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Sami Atallah and Mohamad Diab, respectively LCPS executive director and LCPS research associate


May 2018
Lebanon’s MPs don’t Know Where their Parties or Political Allies Stand on Key Issues

As part of LCPS’s work on monitoring the Lebanese Parliament, we are publishing a series of articles on the performance of the country’s national legislative body. These articles will focus on issues ranging from coherence among aligned parties and MPs, to the relationship lawmakers have with constituents.
 
This article assesses how consistent and coherent political parties within the same bloc are concerning specific how their MPs vote on policy proposals and initiatives and the extent to which MPs are aware of their party’s stated positions on a range of issues.
 
 
 
With the election around the corner, political parties are striking alliances with rival parties in an effort to win enough seats to maintain their respective levels of power. This, in effect, has neutralized any pretense of policy debates on serious issues. However, the political party system is facing much deeper problems, namely, that members of the same parties rarely hold the same policy views. In other words, party members do not share the same policy preferences, rendering the political party—as a vehicle for policy ideas—meaningless. This has serious repercussions on the legislative agenda and the decision-making process in the country.
 
Based on a survey we conducted with sixty-five MPs, LCPS assessed the policy alignment of each of the key parties and blocs on fifteen political, economic, and social issues such as decentralization, taxes, poverty, health, public property, the rental law, a women’s quota in the parliament, privatization, and personal status law, among others.
 
While many would agree that political parties are not known for their political programs, we show that they are largely incoherent. That is, MPs from the same bloc agree with each other on every other policy.  To be more systematic, the LCPS team established that MPs are, on average, aligned on 8.2 out of 15 policies with their bloc peers. In other words, MPs tended to disagree with other MPs from their bloc on as many policy issues as they would agree with them. This is striking, as it documents and quantifies the futility of parties as the embodiment of and advocate for policies.
 
Among the key political blocs, there are some variations. For instance, Loyalty to the Resistance, which is led by Hezbollah, had the highest coherence score of 9.7 out of 15. This effectively means that the bloc’s MPs are in agreement over almost ten out of the fifteen selected policies but this leaves one-third (five out of the fifteen) of policies that they do not see eye to eye on. This is followed by the Democratic Gathering, led by the Progressive Socialist Party, with a score of 9; Kataeb with 8.5; Lebanese Forces with 8.3; Future MPs with 7.6; Development and Liberation, led by Amal, with 7.3; and Change and Reform, led by the Free Patriotic Movement, with 7.1, which has the least policy alignment among its MPs.
 
While there is little coherence on policy, we also assess the extent to which MPs are aware of their bloc’s official policy positions. On average, a majority of the MPs in the Development & Liberation, Change & Reform, Future, and Lebanese Forces blocs seemed unaware of where their blocs stand on major public policy issues. For instance, on average, 83% of MPs from Loyalty to the Resistance bloc know their bloc’s position over policy issues compared to only 32% of Development and Liberation MPs. Between these two extremes are the Change and Reform with 41% of MPs aware of their blocs position, Future MPs with 44%, Lebanese Forces MP with 50%, Democratic Gathering with 54%, and Kataeb MPs with 67%. This high degree of uncertainty suggests a lack of intra-bloc consensus, or perhaps even lack of communication among MPs of the same bloc.
 
Looking at specific policy issues, on average, MPs seem to be least knowledgeable about the position of their blocs on the following policy issues: The rental law of 2014 (which ironically became a law), support for the productive sector, tax on profit, the role of the state in mitigating social disparities, and protecting public property. In sum, a high percentage of Lebanese MPs, exceeding half for some policies, do not know their bloc’s official position on most public policy issues. In addition, many MPs have adopted positions which are significantly different from their bloc’s positions.
 
Political parties that remain empty shells will continue to be serious and negative effects on the role and performance of the parliament. As key drivers in parliament, parties with no vision or coherence that have a significant number of seats will effectively paralyze political life. Parties have the potential to pass laws and conduct oversight in the interest of citizens, not just the political and economic elite. It is imperative that MPs realize where their parties stand on issues and how their allies vote, in addition to repairing their relationship with citizens. Each of these measures could be steps toward parliament working to improve the lives of people across the country.  
 
 
 
 
 







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