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.