The last word on Tripoli: It’s a turnout game!

PM Saad Hariri’s Future Movement (FM), former PM Najeeb Mikati’s Azem Movement, Safadi, and even General Rifi have joined a grand alliance and are supporting MP Dima Jamali, whose election was nulled by the constitutional Council. Meanwhile, the contender, Mr. Taha Naji and his list headed by Mr. Faisal Karameh who filed the motion against MP Jamali’s election, has refused to participate, claiming that he should have won the seat by default once MP Jamali’s election was deemed irregular.

The power distribution in the 2018 general elections:

voting percentage

Mathematically, the current alliance between Future Movement, Mikati, Rifi should receive 65,000 votes based on the 2018 elections. Meanwhile, the main contender Mr. Mosbah Ahdab should get around 3,000.

UntitledThese numbers are misleading because the turnout this Sunday will be much, much lower than in 2018. Indeed, in the 2018 general elections 94,047 voted in Tripoli, out of 237,330. This amounts to a 39.6% turnout rate. I project that at best, around 50,000 voters will participate this Sunday, and probably less. This is equal to a 20% turnout, plus or minus.

The much lower projected turnout will be due to:

1- turnout has been historically lower in special and by elections in Lebanon. The only available data point is a comparison between 2009 general elections and 2010 special elections in the Minieh Dinnieh district.

In 2009, the 14 March candidates won with an average of 38,000 votes. Meanwhile in the 2010 by elections 14 March candidate won with around 20,000 votes. That is almost a 50% drop in turnout.

(unfortunately, due to the lack of open data, additional data points, electoral statistics and numbers are hard to come by, especially electronically and in a machine-readable format. This is why we have worked on the Data Liberation Project with NDI.

2- usually, when a political party is not directly involved in the elections, its effort to energize the supporters and push people to vote is much lower compared to when it has a candidate running. Thus, Mikati, Safadi, and Rifi will not fully deploy their electoral campaigns or spend the necessary funds and efforts to increase turnout and enthusiasm among their supporters.

3- In general, voters are much less likely to participate in low competition elections with no strong candidates running against each other’s.

4- There is also 1,559 out of county voters, who will not participate in this election by voting in Lebanese embassies all over the world. (the law only allows them to vote, if they come to Lebanon in person.)

Therefore, if we apply a 20% general turnout to the alliance of Future Movement, Mikati, Rifi Mrs. Dima Jamali should receive 32,000 votes. I still believe that this is still a high number, and hard to get.

On the other side, we have Mr. Mohsbah Ahdab, an ex-MP that was a major component of 14 March coalition, in addition to several civil society candidates. Mr. Ahdab received 3,300 in 2018, anything above that will constitute a good showing. Especially if he reaches 5,000 (10,000 is even possible, but hard, if Karameh and other dissatisfied parties rally around him). Meanwhile, the civil society candidates, seems not to have learned anything from 2018. They fielded five candidates, diluting their support, and depressing the enthusiasm of anti-establishment voters. They are not expected to receive more than a few hundred votes.

In conclusion, Future Movement candidate is almost assured of victory, however this election will be a test for FM ability to energize and push their supporter to vote, and will show if Mikati, Safadi, and Rifi’s support was real or just words.

The threshold will be around 20,000 votes for Jamali, any result below would be disappointing. Meanwhile, anything above 25,000 would constitute a great showing and a renewed vote of confidence for Future Movement and PM Hariri popularity in Tripoli.

PS: watch turnout during the day, and compare it to this partial turnout list, courtesy my obsession with archiving election data. Although, these numbers were posted by the Minister of Interior during election day on May 6, 2018. But the numbers are not very accurate, use them more as an indicative trend line, rather than in absolute terms.

turnout tripoli

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A late winter surprise!

In a surprising development, nine months after May 2018 parliamentary elections, the Constitutional Council decided to annul one of the results of the North 2 district, removing MP Dima Jamali (one of only six female MPs in Lebanon) from office, and calling for new elections! The elections should be held within two months, on majoritarian basis, in the Tripoli sub district!

