Historically, political parties in Lebanon have lacked traits common to parties in most Western democracies. Lebanese parties often have had no ideology, have devised no programs, and have made little effort at transcending sectarian support. In fact, despite their claims, most parties have been thinly disguised political machines for a particular confession or, more often, a specific zaim. Although nondescript, broad titles have been applied, such as National Bloc Party or Progressive Socialist Party. With the exception of a handful of left-wing movements, most parties have been the organizational personification of a few powerful politicians. Even Kamal Jumblatt (also seen as Junblatt), the most ideologically oriented of the zuama, derived his constituents' support principally because he was a Druze leader, not because of his political beliefs. For this reason, any one party could count on only a few votes in the Chamber of Deputies. This situation brought about a continuous stream of coalitions, each often created to represent a point of view on a particular issue. In this system, leaders could not even rely on the support of their coreligionists; in fact, some of the most severe acrimony has been intrasectarian. Nonetheless, in the face of challenges to fundamental issues--such as the six-to-five formula or the pan-Arab question--the various confessionally based parties generally closed ranks.
Before and during the 1975 Civil War, other political groupings were formed. Although ideology played some role in their formation, for the most part these alliances--the Lebanese National Movement and the Lebanese Front--tended to be temporary associations of politically motivated militias under the leadership of powerful zuama, and divisions generally followed sectarian lines. So ephemeral were these associations, however, that after the heaviest fighting of the mid- and late 1970s ceased, several of the groups in these coalitions turned their guns on each other.
Nonetheless, ideology, rather than the power and charisma of a zaim, has been the basis for the formation of a small number of political parties. These multisectarian groups have espoused causes ranging from Marxism to pan-Arabism. To a limited extent, several of these essentially leftist parties also participated in the fighting of the 1970s.
By 1987 political parties, in the sense of constitutionally legitimate groups seeking office, had almost become an anachronism. By virtue of armed strength, the various militias, surrogate armies, and foreign defense forces that controlled the nation had divided Lebanon into several semi autonomous "cantons," each having its own political, social, and economic structure.
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