By Elias A Shahda
School of Management, University of Gloucestershire
Image Attribute: Photo of Lebanese protests - 22 August.
Author: Sonia Sevilla / Creative Commons
The Lebanese political system is based on a power-sharing arrangement among its religious groups known as consociational democracy. Consociational democracy, as Andeweg  states, is the best choice for plural communities because it guarantees equal power-sharing between conflicting groups along with preserving their autonomy. Deep religious, linguistic, cultural, racial and ethnic divisions characterize plural communities, where loyalty is directed to one’s community first rather than to the whole nation .
Consociational democracy best operates in strongly divided societies, where elites form grand coalitions along with being proportionally represented in the political, administrative and military arenas, and where every community has the freedom to run its own customs . In other words, it is a “government by elite cartel designed to turn a democracy into a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy” .
The main aim behind consociational democracy is to weaken divisions in segmented societies and to ensure stability in divided societies. The success of consociationalism occurs when the leaders of divided groups cooperate and when their supporters allow them to cooperate. The elites in consociational democratic systems usually avoid decision-making by the majority; rather, they seek to adjust conflicts through compromise or amicable agreements. This cooperation prohibits social divisions from destabilizing democracy. Agreements usually take the form of a package deal, where each part loses something while winning something else. Another form of consociational democracy involves the representation of all conflicting groups. For instance, the electoral system, the distribution of public positions and military appointments are proportionally allocated to divided groups according to specific quotas. Hence, the threat of instability is regulated by the elites of conflicting groups either by coalitions or by proportional representation . The elites in a consociational democracy represent the demands of subgroups; deal with their counterparts in other groups; preserve the system, and know the outcomes of political divisions .
Lebanon, according to Nelson , adopts a consociational democratic system known as corporate consociationalism, which pre-determines the distribution of positions among divided groups along sectarian lines. This distribution covers the presidency, the council of ministers, the parliament, the civil service, the military and other governmental institutions, where posts are allocated to specific sects. The distribution of power in countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Northern Ireland and Sudan, is determined according to unwritten national pacts between conflicting groups . The direct outcome of corporate consociationalism in Lebanon is the emergence of political sectarian elites that control the state, and that are above any type of accountability. The electoral system in Lebanon has long strengthened the position of these confessional leaders. These politico-sectarian elites “became indispensable oligopolistic patrons to their sectarian clientele constituencies, politically inheriting sectarian public offices. This phenomenon is often referred to in Lebanon as political feudalism” .
Every sect is divided along geographical and familial lines, which makes it impossible for one leader to represent the whole sect . Conflicts between the leaders of every sect become more complicated, especially with the presence of vertical conflicts between these elites and the lower classes that wish to replace them. The result of this internal struggle might lead to the loss of some of the elites’ power within their community. It is important to note that sectarian elites have sometimes little control over the new radical elites or the militia warlords who have tried to take their place . The confessional elites that emanated from this system become experts in controlling the spoils system. Accordingly, these elites have long worked at maximizing their efforts and alliances, while ignoring important issues like the need for economic growth, administrative reform, public accountability and the rule of law .
Although the consociational model adopted in Lebanon since independence allowed freedom of expression, plural political activity, competitive parliamentary elections, and higher levels of freedom and civil rights than other Arab countries , it led to the unstable political balance and poor governance. This model encouraged corruption, patronage, laxity and nepotism in the political and administrative arenas . In addition, elite bargaining slowed down decision-making and damaged the merit system in the political, administrative and military fields. Furthermore, it negatively affected the democratic process, especially with the absence of opposition and the rule of elites who blocked the democratic process.
In other words, this system was not fully democratic, mainly because it lacks equal opportunities for citizens as well as political accountability and responsibility of political actors . More importantly, the attainment of state sectarian consociationalism has somehow depended on the agreement between regional and international powers supporting every group .
Shahda EA (2016) The Effects of Political Factors on Public Service Motivation: Evidence from the Lebanese Civil Service. J Pol Sci Pub Aff 4:225. doi: 10.4172/2332-0761.1000225
© 2016 Shahda EA. This is an excerpt taken from an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.
 Andeweg RB (2000) Consociational democracy. Annual Review of Political Science 3: 509-536.
 Lijphart A (1984) Democracies: patterns of majoritarian and consensus government in twenty-one countries. New Heaven, CT: Yale University Press.
 Nelson S (2013) Is Lebanon’s confessional system sustainable? Journal of Politics & International Studies 9: 332-387
 Salamey I (2009) Failing consociationalism in Lebanon and integrative options. International Journal of Peace Studies 14: 83-105.
 Dekmejian RH (1978) Consociational democracy in crisis: The case of Lebanon. Comparative Politics 10: 251-265.