, and Sayfi), 5 seats: majority Chrisitian voters.
  • District 2 (Bashurah, Mdawwar, and Marfa’), 4 seats: majority Christian, mostly Armenian voters, with a balance of Sunni/Shiite backup.
  • District 3 (Mazra`ah, Msaytbah, Ras Beirut, Minah al-Husn, Dar al-Mraysah, Marfa’), 10 seats: majority Sunni voters.

Hariri insisted on that last, face-saving 10th seat in district 3, which gives his list a majority of Beirut’s seats regardless of the results of his Christian allies. “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” he cried.

In other words, Hizballah has translated its military action into a political victory (they got their third in cabinet and a new electoral law) in return for pandering to Hariri’s injured pride and sense of ownership over Beirut. al-Akhbar reports that Hizballah convinced Aoun to drop his demand for 8 seats in district 1 by proposing forming a coalition list, bringing together pro-government and opposition candidates, to run in district 2!

That would leave 5 out of 19 seats to be acutally elected in Beirut and we still have a year to go. Given this riveting start, I cannot wait to see their electoral programs!