Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon provide an opportunity, however small, to change the corruption, negligence and stagnation that has crashed the country’s economyensured relative impunity for the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020, and allowed the extremist group Hezbollah to take a larger share of seats in the legislature.
Sunday’s turnout in Lebanon could exceed 60 percent, up 10 percent from numbers in the 2018 parliamentary elections. That, coupled with high turnout from the Lebanese diaspora in places like Dubai and Paris, could mean opposition groups could win as many as 10 seats in the 128-seat parliament, according to Osama Gharizi, senior program adviser to the Middle East and North. Africa Center of the American Institute of Peace. “A sharp increase in the number of voters here on Sunday would likely drive a large swath of new factions into parliament for the first time,” Gharizi, who is based in Beirut, told cafemadrid via email. “The acute economic and governance crises that have plagued the country since 2019 should lead to a higher turnout than in 2018, which stood at almost 50 percent.”
Those crises include rampant inflation and high poverty — according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asiamore than 80 percent of the country’s population 6.8 million now live in some form of poverty as measured by twenty different indicators, such as access to sanitation, health insurance and school attendance, as well as financial indicators such as income and wealth. Lebanon’s financial devolution has been years in the making. Dizzying debts resulting from financial mismanagement under central bank governor Riad Salameh, as well as the withdrawal of Saudi aid due to the increasing influence of Hezbollah and Iran, and political unwillingness to implement reforms in return for foreign aid, all contributed to the implosion of the economy†
Fed up with the government’s response to the economic crisis it had caused, Lebanese protested on October 17, 2019; a proposed tax on the messaging service WhatsApp was the last straw. They demanded the entire government resignschanting “all means all”, occupy many of the iconic but still bullet-clad buildings in downtown Beirut, demanding an end to the sectarian divisions that pit the population against each other, while enriching political elites and giving them stay in power.
However, the rise of the Covid-19 virus dampened the momentum of the protests until August 2020 Beirut harbor explosionin which at least 218 were killed, more than 7,000 injured, and hundreds of thousands displaced† Independent studies, and many Lebanese, claim that: political negligence is responsible for the explosion; government officials failed to properly store the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that exploded after a fire broke out at the warehouse where it was stored. In the aftermath, neighbors fed each other, delivered medicine and organized home repairs. The government was nowhere to be found because officials had resigned en masse. Almost two years later there is still no justice for the citizens of Beirut, as politicians stopped two consecutive studies.
Lebanon’s government structure does not make political change easy
Lebanon’s parliament has a four-year term of office and its structure is divided along sectarian lines, between Muslim and Christian seats; Although there is religious diversity in Lebanon, minority religious groups such as the Druze must fit into the Muslim or Christian constituency and be given seats commensurate with their population. Executive offices are always filled by one of the three main religious constituencies: the prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim, the speaker of parliament is a Shia, and the president is always a Maronite Christian. The religious confessional system, which has existed in one form or another during the course of Lebanon’s modern history, was enshrined in law under the 1989 Taif Accordssetting out the conditions for the end of the 15-year civil war.
The division of political office along sectarian lines was ostensibly intended to preserve peace between religious groups after the brutal civil war, but it has also perpetuated corruption. political dynasties and enabled impunity for kleptocratic players who allegedly assets of fragile countries as their own personal treasury† The Taif chords also give broad power to the presidentallowing them to fire the prime minister and cabinet and dissolve parliament, creating the conditions for abuse of power and nepotism that have long plagued Lebanese politics.
As Gharizi told cafemadrid, Lebanon’s “election system is skewed” [in] in favor of the traditional government parties. This shouldn’t be too surprising considering they’re the ones who came up with it in 2017. It is based on proportional representation (PR) and was first used in the 2018 elections.” While some civil society groups have supported the change because it would allow candidates from non-traditional groups to run for office, he said, “the traditional ruling parties have introduced details into the electoral system that essentially nullify the benefits.” including a preferential vote for an individual within a coalition, which Gharizi says helps “secure the election of traditional leaders”.
