Lebanon headed for crucial make or break parliamentary elections on May 15

Many opposition groups that took to the streets in October 2019 demanding systemic political changes have formed joint lists seeking the popular mandate

April 29, 2022 by Abdul Rahman
Lebanon elections
(Photo: www.the961.com)

Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections are crucial for the future of the country. These will be the first elections since the anti-government protests broke out in October 2019 and the Beirut port blast in August 2020. Large sections of the population hope that the new parliament will bring political change and stability to Lebanon. However, there are enough indications that the vote on May 15 may not bring the desired changes but bring back established political parties to power.      

The elections are also crucial due to the hope that they will bring a stable government which can devote most of its time to deal with the current economic crisis and provide relief to the seven million people living in Lebanon. 

Major issues 

According to the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA), the poverty rate in Lebanon is currently 78%. The fact that Lebanon was once a middle income country shows that the severe economic mismanagement by successive governments is a major factor in this downfall. The economic mismanagement and political patronage, both external and internal, to those supposedly responsible for this crisis remains the single most important issue in the May 15 elections.  

Lack of essential commodities, banking restrictions, soaring inflation, lack of employment opportunities and inefficiency of governments are related issues on which both the ruling and opposition parties are focusing during their campaigns. 

People have also voiced concern about the failure of the ruling elite to provide justice to the thousands of victims of the Beirut port blast in August 2020. Both the opposition as well as the ruling parties have raised this issue in their election campaigns, albeit from different perspectives. For example, while Hezbollah has raised the issue of lack of free inquiry, opponents have accused the governing parties of sheltering those responsible.  

The groups that are fighting the elections from “change platforms” like Together for Change and Beirut Tuqawem (Beirut Resists) are campaigning for the abolition of the sectarian quota system, the so-called confessional system introduced post the civil war in 1990. This has been one of the major demands in the popular protests which broke out in October 2019. 

Major players 

Three-time prime minister Saad Hariri is not contesting the elections. He announced that his Future Movement party will also not contest. Hariri claimed that there is no hope that he or his party can do anything to undo the economic and political problems the country is facing. As if echoing the protesters, he blamed “Iranian influence” and the sectarian divide for this hopelessness.

His party was considered the main Sunni group in the parliament, and it not contesting the elections would have left a vacuum. However, Bahaa Hariri, Saad’s billionaire elder brother who is living abroad and considered close to Saudi Arabia, recently announced that his Sawa Li Lubnan (together for Lebanon) party will contest the elections. 

Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea is the main opposition party with a strong base among Christians in the country. However, it has to compete with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) led by Gebran Bassil for the same constituency votes. 

In the current parliament, FPM and Shia groups Amal and Hezbollah are together. They, along with their smaller allies, have a majority of the seats and are expected to retain or even increase their numbers in the upcoming elections.

Advantage for established political formations 

Despite growing discontent against the ruling elite as seen in the protests, the silent majority still seems to favor the established political parties. The sectarian loyalties and rural-urban divide in Lebanon explains the dominance of traditional parties. Other factors also make the “change platform” less likely to win in a major way in the upcoming elections. 

The “change camp” is also overcrowded, divided on various issues, and lacks recognizable leaders. There are over 1,044 candidates contesting on 103 different lists for the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. The traditional parties are divided into a couple dozen lists, while the rest are challengers, most of them with no established popular base and lacking resources like media coverage and community backing.   

Their strategic adoption of the spirit of the protest movement has created an additional advantage for the traditional political parties. Reiterating their “helplessness” as Hariri did during the announcement of his suspension from politics, they have also expressed support for the need for change in an attempt to neutralize the popular anger. Meanwhile, FPM leader Gebran Bassil told al-Mayadeen in an interview recently, “we are part of a political status quo that we reject, but we do not have the majority for us to implement our plans”.