This case study focuses on innovations within Lebanon, a country renowned for its unique political landscape. The case study looks at how organisations have used democratic innovations to cut across political divides and bring about policy changes, despite gridlocks and uncertainty. It explores several democratic innovations, each concerned with bringing about change in a different policy area – electoral integrity, electoral reform, and environmental policy. This case study shows how these innovations work and why they are relevant within Lebanon’s political context, and how they actively strengthen democracy.


Lebanese politics are shaped by an electoral system based on a sectarian formula for power sharing. This confessional system has contributed to a low-level of citizen participation in policymaking, a lack of cross- confessional vibrancy in political parties, the limited ability and opportunity of civic groups and average citizens to influence political processes, as well as the poor representation of women in political life.

As Lebanon is currently going through one of its most difficult economic and financial crises, coupled with constant political instability, polarisation is growing along sectarian lines whilst prospects for reform remain stagnant. Although many civic movements, including the demonstrations held from 2011 until October 17, 2022, have sought to overcome sectarianism, it remains a key obstacle to achieving meaningful progress in increasing democratic participation. Lebanon’s religious consociational power sharing structure has stifled efforts to produce transformative citizenship.

Against this backdrop, it is important to highlight and encourage initiatives that are successful in overcoming sectarian dividing lines and have managed to engage citizens at both the national and local levels, assisting them to advocate for key reforms and increasing the overall level of citizen participation in democratic processes. This case study examines noteworthy examples of democratic innovation that have increased participation in the areas of electoral reform and environmental governance. These are significant for having sought ways in incorporating deliberative participation of ordinary citizens through civil society campaigns.

Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE)

The first democratic innovator discussed in this report, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), merits attention or offering two key insights: it shows how a credible non-confessional organisation for promoting democratic practices can be created, and it provides a model for maintaining democratic practices within a civil society organisation. Established in 1996, LADE’s explicit focus is to improve the Lebanese electoral system in compliance with international standards and to reinforce fairness and proper democratic practices in Lebanon’s parliamentary and municipal elections.

LADE was one of the first public-facing associations in Lebanon established after the civil war on a purely non-confessional basis. *  It quickly proved itself to be a credible organisation, focused on arguing for electoral integrity, representation and participation. LADE was the first organisation of its kind in the Arab region and remains one of only a few of its type around the world. Since its founding, LADE has been engaged in all electoral framework reforms and procedures for • holding elections in Lebanon. They have monitored all national and local elections and have produced evaluation reports on the electoral process. It managed to do this work despite the Ministry of Interior refusing to grant LADE its official CSO registration number for more than a year and delaying its official registration until 2006 (nine years after its establishment) on the pretext that the organisation’s objectives overlap with the role of state institutions.

On an organisational level, LADE has created a rare model for upholding internal democratic practices within CSOs in Lebanon. It did this by ensuring it did not have fixed power structures in its leadership. In LADE, there is a regular alternation of power and leadership, it does this by holding internal elections on a regular basis in accordance with its own by-laws which specify the duration of terms or all of its key offices.* LADE’s independence from politics is also very clear. According to Article 9 of their rulebook, any individual that is a member or an affiliated member has the right to run in the elections of the administrative body, provided that they are not a leading member of a party, organisation or group of a partisan nature and that they are not active in the campaign of a candidate seeking office.*

Over its 26 years of existence, LADE has gone through various organisational changes, but it has been consistent in terms of the two features discussed above (non-confessionalism and internal democracy). This consistency has enabled LADE to produce the following key measurable results:

  • Expanding the circle of discussion on parliamentary and municipal elections laws to include the widest political and social actors and various groups within civil society;
  • Embedding the culture and principles of election observation in all its forms in Lebanon’s democratic practices and developing the capacities of a wide range of CSOs and domestic observers;
  • Ensuring the inclusion of the Student Bodies Elections Law on the agenda of the administrative and student bodies of a number of Lebanese universities;
  • Developing common agreement within Lebanon on key reform principles, promoting them and transforming them into material for public discussion, which forms the basis of electoral reform of parliamentary, municipal and optional election law;
  • Enhancing citizen participation in public lie and motivating youth groups in cities, towns and villages to engage in public lie.