In addition, the constituencies “correspond to the constituencies of traditional ruling parties” — in theory parallel to gerrymandering in the US — and Lebanese electoral tradition dictates that people vote in their ancestral villages, which, Gharizi said, “the emergence of a strong concentration of opposition constituencies.”
Because Lebanon’s economic problems are so deeply intertwined with the widely recognized corruption of the political elites, the status quo cannot change until the political institutions do. That kind of change seemed to be fueling when Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician, former prime minister and scion of Hariri’s political dynasty, announced that he resigned from politics last January and urged his supporters to boycott the election. The younger Hariri, who took office after the assassination of his father Rafik in 2005 while he was Prime Minister, is perhaps best known internationally for his giving millions of dollars to a young South African model between his prime ministerial terms. Hariri, who resigned as prime minister during the 2019 protests, was subsequently appointed in a temporary capacity by President Michel Aoun in October 2020; nine months later he resigned again, unable to form a new government.
While Hariri’s withdrawal from politics carried the risk of further stagnation and disorder, it was also a kind of admission that Lebanese society had suffered under his leadership and the leadership of his political class – and Hariri and his ilk did nothing to stop it. .
Can Sunday’s mood accomplish anything?
No election will bring about the profound change Lebanon needs and has been demanding for years by the Lebanese people. While Gharizi acknowledged the anger and frustration most Lebanese feel, he also told cafemadrid that “the clientelist and patronage networks of traditional ruling parties run deep, meaning that many still trust and have become increasingly dependent on, given the current economic crisis, the generosity of the parties for basic needs† That reliance “ensures that traditional ruling parties can more easily mobilize their supporters to the polls than emerging opposition newcomers, guaranteeing some level of control and influence in the next parliament and government,” he said.
That means that although Hariri’s Future Movement party did not propose candidates, other traditional political stakeholders did, including the Shia Hezbollah movement, which had 71 parliamentary seats in the elections and whose supporters allegedly threatened election observers of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections. But other traditional parties have also resorted to unsavory methods to secure victory, Gharizi said.
“Traditional ruling parties have reverted to tried-and-true campaign strategies anchored in fear, sectarian rhetoric and clientelism to mobilize voters,” he said. “Opposition groups are portrayed by ruling parties as being supported and financed by traditional rivals or by international actors, or as too weak to protect the community from the ‘other’.”
Ultimately, any change for Lebanon will come from independent leaders, apart from the leadership that has held the country in a stranglehold for decades. But the opposition movement is new, unused for political organization and developing platforms and strategies, while traditional parties relied on their divisive sectarian messages, Gharizi said. But the fact that even a significant number of independent candidates took part in these elections “is in itself an important milestone in Lebanon’s political development and continues the gradual, protracted process of overhauling Lebanon’s anachronistic political system, which began with the October 2019 events,” said Gharizi.
While the emerging political actors have finally had a chance to campaign, a recent Oxfam report quotes: the “inability to present a unified, strong political discourse that makes them a serious alternative to today’s ruling elites” as a major setback for those groups. In the absence of strong political platforms and meaningful coalitions — not to mention funding to support campaigns — the report warns, discontent with the ruling class is simply not enough to get independent candidates elected, let alone to destroy the entire corrupt government. and dismantling the divisive system.
Ultimately, the outcome of this pivotal election will depend on voter turnout, Gharizi told cafemadrid. But according to Sami Atallah, the founder and head of research at the Beirut-based think tank The Policy Initiative, as of 6:30 p.m. local time, turnout was low — just 37.5 percent. “While Sunnis were expected to boycott, surprisingly, Shias and Christians also had lower turnout. High degree of voter apathy,” he tweeted on Sunday.
As of 6.30pm, the turnout of 37.5% is low compared to the 2018 election of 49%. While Sunnis were expected to boycott, surprisingly, Shias and Christians also had lower turnout. High degree of voter apathy #LebaneseElections2022
— sami atallah (@samiatallah1) May 15, 2022
Preliminary results should be available as soon as Monday.