The incumbent Lebanese government announced the preponement of parliamentary elections (for a total of 128 seats) set to be held in March 2022, six weeks ahead of schedule. This is an important political progression in the stagnant country falling further into a deep economic recession and never-ending local and international political deadlocks.
While this has sparked some hope, the cynicism seems to outweigh it heavily. Prime Minister Najib Mikati said upon supporting the motion, “God willing, the elections would be transparent and sound.”
However, this move did come with opposition in the form of an argument that puts the absurdity of this government in context. Member of Parliament (MP) Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, unironically cited that stormy weather was predicted around the new election slot and expressed concern that it would affect voting. He also noted that the day overlapped with Lent and that Christians would be fasting.
The Lebanese are quite literally at wits end after facing massive currency devaluation that has left approximately 75 percent of households under the poverty line, an explosion caused by government negligence that ruptured through the capital city last August, and a popular revolution quashed by police brutality and a pandemic.
Currently, the country is facing its third exodus since October 2019 (popular revolution) causing what some call a perpetual ‘brain drain,’ and at least 300,000 departures. And so the few left in the country are left to choose from the same apathetic political gang that drove — and continue to drive — the country into the ground.
While many are loyalists, the current conditions have essentially pushed everyone out of favour. This is viewed by many as a last play at power and international legitimacy from the part of the incumbent rulers. It is this cynicism that may spin the vote towards a new independent government.
Today, the Lebanese political spectrum generally consists of recurring and reinvented political parties and their associated figureheads since the civil war in 1975, all of whom time again have proved their own corruption in some way or another.
Many of them, war criminals, have essentially pardoned themselves for atrocious crimes they committed throughout the civil war through general amnesty. They also created the current voting system, which imposes restrictions on the citizens to vote for parliament members within their sect. Segmenting the population into an electoral system that still centers religious affiliation fundamentally curtails democratic freedoms.
Simply put, voting for a MP goes as follows: citizens are allocated a voting district according to their place of residency. The number of candidates permitted to run per district depends on the religious demographic of the district. For example, if it is split as 50 percent Sunni Muslim, 30 percent Shia Muslim, and 20 percent Christian, the candidates will be from the same sects. In some cases if the demographic is too low, the religion will not be represented at all.
This is then, theoretically, replicated with the national demographic in parliament. The current status quo is actually a recent ‘improvement’ with a 2017 bill calling for this ‘proportional’ representation model, as opposed to the previous multi non-transferable vote system.
While this was a step in the right direction, the current structure still conforms to and plays on sectarian divides. Furthermore, the candidates that are on the bill are generally a part of the problem and have a clear affiliation to a religio-political party. Only a few independent candidates come forward and where they may have a chance to win and forge new power, with no clear in-hand future alternative they won’t really stand much chance.
Many in the international community have ‘turned their backs’ on Lebanon in recent years with a general opinion that the country and constituents have driven themselves into this position. Agencies tasked with alleviating poverty such as the UN and the IMF have refused to work with the Lebanese government for a protracted period of time.
They have made attempts at providing direct relief by providing cash directly to households but this in no way represents their intervention in different contexts. The French did also raise nearly $400 million in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion, but many assume that they did so to prevent an influx of Lebanese citizens and residents into France — similar to general EU externalisation policies.
This just further reinforces the idea that the announcement comes only as a last attempt to appease local and international pressure. Some would even go as far as to accuse this of being a distraction from the on-going legal investigation into the Beirut explosion, one implicating members and by association political parties in their entirety.
While something shocking may happen, and public opinion has turned so dramatically that loyalists vote away from their parties, those who gain space in government must have a clear map forward. It would require organisation, unity and ingenuity to turn the situation around without adhering to the corrupt power structures.
The need for change, but more so for capital, may put so much pressure on citizens they may just once again vote for the evil that they do know rather than a notion of change.