Rally for municipal elections

Focusing on enhancing citizen participation in municipal governance, LADE and its founding members, along with a broader group of CSOs formed a national alliance of civil society actors in 1997, which led a large civil society campaign called Baladi, Baldati, Baladiyyati (My country, my town, my municipality) that eventually drove Lebanon’s parliament and government to relent, allowing local elections to be held in 1998. This initiative was the first nationwide popular pressure campaign, which highlighted the importance of local governance and grounded the necessary pathway for decentralisation in Lebanon.

The initiative involved democratic innovation at various levels. In its communication and reach to the general public, the campaign strategically reached out to citizens in both rural and urban areas using advertising campaigns and slogans aimed at encouraging citizens to claim their rights by signing the petition. Some of its success may be attributable to the campaign’s attractive slogan, “My country is my town, my municipality”, created by journalist and activist Paul Ashkar.* The slogan was put in an advertising jingle developed by a prominent and very popular Lebanese musician called Ziad Rahbani, who later organised a concert in support of the campaign.  Furthermore, the Media played a critical role in spreading information about the campaign and mobilising communities in support of it. Two TV stations, two radio stations and seven newspapers, all with varied political and ideological views, supported the campaign for free, and these media outlets ran the advertisement and repeated the slogan on a regular basis.

Another potential factor for the campaign’s success was its seminars and meetings about electoral laws and municipal elections, these were held in rural areas with the aim of widening the consultation process and raising public awareness of the importance of local elections. In itself, the campaign was professionally managed: meetings and long discussions on the impact of the campaign and its progress took place on weekly basis. The founders of the campaign were very conscious of the challenges ahead, in particular of remaining unifiied under the same campaign goals, and they were keen to avoid any fragmentation, especially considering the diversity of views and interests that existed among the members and supporters of the campaign, which included different parties, unions, as well as few members of parliament. For this purpose, the rally kept its focus on its original demand, phrased as, “we want election and refuse extension”, keeping this as the main common denominator around which all actors agreed was key, along with sustained resistance against any pressure or attempt to add broader demands. The campaign’s organisers also committed the campaign to transparency, peaceful means and a commitment to ending itself after its demands were met. The movement was well received by the general public and collected more than 100,000 signatures. As promised, the campaign dissolved itself in June 1998, right after the municipal elections were held, resisting further pressure to continue as an advocacy group and suggestions to become a political force by participating in the municipal elections with a running list under the same slogan.

Baladi, Baldati, Baladiyyati represents a model for successful nationwide collective campaigning. It managed to gather Lebanese people with diverse backgrounds and allegiances around a common point of interest. This was a new phenomenon in Lebanese politics. Its success established faith in civic participation

beyond sectarian and geographic divides. It also contributed to carving out a space for civil society in Lebanon, which was important as the nature and experience of civic engagement was changing after the end of the war, moving away from a humanitarian role to engagement in policymaking and development. The approach adopted in this campaign provides valuable lessons that are crucial and could be of benefit to future civic movements in Lebanon. The rally maneuvered through difficult circumstances and challenges and kept its unity, focus and peaceful approach.

The National Commission on Parliamentary Electoral Law

This third case offers a view on the effectiveness of electoral commissions and how they can bring about positive change in electoral law. The National Commission on Parliamentary Electoral Law was established by a government decree in 2005 with a specific mandate: to propose means for reforming the electoral system by preparing a new elections’ law. The idea of establishing a commission was initiated by key activists and academics from CSOs who managed to persuade the government to adopt this idea and establish such a forum. The founders of this initiative influenced decision makers among the government’s members using the positive relations they had with the prime minister’s office and the good reputation they had as experts and change leaders in their own eld. The committee was comprised of 12 experts and legal representatives from all segments of society and its varied stakeholder groups, including three experts who were founders of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE). The commission was headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Fouad Boutros, who had political capital and credibility.