They say timing is everything! Indeed had this decision made public two weeks ago, just before the formation of the government, it would have definitely upended the whole process and the government would not have been formed. At this time, the effects of this decision are minimized, the political balance has been set, and the government has been formed, and won an overwhelming vote of confidence. However, such a decision could be used by anyone who want to further challenge the power base of the prime minister.

Using the formidable tool of open data, made available by the Data Liberation Project, with cooperation with NDI, I analyzed the numbers of Tripoli and applied a preliminary analysis to the upcoming electoral battle. All the following numbers are only for the Tripoli sub district, excluding Minniyeh and Donniyeh (as per the decision of the Constitutional council for holding a runoff election within two months based on a majoritarian law only in Tripoli)

Turnout: turnout was fairly low in Tripoli, with only 30% significantly less than the national average of 49%. Turnout will be critical in this upcoming election. People are generally less motivated and enthusiastic in run off elections, and it will surely be lower than the 30%. If any party could build momentum and conserve a good showing, surprises might be in store!

Political distribution of voters:

voting percentage

number of votes

Future Movement and Mikati are the clear favorites! The rest are divided among several opposing forces, with Karameh at 16,396 almost half of Mikati. Ashraf Rifi, who won the 2016 municipal elections come at a very distant fourth with almost eight thousands.The rest of the political factions can barely muster another 8,000. Thus it will be a game of alliances, with Mikati playing the role of king maker, whoever he sides with ( either FM or Karameh) would win.However, a Mikati FM alliance seems more plausible, as the two are already allied in the government and politically close. On paper, such an alliance should give their candidate a large majority of almost 57,000 votes.

It is important to note that this will be an open election, so if Mikati decides to put forth his own candidate, all bets will be off and the smaller parties role and importance will exponentially grow ! Nevertheless, this scenario seems far fetched, and Mikati would probably choose to stick with PM Hariri and Future Movement.

Finally, a word to the wise, in 2016 municipal elections a large Mikati and FM alliance was formed, yet Ashraf Rifi was able to win the election. Thus, it is imperative for these political parties to energize their base, and run an efficient and smart electoral campaign! Especially if this turns into a three way fight! Assuming of course that the Council’s decision is respected and the elections are held on time!

The Data Liberation Project

A few days after the May 6, 2018 parliamentary, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) published the results. The initial results were in a PDF format, with limited information. They lacked a breakdown of participation or voting per district. As an avid analyst with an interest in data and patterns recognition, that was very frustrating.

PDF from MOI
Initial results in PDF, from MOI

Fortunately, the MOI released the full results a week later. However, the MOI also published these results in a static PDF format, grouped by the preliminary counting committees, severely limiting any possible analysis and cross linkage.

Consequently, I started working on possible methods to convert and reorganize the data to make it easily accessible, and then cross linking it to gender and sect, to allow a deeper and richer analysis. So I took my home district Saida as a case study and went to work.

The process was divided into three phases:

  • First step, converting the static PDFs into machine readable Excel
  • Reorganizing the data by neighborhood
  • Adding the Sect and gender labels of each ballot bureau, by using the MOI data base.
reorganization by neighboorhood
Reorganization by Neighborhood

It took me two weeks to finalize the Saida district (one of the smallest in Lebanon), allowing me to use the newly organized data to write a deep analysis of the district’s results, learning about the turnout and voting patterns by gender and sect. Moreover, the data opened up another level of analysis, such as the linkage between women turnout and voting, and the presence of strong women candidates.

adding the sect and gender column
Adding the Sect and Gender Columns

However, the amount of time and efforts the first case study took, convinced me that this should be a larger team effort. I contacted several institutions to propose possible cooperation. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) expressed interest and they offered to support the project, and this is how the Data Liberation Project (DLP) started. After the initial proposal was accepted, I hired several young and enthusiastic experts, organized the workflow, planned the different phases, and prepared the tasks. The Project was launched and we slowly started the conversion and the reorganization of the elections results.

