A Much Awaited Election In Lebanon

Photo Source: Al Jazeera

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Lebanon held its first election in nine years.  Apart from native voters, Lebanese expats living in six Arab states cast their votes in this important election, which has eventually paved a way for a democracy.

The Western-backed Saad Hariri is all set to become the prime minister yet again, although he has been weakened in numbers. Many commentators blame this on the waning support from Saudi Arabia and his decreasing wealth.

His Future Movement (FM), has largely a Sunni voter base. It was the biggest bloc during the 2005 and 2009 election. But there have been accusations of voter fraud. The electoral commission recorded around 7,000 violations on the voting day. Although, there had been a wider participation of women in this election and a broad civil society consensus, who challenged the traditional elites.

Having said that, the political space in Lebanon is diverse and vibrant. Aounists, a Maronite party, also known as Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), have an alliance with the Hezbollah. A Druze dominated Progressive Socialist Party had been in the news lately when they shifted their loyalties from the Assad regime to the Syrian opposition. Tashnag, also known as Armenian Revolutionary Federation, claims to champion the cause of the Armenian Lebanese community. Lastly, the Amal Movement works for the cause of repressed and marginalised Shiite communities living in the remote areas and to resist the Zionist aggression of Israel.

Christian democracy also has its own space in the country. The Kataeb party, Marada Movement, National Liberal Party and the Lebanese Front, consisting of Arabist Christian militias, backed by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, are considered to be significant proponents of Maronite-Lebanese nationalism.

In history, much of the Lebanese political machinery has been instituted out of the Taif Agreement in 1989. After the infamous assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, a kind of grassroots movement had emerged in the country. It was called the 'Cedar Revolution' because the people demanded an end to the military rule that existed in the country for around 29 years.

According to the writer, Zeina al Helou: “the emergence of underground university associations of the youth inside and outside the mainstream political parties, was the main reason that instigated the 2005 Cedar Revolution. They call themselves ‘Beirut Madinati’ (Arabic: Beirut is my city) and aligned themselves with largely anarchist ideas and service-based community networking. With the result, they secured thousands of votes in the municipal election held in 2016, although never tasted an electoral success. Although, it signified the power of outsider status and messaging outside the mainstream political spheres.”

It was actually the 2015 Rubbish Crises that channelled the voice of youth with slogans such as ‘YouStink!’ and ‘We Want Accountability’. This form of activism made worldwide headlines because of the inefficiency of the government.

After the closure of landfill site in Naameh, Beirut’s main landfill site, there were massive protests. But the authorities had closed the landfill site because it outran its capacity. The government then opened two new landfills, but it didn’t help the city dwellers, as waste had been scattered around in every city corner. During 2016 and 2017, some of the waste made its way into Lebanon’s rivers and beaches. This prevailing problem will remain in the core agenda of the government.

The demand for electricity usage has also skyrocketed, as much of the related infrastructure was destroyed during the civil war (between 1975 to 1990) and due to several attacks by Israel. For this reason, residents are forced to use power generators, run by several private companies, who are alleged to run 'a mafia of sorts'.

In Beirut, political belief on neighbouring Syria, which is still a grave war zone, carries much importance. The differing belief has actually divided the loyalties into pro-Syrian camp, mainly consisting of Iran backed Hezbollah, and the anti-Syrian camp, that consists of Saudi-backed Hariri loyalists.

The refugee problem is pouring frustrations from the common Lebanese people, as they blame the bad infrastructure and economic woes due to their arrival from war-torn Syrian and Palestinian territories.

The 2018 election was conducted under a newly introduced electoral law, which gave proportional representation and reduced the voting districts. The election also saw an induction of ‘sawt tafdili’. It is a process in which each voter will cast two votes: one for their favourite candidate and one for a list of candidates.

Several commentators have expressed shock and bewilderment on this new law. They accuse the lawmakers of introducing more complexity in the voting process.

Currently, Lebanon faces several challenges in its economy. The economy seems to be in tatters. It is one of most heavily indebted countries in the world, with public debt at 150 percent of the total GDP.  It is for this reason, Saad Hariri travelled to Paris for an investment summit where he pledged around $16 billion in loans and grants, aiming to channel them into crucial economic sectors of the country.

The opposition, Hezbollah, sitting in the opposition, criticised this move and wanted Hariri to discuss this issue in the parliament, as public debt had reached highly alarming levels. Nevertheless, this time around, the Hezbollah have improved after winning a considerable amount of seats. It means that Saad Hariri and his ministers will have to deal with a stronger opposition this time around, especially when Hezbollah enjoys support from the Christian dominated political parties. It might give a reason for new regional tensions and will also keep Israel on its feet.

In the past, during the Rome II Conference, Lebanon received millions of dollars as pledge. In an upcoming meeting in Brussels, the issue of one million Syrian refugees will be discussed. Ever since the war in Syria has escalated, the budget deficit has increased, despite assurances of stability.

At that point in time, it seemed that Lebanon was in need of heavy foreign investments. As the economy is crippling, the investment requirement continues till date to boost the infrastructure and quality of life.

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