Establishing the Commission was a clear recognition of the importance and urgency of electoral framework reform in Lebanon. Its work has been considered innovative, independent, credible, and inclusive. From its establishment in 2005 and until its disbanding in 2015, the commission reviewed and held dialogues on 122 electoral bills that were received from Lebanese parties, individuals, and various bodies from political and civil society. The committee communicated with the public continuously through the media and various other means of communication, and it published all of its works and made them accessible to the public. Moreover, it received support from several Lebanese civil society actors who established a framework, under the name the “Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform”, with the aim to support the committee and provide it with technical assistance.

The commission held 72 public meetings and produced a comprehensively revised draft for electoral law based on the adoption of a composite system, which is, a mixed system that combines two levels of proportional and majoritarian representation, the first on the basis of six governorates and the second on the basis of twenty-seven districts. The heart of the debate revolved around key reforms such as: official pre-printed ballots; partial proportional representation; holding the election on one day in all of Lebanon; a 30% women’s quota or parliament; establishing an independent electoral commission; lowering the voting age from 21 to 18; campaign nance and media regulation; enabling Lebanese citizens to vote whilst living abroad; and increasing access for people with special needs.

The Commission, by addressing many of the key problems that affect Lebanese elections, has set a clear benchmark for the reforms that are needed for fair and transparent elections in Lebanon. The commission’s final draft law was later submitted to the Parliament by Two members of parliaments who sponsored the final draft.*  Since 2008, three electoral laws have been reviewed, which have adopted some of the key electoral reforms outlined in the draft commission law. Although political agreement could not be reached on all the recommendations of the Commission, the important reforms that were adopted:

  • Holding elections within one day;
  • Forming a commission to supervise electoral campaigns;
  • Integrating proportional election into the system;
  • Campaign nance and media regulation;
  • Adopting out-of-country voting.

These three laws have contributed to establishing principles of electoral justice and improving electoral management in Lebanon. Lebanese election laws have gone through various reviews since the 1960s. Whilst this work is bringing Lebanon’s electoral framework closer in line with international standards, more work is required to adopt a full package of reforms. Whilst there have been, doubtlessly, barriers along the way and various successes in the work of these initiatives, they remain innovative and precedents to learn from. They also embedded the culture of civic mobilisation and opened the space for CSOs and wider civic movements to get involved in shaping political life in Lebanon.

A local participatory environmental initiative

A final innovation is centred on an initiative that addressed a health and environmental crisis at the local level. In contrast to the other cases, this case study offers an example o policy change negotiated at the local level among key actors (formal and informal) on a cross-confessional basis which led to tangible impacts and benets across the country. This was built on a participatory approach and positive engagement with institutions and relevant ministries as well as with the religious leaders who have influence among citizens.

The project was developed by the Association for Environment Protection and Heritage Preservation, a local CSO operating in Nabatiyeh (a city and governorate) in the South of Lebanon, in response to the complaints from the residents of the city. It was initiated by an advocacy campaign on controlling dioxins and furans and reducing the emissions of persistent organic pollutants as part of a project aimed at decreasing the usage of constant organic pollutants and implementing Stockholm Convention.21 Lebanon ratified the Stockholm Convention in 2003 by passing Law 432.

This initiative was launched in 2006 and was supported by the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grant Programme (SGP) in Lebanon, with the overall objective of improving the environment so that it positively impacts the living conditions of Lebanese communities. The project focused on persistent organic pollution produced from burning tyres and medical waste. As a part of the project’s activities, the Association worked to 1) raise awareness o the risks created by pollutants; 2) identify the pollutants’ locations; 3) raise awareness on how pollutants can affect a human being and enter their body; 4) show the materials that can be used as alternatives to pollutants, 5) fight pollution caused by these materials; and to 6) form a special committee and a centre for pollutant detection.