Two months later, the data was finalized, and after a long and assiduous editing and corroborating effort, we submitted the finished project, to the satisfaction of NDI and team.

Consequently, it is my honor and privilege to freely offer the full results of the Lebanese 2018 parliamentary elections, cross checked with gender and sects, for the general public, students, and experts.

The results are availed upon request, via a google drive link, by contacting me directly or by using this email: dlp.lebanon@gmail.com

Finally, I would like to thank the whole NDI team, for their unwavering support, professionalism, and help in completing such an important project, that aim to provide free and open data, considering how hard it is to get unbiased, objective, and solid data in Lebanon. It goes without saying that the project would not have been possible without the young men and women who worked tirelessly for its success, especially Fouad Saoudi and Lana Skaffi, among many others.

A detailed analysis of SAIDA’s 2018 electoral result!

Rafik Hariri’s legacy can be traced back to this once small city, on the Mediterranean, with its plentiful orange orchards and long history. He was born there, and his siblings and distant family are still living in the city. Rafik Hariri helped rebuild and renovated Saida’s infrastructure after the 1982 Israeli invasion, building roads, school, and various projects.

Thus, the two Sunni MPs of the city have always had a symbolic importance. In 2009, for the first time since the formation of the Future Movement (FM) party,  it was able to win both seats. Unfortunately, in 2018 FM failed to repeat this feat and their old adversary Oussam Saad took the second seat in the place of PM Fouad Sinioura.

It is worthy to note that in 2009 Mrs. Hariri won with 25,500 votes to Oussam Saad’s 13,500. Indeed, MP Hariri received almost 64% of the total vote, with a record setting 68% participation, the highest in Lebanon. In 2018 Future Movement numbers fell in Saida to 15,308 against 10,255 for Oussam’s, with only a 54% participation!

Picture6

So what happened? In this deep analysis of the results, I will try to find patterns in the numbers, and draw some conclusions. I will tackle this in two sections: turnout and voting patterns! This analysis has been made possible with the help of NDI, with whom i have been working on a data liberation project, to transform the Ministry of Interior official detailed PDF results into machine readable excel, and add sect and gender information. To learn more about this project please use this link.

 

First, turnout:

Picture1

It is clear that turnout fell significantly, especially among Sunni! Based on the a preliminary analysis of the numbers (link) this trend among Sunni’s seems widespread to most districts with Sunni majorities (Beirut 2, Tripoli, …) Indeed, during the last 9 years 10,000 new voters registered in Saida, with a majority of Sunni, however less people voted in absolute term in 2018 than in 2009

Even more significant, there are more female than male voters in Lebanon. Almost 53% (according to UNDP). Additionally, in relative numbers, women turnout is higher than men’s, yet in Saida, Sunni women turnout was lower than men, at odds with Shia and Christian women!

Picture4

 

Picture3

Women turnout, as previously mentioned, was lower than men’s. Even though the head of FM list in the district was a women, but that did not raise the turnout.

Although, Sunni women voted less than men did, but they supported MP Bahiaa at a higher percentage than men. (48.37% of women, voted for MP Hariri, as opposed to 44.90% of men)

This are very important data points, and once the rest of the districts are analyzed, it will be possible to draw correlation between several variables. For example is women turnout affected by the presence of  strong women candidates, and do women vote more for women candidates?

 

Second: voting patterns:

I believe that Saida’s voting patterns might hold true for most of the other districts, and i will try to show that in future analysis. Indeed, Shia voters voted in mass and with a very high adherence to party instructions. Meanwhile Sunni voters were lethargic, and their vote was split and dispersed among many lists (see Beirut II as a perfect example), severely lowering its effectiveness. On the other hand, the Christian voters were more fired up, and more disciplined, but divided into different parties (FPM, LF, …) this sometimes played against them, in Jezzine for example.

