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Lebanon’s May 15 Legislative Elections: More of the Same Stagnation?

 
Filed under: Lebanon

Lebanon’s May 15 Legislative Elections: More of the Same Stagnation?

Assuming nothing will stop the legislative elections in Lebanon,1046 candidates will be competing for the 128 seats of the Lebanese parliament for the next four years. (Some candidates may still be disqualified or decide to withdraw their candidacy.) The elections will be held on two dates: May 6-8 for the almost 250,000 Lebanese living abroad and registered as voters (out of nearly 14 million Lebanese in the diaspora) and May 15 for the general elections in Lebanon.

These elections are crucial since they will probably determine Lebanon’s identity in the coming years. The struggle is between two main ideological blocs: the one aiming to transform Lebanon into another province of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the other bloc fighting for Lebanon’s Arab identity and independence.

Never has an electoral campaign witnessed so much violence as the present one. Thugs sent mainly by Hizbullah and Amal have physically attacked potential candidates who threatened their hegemony in south Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. In Sarafand, in south Lebanon, the Lebanese army intervened to protect candidates who suffered beating by Hizbullah brutes. In contrast, candidates on rival lists in the Bekaa decided to withdraw their candidacy, fearing for their physical survival.

As in every electoral campaign in the past and especially with the background of a disastrous economic situation, major players have intensified vote-buying by distributing essential products too expensive for almost 50% of the Lebanese – mainly fuel, food, and daily basic needs. The payoffs to voters are so significant that the outcome of the vote may not be fair or democratic in any sense and biased to the extreme.

Screenshot
(Screenshot/Ministry of Information, Republic of Lebanon)

This situation brought retired judge Nadim Abd el Malek, who heads the electoral commission of the Lebanese parliament, to state that the coming elections will witness severe violations which could jeopardize all of the results of the elections.

Even though all eyes are on the party lists emanating from the October 2019 “Lebanese Spring” such as Khat Ahmar (Red Line) or Li Hakki (My Right), most of the traditional Lebanese politicians, heads of political factions, and tribal heads represent the “more it changes the more it is the same” tragedy of Lebanese confessional and sectarian politics. Only 88 candidates out of 1043 (8.4%) are between the ages of 25 and 35, and only 157 women (15%) have presented their candidacy, a fact that proves that nothing has changed in Lebanon since the October protests that hoped to generate change in the political system and adopt revolutionary reforms in the economy and body politic.

Observers will focus in these elections on three issues:

Since the former Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri has withdrawn his list, the Future Movement, from participating in the elections, the question that arises is what sort of Sunni representation will emerge? A divided Sunni vote will complicate the next Sunni prime minister’s task of forming a coalition and a government, a fact indicating that these elections will lead to a paralysis of the political system in Lebanon.

The second issue is the Christian camp. The division in the Christian camp has been a tradition in Lebanon and especially among the Maronite community. In the previous parliament, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), headed by the president’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, had the majority of the Christian vote and used it to form a majority coalition with its strategic ally, Hizbullah. Now the tide has changed, and it seems that because of a chain of scandals and corruption cases, the FPM will suffer losses in its representation from its direct competitor, the “Lebanese Forces” headed by Samir Geagea. In such a case, and even if the Maronites of north Lebanon represented by Suleiman Tony Frangieh’s Marada party join as in the past with Hizbullah, the chances to form a majority in parliament are likely to be very slim.

The third issue concerns Hizbullah and Amal (the Shiite tandem): The Shiite tandem will maintain its electoral representation and even augment it in some areas because of their vote-buying and intimidation of potential rivals. However, due to the two previous issues, Hizbullah and Amal will face difficulties in forming a new government and imposing their policy on the whole of Lebanon despite preserving their ability to block any major decision in parliament, including the formation of a government.

Who Will the Parliament Choose as President?

Bear in mind that the Lebanese parliament chooses the next Lebanese president (the current President, Michel Aoun, ends his term on October 22, 2022). Therefore, it is highly likely that the Lebanese political system will enter into a deadlock, as in the past, with no ability to choose the next president who serves as the head of the executive in Lebanon.

At present, there are four potential candidates (all Maronites, in accordance with the constitution) for the presidency:

  • Gebran Bassil, President Aoun’s son-in-law, head of the FPM, who is on the U.S. sanctions list. He is probably not eligible.

  • Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, is not eligible because of his identification as an “Israeli agent.”

  • Suleiman Tony Frangieh, head of the Marada, a tiny party known for its tendency to change alliances, once with Syria and once with Shiite tandem. Frangieh, close to Syria President Bashar Assad, is deemed ineligible by both the rival Christian and Sunni camps.

    Frangieh and President Assad
    Frangieh and President Assad (Syria News Agency, SANA)
  • A compromise candidate, such as an army general (see below).

In that scenario, the possibilities are reduced to three options:

  • Opting for a candidate of compromise. In that case, the name now considered is General Joseph Aoun, the pro-American head of the army. This option is in line with former Lebanese presidents who were generals. Aoun is not related to the current president.

    Gen. Joseph Aoun
    Gen. Joseph Aoun, commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army
  • Voting for a postponement in parliament for deciding the new president. This was done twice in the past because of the political dead-end. Considering Michel Aoun’s record, this would mean continued stagnation in the Lebanese body politic. However, with a newly elected divided parliament, such an option may be unattainable.

  • Leaving the presidency vacant. In that case, the caretaker would be the Sunni incumbent prime minister. Lebanon has experienced such a scenario in the past, and this might become the preferred option for the coming future.

In conclusion, the present legislative elections will lead to almost complete paralysis of the Lebanese body politic, adding to the national chaos because of the dire and exceptional economic situation. Such a stagnation would point to the disintegration of Lebanon as a state, from a failed state as is the case today to a theoretically non-existent one in the future.