On the issue of open burning of used tyres, the Association started by conducting a study showing that around 2000 Lebanese families (around 500 in Nabatieh) make a living from the business of burning tyres to extract steel wire and sell them. This was a major contributor to dioxin and furans releases in the area. In response, the project was originally designed to develop committees to act as “environmental guards” and expose the people who earn their living from burning tyres haphazardly. At the implementation stage, this policing approach was replaced with further emphasis on awareness and data collection and negotiating with the 500 families a sustainable solution. In collaboration with the municipality, the association built a consensus on the danger of burning tyres and worked to convince families to halt open burning and shift to alternative ways that do not result in as much damage to human health and reduce impacts on the environment as well as the health of surrounding communities.*

The project held awareness building events for people who made a living from burning these pollutants. These people acknowledged how harmful the pollutants are to their health as well as to the community’s health, however, they didn’t have viable alternatives for making a living. The project investigated alternative solutions for them, such as providing a tyre shredding machine, recommended because evidence collected in the study itself shows that the use of such a machine would bring benefits for these families as they could sell the extracted steel wire for a 40% higher price. The project worked with other actors to find a viable way for providing such a machine, as its cost was beyond the project’s scope and budget. They lobbied with businesspeople and other international organisations, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In the end, a businessperson opened up a private tyre shredding business in the North of Lebanon, and the project helped to pay for the transportation of the material from the South to the North. This became a very profitable business for its owner and at the same time heavily contributed to reducing the burning of tyres all across the country. This approach was tied with awareness raising at all levels through workshops, working with religious leaders and using their influence on their followers to lead change and progress in society, including the protection of the environment and communal health. The project worked and held meetings with religious leaders from all communities who participated in awareness raising events and led to issuing of a fatwah to prohibit burning tires for its impact on the environment and people’s health by a prominent religious leader.

In terms of Hospital waste, the project examined the effect of the improper incineration of medical waste at Nabatieh Governmental Hospital which contributed to pollution in the City. In response, the association started a petition objecting to the improper incineration of medical waste at the hospital.* The petition was signed by 200 people from the city’s community and was shared with relevant ministries. The association followed up with ministries and the local council; this resulted in the Minister of Health issuing a decree to all hospitals in Lebanon to use sterilisation practices, rather than medical waste incineration, bringing into implementation the principles stipulated in the Environmental Protection Law No. 444/2002, which is in line with Lebanon’s commitment to the Stockholm Convention.* The project mobilised the community and engaged key actors inside the hospital as well as with NGOs, associations, municipalities and experts.

This initiative is illustrative of a successful example of fostering active civil society participation at the local level in raising awareness about the health and environmental impacts of persistent organic pollutants and risks to the community, by using tact and building alliances to convince various actors with conflicting interests to work collectively. As such, the association adopted an inclusive approach and partnered with the Municipality of Nabatiyeh and other community- based organisations in the region as well as with governmental bodies and religious leaders to change policy and influence community members responsible for environmental damage. The impact of this collective work went beyond benefiting the community and targeted area as it led to a major enhancement on the national policy level, aligning Lebanon with its international commitments.


Lebanon’s democratic innovations provide our key lessons. First, capitalising efforts or inclusive civic engagement in electoral reform is of paramount importance for consolidating Lebanon’s democracy, and any other democracy, especially in countries adopting forms of power sharing and consociational democracy.

Some of the cases outlined in this report have been successful in generating large debates about Lebanon’s electoral frameworks and the gaps within them. They also brought the public, the government and the parliament closer together in the debate on civic engagement and have facilitated ease of communication. These initiatives managed to keep the issue of electoral reform alive and reduced the ambivalence of CSOs and the wider public on this national and complex policy issue. This is critical to strengthen participatory policymaking and advance equality of rights and duties. Although many of the long-awaited reforms have not been adopted yet, the cumulative efforts and persistence from one election to another are building up great momentum towards further sustainable gains.

