Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Lebanon
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 841-842
LEBANON: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Lebanon has been called a "confessional democracy" because of the constitutional status accorded to its religious groupings, which are recognized by law as forming the basis for political representation. To understand Lebanon's politics, one must first know the religious composition of its population, about 1.5 million during our time period. The first division that must be made is between the presumed Christian majority and the Muslim minority. The Christians were indeed the majority in 1932 when the last census was taken, but a drop in Christian population and rise in Muslim population is suspected since then. Therefore another census has not been undertaken, for it would likely upset the parliamentary 6:5 ratio of Christians to Muslims, which has existed since the first national elections in 1943. As estimated for our period, the Christian population consisted of three main communities: The Maronite (55 percent), the Greek Orthodox (20 percent), and the Greek Catholic (10 percent). The Muslim population breaks into the Sunni Muslim (about 45 percent), the Shiite Muslim (40 percent), and the Druze (10 percent). Thus no single group even approaches a majority of the total population, with the Maronites estimated at less than 30 percent perhaps the largest of them all in our time period. All seats in the Chamber of Deputies were distributed in accordance with the recognized strength of each religious grouping-while maintaining the 6:5 ratio between Christians and Muuslims, which has been facilitated by having chamber membership in multiples of eleven. In addition to a legal requirement that candidates run for seats allotted to their religious groups, there was the informal rule that Lebanon's president must be a Maronite, its prime minister a Sunni, and its speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shiite.

Lebanon declared independence from France in 1943 and secured her autonomy by the end of 1946 with the withdrawal of all French troops. The elections of 1947 continued the sectarian basis of representation established in 1943 and the chamber size remained at 55. Sectarian composition of parliament has been more important than party composition. Usually fewer than half of the deputies could be identified by party affiliation, and such parties as exist are often organized along sect lines.

Not only do the nonparty aspects of Lebanese politics overshadow party politics during much of our time period, but there are severe problems in identifying Lebanese "parties." An important distinction can be drawn between two types of Lebanese parties. One type is the "traditionalist bloc," which is oriented toward controlling seats in parliament and winning governmental positions for personal and sectarian gain within the framework of the traditional sectarian-feudal system. The Constitutional Bloc and the Nationalist Bloc, both founded in 1934, are the prime examples in our study. The other type of party, less successful than the first, is the "doctrinal," which is more ideological in character and less committed to maintaining the traditional political system. The Maronite Phalanges, founded in 1936, and the Progressive Socialist (1949), represent this type in our study. (Several smaller parties, while significant in the context of Lebanese politics during 1950-1962, failed to meet the requirements of strength and stability to permit inclusion into our study.)

Following the 1951 elections (for which the chamber size had been increased to 77 members) Lebanon almost experienced a civil war. Popular opposition had developed to her first president, Bishara al-Khuri, who had obtained from the previous parliament an amendment to the constitution that allowed him to remain in office beyond the six-year limit. He was forced to resign in 1952, and Camille Chamoun was selected as president by the chamber. After the elections of 1953 (for which the chamber had been reduced to 44 members), some feared that Chamoun would also try to hold office beyond his constitutional term, to end in 1958.

The elections of 1957 (held for a chamber of 66) were followed by another crisis, aided in part by uncertainty over Chamoun's course of action but linked more directly to his request for American troops and a coup d'etat in Iraq in July 1958. The crisis was eased when the chamber elected General Fuad Chehab as president. He duly succeeded Chamoun in September, and the American forces withdrew. The elections of 1960 (held for a chamber of 99) were followed by Chehab's announcement of his intention to retire before the expiration of his term, but he was persuaded to stay through the end. In late 1961, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (a small party not in our study) led an attempt to overthrow the government but the revolt was smothered by 1962.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The chart of party representation over time portrays a somewhat misleading picture of stability in Lebanese party politics. Although Lebanon does have a low instability score throughout our time period, Lebanese parties typically account for less than one-third of the parliamentary seats, most of which are held by members elected because of their religious, not party, affiliation. Moreover, the civil war between Christians and Muslims from 1973 to 1976 left the government helpless and submerged conventional party politics. Nevertheless, all the parties in the original study have continued in varying states of health, and one new party qualified for study after 1962.

Original Parties, Continuing

761 Progressive Socialist Party. This is the party of Kamal Jumblatt, who was ambushed in his El-Shouf region and killed in 1977. Given the importance of Jumblatt's role in the party, it remains to be seen whether the Progressive Socialist Party will exist long without him.

762 Constitutionalist Union. The existence of this party is already in doubt. Some observers considered it ended with the death of its founder, Bishara al-Khuri, in 1964, but the party won four seats in the 1968 election under the leadership of his son. However, it failed to win any seats in the 1972 election, and its continued existence is problematic.

764 Phalanges. There is no doubt about the existence of the Phalanges, for its military units led the Christian forces in the recent civil war.

765 Nationalist Bloc. Primarily a Christian party, the Nationalist Bloc, under the leadership of Raymond Edde, son of its founder, avoided militant politics but slipped to only three seats in parliament after the 1972 election.

New Party, Continuing

766 National Liberal Party. This party was founded in 1958 by Camille Chamoun, a Christian and Lebanon's president from 1952 to 1958. It held from 5 to 8 percent of the seats after 1962.


Our study of Lebanese parties includes only the larger of the numerous small parties in the country. Taken together, all parties accounted for only 30 percent of the seats in parliament following the last election in 1972. Nevertheless, parliamentary politics seemed to revolve around these party groupings (Baaklini 1977, p. 184). In the 1970s, the principal cleavage was between the "Chehabists" and "Chamounists," named after two ex-presidents. Chehabists are "largely Muslim somewhat left of center, and inclined toward pan-Arabism", while the mostly Christian Chamounists stood "somewhat to the right of center and are aloof toward Arab concerns" (Political Handbook of the World, 1977, p. 228). Although religion and sect are critical to understanding Lebanese politics, its parties, while small, have shown surprising staying power and are also politically important.

[For party politics in Lebanon since 1962, go to the essay by Daniel Corstange]

1.Our study of party politics in Lebanon is based on a file of 1,014 pages from 52 documents, all but 1 of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Donna and Dexter Lehtinen. William Goodman used the file to code the Lebanese parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our consultant was Michael Hudson.