The Impact of Ethnic Groups on Political Parties
Groupings along ethnic lines have been seen as a major way of having strong political bargains in different nations across the globe. Despite its goodwill intentions, most of the ethnic groupings or parties have become terror groups which pose a lot of security threat and economic challenges to the mother countries. Some of these ethnic parties have managed to secure their bargains effectively while others have fragmented along the way and failed to achieve success. Lebanon is the country that has not been exempted from ethnic politics. This study looks at the Lebanese electoral process, and focuses on Lebanese Shi’a group, especially its political organization.
The Lebanese people have been experiencing a serious civil war due to different ethnic groups present in the country. The Muslims and the Christians have been the main antagonists. The two divisions have been warring for several decades in order to gain political supremacy over the other in the country. In 1989, Taif accord was signed leading to the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. The accord provides for a 50: 50 parliamentary seat allocation between the Christians and the Muslims. The seats are then further divided to accommodate the entire eighteen officially recognized religious sects in Lebanon.
According to Riad Tabbarah, the Direct Centre for Development Studies and Projects based in Beirut, Lebanon, was created by sects. Lebanon has received much persuasion to drop its sectarian political system which is literally based on the ethnic alienation. However, this has not materialized so far. Up to date, the ethnical sects or groups are the ones who rule Lebanon. Shi’a group is headed by its political group known as the Hezbollah (Party of Allah).
Hezbollah, formed in early 1980s, served as the main political party of the Lebanese Shi’a group as well as a militia group in the region. Due to its strong base support by the Shi’a group, the Hezbollah has also managed to acquire a radio station. This shows that other than being a political party and militia group, the party is also business oriented and boosts the economy. It was formed by Muslim clerics as a military group to drive out the Israel forces occupying the south of Lebanon. However, with time, it has turned out to be a major political party in Lebanon with several representatives in the parliament house.
The Shia’s Hezbollah group was established with four main objectives which were clearly stated in its manifesto. The objectives were as follows: to ensure Israel’s final departure from Lebanon; to bring to an end any imperialist power in Lebanon; to subject phalanges group to justice of rule and try them for their crimes. They also intended to give people a chance to choose the system of government they want without cohesion. Through all these, they did not hide their commitment to the rule of Islam.
Being a Muslim is a condition that must be obeyed by any person who wants to vie for an electoral position through the Hezbollah party. This is in accordance with the electoral system of Lebanon which states that the right to stand or vie is confessional. All citizens aged 21 and above have the right to vote for any candidate they like. Unlike the right to stand, the right to vote is non confessional hence ability to vote for a candidate of choice.
Since the Lebanese consist of several voting districts which form the 25 administrative districts (qada), it is possible to vote as many times as there are seats available. However, all the voting is done on a single ballot paper. This means that the Shi’a group has the right to vote for several parties as long as there are seats available.
Despite the freedom of choice that the Hezbollah group has given to its followers, the group has always maintained that a strict observation of the Islamic religion must be followed. Those who have gone against the religion in their undertakings have often faced the wrath of the group. The punishments administered by the Hezbollah group have been severe and most of the victims have faced the death penalty through assassination.
Despite the benefits it assumes to bring to the Lebanese people and the Shi’a Muslim community, the Hezbollah group is against the Christian religion community. This has resulted in several internal strives among the Lebanese, calling for a way out. Just like in the case of Trinidad, merger has been seen as the only option of ending the political strife. For instance, Hezbollah party entered a political alliance with other parties in Lebanon to form a coalition known as the March 8 Alliance.
This alliance was to operate until 23rd March 2013. The alliance finally came to an end on the 9th of July 2013. The formation of this alliance was to quench the political temperatures that were rising between different religious sects in the country. It is also believed that the realignment was to emerge victorious in the coming elections. On the other side, another political coalition known as March 14 Alliance was forming. The March 8 Alliance has been tinted as the best position to win the election based on the massive support it receives.
Just like in the case of Guyan and Trinidad, merging has been quite visible in the Lebanese political landscape. Apart from the focus on election, the March 8 Alliance has brought a total change in the ethnic party system in Lebanon. That is, the ever warring groups have consolidated together under the political umbrella to achieve the same political goals.
The March 8 Alliance did not only see the coming together of two main rival groups, but it also resulted in more than 38 political parties from different religious groups unifying. However, several challenges face this alliance as each group came with different ideologies and the process of combining all this appears to be elusive.
In conclusion, it can be clearly noted that ethnic strength plays a vital role in the formation and operation of the political parties in a given country. The Shi’a community has shaped the political landscape of Lebanon through the formation of Hezbollah group. Merging of the political parties from different groups is also seen as a tool of achieving political goals. However, a keen eye should be kept on such political alliances and parties to ensure that they do not go beyond their intended boundaries.
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