Second, working to improve participation in policy making and encouraging governance reforms in divided societies is absolutely crucial as it contributes to creating new forms of solidarity and interests that cut across religious, tribal and other identity ties. Additionally, public participation through inclusive and united action is key to resisting political polarisation and ensuring the topic at hand is explored in a context and conflict-sensitive manner. More importantly, this is crucial in post-conflict contexts as it prevents democratic transition in a way that is disconnected from a country’s difficult history. In Lebanon, every collective project contributes to political stability and the formation of its national identity and the consolidation of Lebanese citizenship in contrast to the dominant sectarian identities and confessional allegiances. Civil society can contribute to stability and peace by assisting with dialogue and cooperation in inter-community relations. It is noticeable that initiatives that were established closer to the end of the war period have been more attentive to this conflict- sensitive dimension. It is key for current and future civic engagement initiatives, established decades after the war, to consider this element and to contemplate the learnings from the civic movements in the post-war phase.

Third, the role of civic movements and civil society in articulating the interests and views of citizens is required and more effective when it is facilitated in forums where, in addition to people debating, arguing and advancing different viewpoints, alternatives and solutions are articulated, supported, and advanced. The final case study showed how a constructive approach to discussing alternatives, created trust within the community and led to tangible change and impact.

Finally, the four cases are examples of how to capitalise on the ways CSOs influence policy-making processes by creating alliances and developing constructive relationships between CSOs and decision makers. This, combined with an issue-based approach, represents an effective vehicle for deploying behavioural change techniques to get buy-in from resistant stakeholders. CSOs do this best when they combine together, including different types of CSOs and informal groupings to offer a plurality of routes or citizen participation. These initiatives help create a new type of relationship between the state and civil society, based on national cohesion and equality of rights and duties.

* The association included in its membership and among its volunteers a number of researchers, academics, journalists, lawyers, university students and specialists, in addition to a large number of civil society activists. (6)

* According to Article Eight of LADE’s Internal Procedures, every two years, the entire membership of the administrative body is elected for a term of two years, only renewable for one additional term, provided that a full term passes before a member of the administrative body is entitled to run again (with the exception of the Secretary-General, whose term is two years and is not renewable). The election is conducted by an annual “ordinary” general body using a secret ballot and without specifying the positions and tasks of each of the members.(8)

*Rules of Procedure, amended on December 14, 2019, based on an extraordinary general assembly meeting. (9)

*Baladi, Baldati, Baladiyyati (12)

*MP Ghassan Tueni and MP Ghassan Mukheiber submitted the draft law on May 5, 2008.(20)

*Dioxins and furans are common names for toxic chemicals that are found in very small amounts in the environment, including air, water and soil. They are mostly by-products of burning or various industrial processes. The Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods, become widely distributed geographically, accumulate in the fatty tissue of human and wildlife and have harmful impacts in human health or on the environment. The convention entered into force in 2004.(21)

*Interview with Mr. Adnan Melki, National Coordinator of the GEF Small Grants Programme (GSP), UNDP (23)

*Interview with Mr. Adnan Melki, National Coordinator of the GEF Small Grants Programme (GSP), UNDP (24)

*Especially its environmental principles (precaution, protection and preservation of biodiversity; avoidance of the depletion of natural resources; pollution control;and environmental impact assessment), economic principles (the polluter pays principle and adoption of economic incentives), social principles (the importance of customary norms in the rural milieu in the absence of statutes), and governance principles (cooperation and partnership), with a view to protecting the environment and thus preserving public health. (25)


This article is part of the “Exploring Worldwide Democratic Innovations” project which was supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.