NewsWorldLegislative elections in Lebanon: a key vote for a...

Legislative elections in Lebanon: a key vote for a country hit by the crisis

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The Lebanese are called to go to the polls this Sunday to choose their parliamentarians. As the country faces the most serious crisis in its history, many are calling for a renewal of the political class. But the denominational system, the divisions of the opposition and clientelism could shower this hope for change. On May 15, the first legislative elections will be held in Lebanon since the start of the economic crisis and the devastating explosions at the port of Beirut in August 2020. A disaster often blamed on endemic corruption and mismanagement by the country’s political elites. More than ever, this electoral deadline offers the Lebanese the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with regard to an increasingly contested political class. The Lebanese Parliament, which has 128 seats, is currently dominated by the powerful Hezbollah party, supported by Iran and its allies, winner of the majority in the 2018 elections, despite an extraordinary mobilization of members of civil society, which had gave birth to the Kulluna Watani coalition. The enthusiasm around the Kulluna Watani list was not translated into the ballot box: only one seat was snatched from the traditional parties. The latter had obtained the parliamentary majority, benefiting from the game of alliances and a carefully drafted new electoral law. Will the 2022 vote be the expected opportunity to turn the cards around? This is the first major electoral test since the protest movement that emerged in October 2019. These protests, mainly led by young people angry at the political class, were fueled a year later by the dramatic explosion at the port of Beirut – young activists had then deployed an extraordinary relief effort to compensate for the absence of state services. The “revolution” fails to unite The combination of these crises has prompted known activists and many activists to jump into the political fray to try to solve the country’s problems. But the transformation of this movement into a political entity quickly came up against the Lebanese political system, strewn with bureaucratic pitfalls, ideological dilemmas and organizational challenges. First, the electoral law has made it difficult to form coalitions favorable to existing political interests, with power shared between religious communities in a denominational system that has become archaic. The thorny issue of Hezbollah’s weapons is another challenge that this new opposition has failed to address: while most oppose the Shiite paramilitary party’s arsenal, divisions have emerged over whether to s whether or not to ally with established anti-Hezbollah parties in Lebanon, as many are led by descendants of politicians or former warlords. Ultimately, these dozens of opposition groups – known as “thawra” or “revolution” – failed to form a united political front ahead of the election. “There were multiple attempts to find common ground, but the sheer number of groups and their differing priorities complicated the process,” said Nicholas Blanford of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. “Although they agree on the goal of ending the ossified political system and its leadership, the thawra is often divided on how to achieve this goal and what profile this alternative system should have. Thus, the number of independent candidates has more than doubled since the 2018 vote, to 284 of the 718 candidates in the 2022 race – up from 124 four years ago, according to the Beirut-based think-thank Policy Initiative. If several opposition lists clash in the same districts, the researcher Karim Emile Bitar is delighted to see these lists present everywhere, “which could allow small breakthroughs here and there”. “I expect a more fragmented parliament where the opposition can come together and be a driver of change and reform,” said Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs. Will the loss of Saad Hariri be a gain for Hezbollah? But the biggest upheaval of the 2022 election is undoubtedly the absence of Saad Hariri: in January, the former Prime Minister announced in a sensational way that neither he nor his party – the Current of the Future – would run in the elections. Many observers believe that the sudden withdrawal of the most influential Sunni leader from the Lebanese political scene was forced by Saudi Arabia: the latter cut ties with Saad Hariri, judging him too complacent with Hezbollah, whose hold has been strengthened over Lebanon. But Riyadh’s tough stance on a country it has so often supported, financially and politically, risks benefiting its Shia sworn enemy, Hezbollah. With the withdrawal of Saad Hariri, many Lebanese Sunnis feel disenfranchised and their turnout is expected to decline. Nearly 30% of people who voted in Sunni stronghold districts in 2018 said they would not vote, pollster Kamal Feghali warned in an interview with Reuters. Soaring fuel prices, which make every trip a luxury, could dissuade many Lebanese from going to vote. According to a report published in April by the NGO Oxfam, only 54% of the 4,670 people polled said they wanted to vote. According to the World Bank, Lebanon is experiencing one of the worst economic crises in the world since the mid-19th century. Under the weight of inflation, the Lebanese currency lost more than 90% of its value and nearly 80% of the population fell into poverty. A massive exodus fueled by resentment This situation has prompted many Lebanese to flee their country. According to the American University of Beirut’s Crisis Observatory, the current economic crisis has led to the departure of 300,000 people in just two years, making it the third mass exodus in Lebanon’s history. The country already has one of the most significant diasporas in the world. In the absence of official figures, many estimates indicate that more Lebanese live abroad than inside this small state which has some 6.5 million inhabitants, including refugees who have fled the conflict in neighboring Syria. According to most experts, this exodus would have been even more pronounced if the Covid-19 pandemic had not complicated the search for work abroad. The freezing of the bank accounts of ordinary citizens, intended to avoid a run on the banks, prevented from leaving those who simply no longer had the means. This massive emigration, which also fuels distrust of the Lebanese political elites, could have consequences at the ballot box. “Those who leave feel like they’re basically being kicked out by the ruling establishment, that they have no choice but to leave because of the dire economic situation and the degree of corruption without They have the feeling of fleeing a kleptocracy in power”, explains Karim Emile Bitar, director of the Institute of Political Sciences at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut. This is undoubtedly an explanation of the massive participation of these Lebanese from abroad, Sunday, May 8 in Paris, as noted in the polling stations our special correspondent Leela Jacinto. Based on provisional data, the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that the participation rate of the Lebanese diaspora stood at 60%, slightly higher than in 2018. This article was adapted from English. Find the original text here.

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