Thus in Saida, Sunni turnout fell heavily, and from a 64% support to FM in 2009, to just 46% in 2018. On the other hand, shiaa voters in Saida adhered strongly to their party’s instruction and voted, cross confessionally, to their sunni ally at a very high 73% rate. This trend of shia voters, is especially salient in the Southern and Baalbek districts reaching high 80 or even 90% adherence. In Jezzine too this was even more evident, shia voted at a dizzying 92% for their Christian ally Azzar.

Picture6

Picture2

 

Lastly, preparation, training, and information, pay and pay very well. Saida suffered of one of the highest rates of invalidated ballots, at 3.14%. Meanwhile, in Jezzine it was half of that, at 1.55%. With the Ministry of Interior being busy with the overall organization of the election, it fell to the parties and NGOs to train their people and their supporters on how to vote and how to help voters during the process.

Thus, certain parties (Lebanese Forces come to mind) were able to prepare their electoral machine, train their people and observers, inform their electors, and they reaped the benefits, by doubling the number of their MPs. For example, their regions of Bcharreh had the lowest rate of invalid ballots at 1.71%. Others did not, and the invalid ballots rate in their strongholds was fairly high, robbing them of precious seats. For more analysis on the invalid ballots and turnout, check this link.

Finally, it is worthy to note that despite rampant sectarianism and the ugly inflammatory rhetoric that preceded the elections, there was small but significant cross-sectarian voting. 12% of Saida’s shia voted forMrs. Bahiaa Hariri and 34% of Christians, and she received 1,100 Christian votes for Jezzine. I firmly believe that political parties, focusing on issues politics (waste management’s, electricity, and environment) with a clear and organized agenda can make significant headway in the Lebanese political arena.

This leads us to the a very important question on why the civil society wave started in 2016 with Beirut Madinati receiving more than 35% of the vote in Beirut’s municipal elections, did not make a significant breakthrough in the parliamentary elections, winning only one seat. A question that I will deal with in depth in the next several articles.

Details of the mistakes

Unfortunately, as i mentioned in my analysis of the turnout numbers, there are two mistakes that i was able to catch in the official numbers.

the first one:

it concerns Zahleh’s fifth counting committee, where a ballot box usually holding 600 registered persons plus or minus (as inferred by most ballot boxes in this sub-committee) had 315,617 as the number of registered. so to solve this issue i assumed that it was 617.

mistake one

The second is similar to the first, but in Tripoli. Here too, a ballot that was supposed to hold in 600’s was put in for 62,581. again i corrected it as 625.

mistake two

A first look at the numbers!

The detailed results are finally out, so after a thorough analysis of the turnout and other general numbers, I arrived to these conclusions. Unfortunately, before going into the analysis, it is important to note that I discovered two errors in the documents published on the official website (one added 62,000 and the other added 315,000 to number of registered, heavily skewing the turnout). I tried to correct them to the best of my ability. You can find more details about these errors in here. Fortunately, these errors are limited to the registered numbers, and do NOT affect the results. However, the fact that there are two errors might indicate that there are more…

First, the ‘official’ turnout number of 49.2% announced by the Ministry of Interior on Monday May 7, is not exact.*

The turnout number of the 2018 election is 48.02% (1,861,203 voted out of 3,875,981) There is a 5.35 % drop in Turnout between 2018 and the 2009 elections. Most of the districts saw a drop. The only district that showed an improvement in turnout was the Bekaa III (Baalbeck – Hermel), with an impressive 9.44% improvement. Meanwhile, another four direct held almost the same turnout between 2009 and 2018 Mount Lebanon IV (Chouf Aley) with -0.38 , South III with +0.38, Beirut (as the districting of Beirut changed between the elections, I had to make a combined turnout for both Beirut I and II) with +0.61%, and Mount Lebanon I (Jebeil Kesrouan) with -1.16.

turnout 2018 2009

Concerning, the blank and invalid ballots percentages, there was a similar trend for the blank ballots with 0.81% in 2018 compared to 0.68% in 2009. It is worthy to note that in three districts the blank ballots rose above the average reaching more than 1%, in South I (Saida and Jezzine), South II (Tyre – Zahrani), and North II (Tripoli, Minyeh, Dinnieh). In South II, the rate is understandable as there was only two competing lists, and many felt that neither represented them. So is the South I rate, where the field was highly politicized, but with no civil society list presents. However, for North II, it is a point that I will tackle after talking about the invalid votes.

