Lebanon is a parliamentary republic with a centralized, multireligious, and multiparty government. Because political power and the government bureaucracy are organized according to religious groups, a policy known as confessionalism, Lebanon's government has been described as a confessional democracy. The 1926 constitution, amended by France in 1927, 1929, and 1943, was complemented by the National Pact of 1943, when Christians were a majority. The National Pact, an unwritten covenant, provided for a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shia Muslim speaker of parliament. It also provided that the ratio of seats in parliament would be six Christian seats for every five Muslim seats, and other government posts would be allotted on similar sectarian criteria. When Muslims later became the majority, they sought greater power, but Christians refused to make significant changes. The first violent conflict occurred in a limited 1958 rebellion, and tensions later erupted into the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990.
The 1989 National Reconciliation Charter (commonly known as the Ta'if Agreement) brought an end to most of the fighting and required amendments to the Lebanese constitution, which were passed in 1990. The constitutional amendments preserved certain confessional allotments but gave Muslims increased power, for example, by dividing parliament's seats equally between Christians and Muslims. The new constitution also made the Shia speaker a member of a troika (executive threesome) with the Maronite president and Sunni prime minister.
Voting lists (a form of political grouping in which a slate of candidates runs for office) are organized mainly along confessional lines, and each list is usually headed by a traditional zaim (semifeudal leader). Women aged 21 and older may vote if they have an elementary education, and all men at least aged 21 may vote. The Lebanese government was unable to function in most respects during the civil war. Since the war, it has lacked real sovereignty because of several conflicting forces: Israel and Syria have used Lebanon as a buffer state and battleground; stateless Palestinians are active in Lebanon; Hezbollah guerrillas, who advocate creation of an Islamic state, operate in the south; and Syria maintains a decisive influence in Lebanese affairs, thanks to the tens of thousands of troops it keeps in the country.