As expected, there was a large increase in invalid ballots, due to the introduction of a new proportional electoral system. The rate of invalid ballots jumped almost 300% from 0.61% in 2009 to 2.09% in 2018!! In a district by district comparison the higher trend was similar in most, with the exception of the North II (Tripoli, Minyeh, Dinnieh) district that had 3.52% of invalid ballots, a full percentage point above all other districts!!

invallid ballot

Both in blank and invalid ballots North II district is above average, in a statistically significant way. It would be interesting to keep an eye on this district, with all the judicial procedures being made. This district, has a history of having slightly above average Blank and invalid ballots, but that alone does not explain these big numbers. Indeed, in 2009 Tripoli was at 1.15% for invalid compared to a national average of 0.61%, and 1.14% in blank ballots for an average of 0.68%. However, it was not the district with the highest number, and was fairly in line the overall curve.

*All conclusions and numbers in this analysis are based on the detailed results published by the Ministry of Interior on this website. If anyone is interested by the excel sheet with all the numbers extracted from the official PDF documents, you can find it here.

The Capital!

Beirut (with both districts) has 19 seats, making almost 15% of the the parliament. The number might seems big, but keep in mind, Lebanon is a very centralized country, with most of its economy, services, education, government institutions located in Beirut.*

However, it is not just the number of MPS that is important, winning in Beirut is highly symbolic and is almost a requirement for a President, or after the war for the Prime Minister.

Indeed, because of its symbolic status, Beirut districts have always been gerrymandered, to shore up or strike down a leader. For example, in 1957 elections ** President Chamoun added the largely Christin neighborhood of Achrafieh to a Muslim one. At the time, Christian outnumbered the Muslim, which insured the loss of all the Muslim leaders who oppsed Chaoun (like Saeb Salam and Abdallah Yafi). This is was one of the reasons of the 1958 civil war. Additionally, in 2000, the Syrian pro-consul in Lebanon Ghazi Kannan, specifically redistricted Beirut to ensure the defeat of Prime Minister Hariri. Fortunately, Rafik Hariri’s popular support was such, that it propelled him to win a clean slate of all the capital MPs despite the gerrymandering. Even in the latest electoral law, Beirut redistricting was the subject of many heated debate and negotiations.

Consequently, in the current law the capital was divided into two big districts: Beirut I, 8 seats with a clear Christian majority, and Beirut II, 11 seats, with a clear Sunni majority and a significant Shiite minority.

In 2009, Beirut was divided into three districts; I and III were similar to today’s districts, with Beirut II being a small district with only 4 seats. It was split and the seats divided among the two others. In that last elections, PM Saad Hariri handily won Beirut III, the district with a Sunni majority, and took all its seats (with around 78,000 out of 110,000 votes , in a majoritarian law). Beirut II was not fought over, and the seats were divided between the two opposed coalitions (March 8 and March 14). Beirut I district was fiercely fought over, and along with Zahleh, was the district that gave March 14 its 71 to 57 majority in parliament. March 14 won the five seats of Beirut I with a slim majority, defeating current President’s Aoun FPM.

Today, Beirut II is one of the most competitive districts, with the most number of candidates and lists (a total of 9!!), and a relatively low projected threshold of 12,000 to 13,000. PM Saad Hariri, still enjoys a large and strong following in the Sunni community. However, the new proportional law would make it impossible for the Prime minister to win a clean slate, like in 2009. PM Hariri and Future Movement number of seats in Beirut II will be directly linked to the participation levels of the Sunni, and how big of a majority PM Hariri still musters among them. In short, PM Hariri needs to raise the participation in Beirut II from 2009 38% to at least 50%, while still getting +60% support in the Sunni street, to win a significant portions of the seats (around 7 or more).

A total of 9 lists, are competing. PM Hariri’s Future Movement list “Moustaqbal for Beirut” is starting with strong base, with at least 5 seats, and a possibility for more, depending on the participation levels. However, they are strongly challenged by a coalition of Hezbollah, Speaker Berri’s and FPM.

This second list. Called “Wihdat Beirut”, enjoys a solid Shiite base of around 40,000 voters, and the backing of Al Ahbach organized and reliable voter bloc. They are starting with at least two to three seats, with a big possibility of winning more, depending on the participation level of the Shiite bloc.

Next come two lists who have a strong chance of netting a seat each or maybe more. The first is a list, called “Beirut el Watan”, supported by old allies of PM Hariri like Salah Salam who have taken a stronger stance against Hezbollah, and are allied to the Jamma Islamieh (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.) The second is the list called “Loubnan Harzan”, headed by Makhzoumi, a wealthy businessmen, who has been spending his money in Beirut for charity and politics. Makhzoumi’s chances are a bit less than the Salah’s list, but they look like it will win a seat. .

Next comes several civil society lists. In 2016 municipal elections, Beirut Madinaty came within a stone throw of winning, against an alliance of all political parties currently in power. One of the reasons they failed was the presence of a second civil society list, headed by an ex minister Charbel Nahass, who got exactly the difference between Beirut Madinaty and the mega parties coalition. Unfortunately, in these elections civil society did not learn their lessons, and were split among several lists. With this law, dividing ones base of support is the worst decision that can be made. It ensures the failures of all these lists, helping the entrenched parties get even more seats. The list “al mouaarada el Beirutiah” allied with General Rifi has the most chances of getting through, among the civil society lists.

Beirut I:

The district with a Christian majority (for an analysis of the Beirut II district and the general background check here) . There are currently 134,000 registered voters. In 2009 only 32% voted, but this is expected to be higher. Nevertheless, with only 8 seats this districts will have the lowest threshold in Lebanon, ranging from 6,000 to 7,000 .

There are two main lists running: The first “Beirut al Oula” formed by a coalition of Kateab, LF, the Ramgafar Armenian Party, and Michel Faroun, a prominent political figure in Beirut I, who already won in 2009, and has a large network of voters and notaries that owe him their allegiance. This list is formed by a strong coalition and has several significant voters bloc. The list has a big chance of winning at least two to three seats.

Next comes the second strong list, “Beirut el Oula al Kawiah”, formed by a coalition of FPM, Tashnak, and Future Movement. This list, minus FM, is similar to the one that ran and lost against March 14 in 2009. FM switched their votes to the FPM, bringing a significant Sunni bloc of at least 6,000 voters. They have the upper hand, especially with several heavyweights like former Minister Sahnwai who is very popular in the area, and the famous Tashnak organized and precise voting bloc. The list would probably approaches 4 seats.

We are left with three more civil society lists. Once more, they committed the same cardinal sin, civil society did in Beirut II district and all over Lebanon. They split their voters’ base among three different lists, of which some have more chance, especially with the low threshold. Michelle Tueni’s “nehna Beirut” and “Koulouna Watani” have some chances of winning one or two seats.

It is important to note, that in 2016 municipal elections Beirut Madinati civil society list got around 20,000 votes from this district. Such a number would have given such a unified civil society list in this election three seats. However, splitting their votes among three lists diluted their strength.

 

*according to some reports around half of the country’s population live in the greater Beirut metropolitan area, and more than half of the GDP is produced there.

** The two elections of 57 and 60 and the 1958 civil war are the subject of my master thesis titled “Representation and Stability: A Comparative Study of The 1957 and The 1960 Elections In Lebanon.”