Elections in Lebanon, does political change have a chance? | Election News

Beirut, Lebanon – As Lebanon’s election frenzy cools, the country has woken up to a new chapter in its dizzying political history.

After Sunday’s election result, there were shifts in the balance of power in the country’s 128-seat parliament and its fragile sectarian power-sharing system.

Legislators who for many decades have been constant variables in Lebanon’s political equation have been removed from their posts. Unknown faces, inspired by the country’s uprising in 2019, have been elected and could now breathe new life into an often comatose political system.

But some of the electoral euphoria is already overshadowed by problems that continue to plague Lebanon for a third year, particularly the economy.

The Lebanese pound, whose value has already been decimated and down 90% against the US dollar, has fallen further. Foreign exchange reserves at the Banque du Liban or the central bank are dwindling and gasoline and food prices continue to soar amid fears of fuel and wheat shortages.

Experts have told Al Jazeera that while Lebanon’s election result marks a critical moment in the country’s troubled history, what lies ahead could determine whether Lebanon has a chance of viability.

The allies let down Hezbollah

The powerful Iran-backed Shia party, Hezbollah, lost none of its seats, but the political allies who helped it maintain a parliamentary majority have suffered heavy blows, both from the parties traditional political rivals and a new anti-establishment opposition.

Notably, a Greek Orthodox seat and a Druze seat in key areas of influence in southern Lebanon went to anti-establishment opposition candidates: a doctor Elias Jradeh and a lawyer Firas Hamdan.

Hezbollah’s main Christian political ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, is no longer the largest Christian party.

However, neither Hezbollah nor the Free Patriotic Movement conceded defeat, and both declared the elections a victory.

While political alliances in Lebanon can be fluid, experts say the vote was a blow to the once-dominant Christian party.

“I think the Aounists [Free Patriotic Movement] will have to admit that they have objectively lost – even if they try to move on,” Arab Reform Initiative executive director Nadim Houry told Al Jazeera.

Hezbollah’s broad alliances were “weak and fragile”, and elections were a way to demonstrate its loyalty, said Carnegie Middle East researcher Mohanad Hage Ali.

The election results could also indicate shifts in public opinion among Shia voters, the researcher said, explaining that “alternative Shia votes” could have opted for candidates outside the Hezbollah political alliance.

“[Hezbollah] did not want to vote outside of his own political choice, and they did everything to intimidate voters, candidates and their representatives in their constituencies,” Hage Ali told Al Jazeera, citing numerous statements by Lebanese election observers on the Shia party.

Political paralysis?

As the economy continues to boom, the new parliament does not have much time to meet and start the process of appointing a new prime minister and forming a new government. But without a parliamentary majority that traditional factions can use to jointly assume power, experts believe a political stalemate is possible.

“It’s a scenario with potentially those in the middle [opposition] trying to mediate but not enough to impose an agenda,” Houry of the Arab Reform Initiative told Al Jazeera.

The Lebanese Prime Minister is a Sunni and the government is divided between the multitude of religious sects and the country’s various political forces in parliament. This fragile power-sharing system can quickly lead to paralysis.

“Lebanon is a very difficult country to govern, and it has a very divided parliament,” Houry said.

With Hezbollah’s rivals, the pro-Saudi and pro-American Christian Lebanese Forces, winning new seats and potentially forming an anti-Hezbollah alliance with other candidates, the two could be neck and neck in negotiations to form a new government. It comes less than a year after supporters of both parties clashed in Beirut, killing six people in scenes that resembled the country’s civil war.

And after almost a year of exchanges of blows in the media and on the streets, the two parties will now clash on the political scene.

Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party react as votes are counted during the Lebanese legislative elections, in Achrafieh district in Beirut, Lebanon, May 15, 2022.
Supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party react as votes are counted during the Lebanese legislative elections, in Achrafieh district of Beirut, Lebanon [Mohamed Azakir/Reuters]

Hezbollah has previously insisted on a “government of national unity” that includes representatives of all political interests in the country, while the Galvanized Christian Lebanese Forces want a government with minimal influence from their political opponents.

Lebanon is no stranger to political paralysis.

It took 13 months of negotiations for politicians to form the current government led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

Further political gridlock will also come at a high price, especially with the economy failing and a caretaker government unable to introduce new laws or do anything beyond the essentials. .

Houry says that if there is no compromise on both sides, we can expect a “complete blockage” of the political system.

“Hezbollah, I think, will have to compromise. The question will be how much?

There could be a trade-off on some domestic issues, such as corruption, rather than Hezbollah’s military might or its involvement in regional conflicts, he said.

“But another question is whether or not the Lebanese Forces and their allies decide to push things – you can’t corner Hezbollah because you have a majority in parliament. It just doesn’t work that way,” Houry said.

It’s a political scenario that bears an uncanny resemblance to Lebanon after 2005.

At that time, there were two factions clearly divided in terms of their position in relation to the weapons of Hezbollah and the movement’s allies in Syria and Iran. It was a period marked by political paralysis, large-scale protests, assassinations and even armed conflict.

“It could be a repeat of post-2005 where they block things institutionally or on the streets,” Houry said.

“The ball is on them [Hezbollah’s] court, whether they decide to facilitate or not.

Hope for the opposition?

More than a dozen new MPs, dubbed the Forces of Change, entered the political fray following Sunday’s vote.

The majority are new faces, hoping to capture the mood of the popular uprising against the status quo that took place in late 2019.

They promised to fight corruption, push for sound government policies and breathe new life into the Lebanese political sphere.

A dozen other candidates stormed into parliament to run on somewhat similar anti-establishment platforms.

“These alternative voices will try to raise the bar when it comes to socio-economic issues that really matter to people,” said Carnegie Middle East researcher Hage Ali.

On the other hand, Hage Ali sees Hezbollah and some of its opponents, notably the Christian Lebanese Forces, trying to shift politics towards sectarian squabbles, weapons issues, and more “abstract issues that have little to deal with the problems of daily life in Lebanon”. ”.

Similarly, Houry foresees that the ideological diversity of the new protesting parliamentarians poses challenges that will have to be overcome.

“In a sense, I guess, there will be a core group that will come together… alliances of convenience on a thematic basis,” he said.

Some of these new MPs confirmed this to Al Jazeera, explaining that discussions will soon begin to form parliamentary blocs based on common political platforms, while exploring possible alliances for common positions.

All of this could take time, and a political stalemate could get in the way of such plans.

“To get there, there’s this first main point, which is to form a government and have a program,” Houry said.

Hage Ali thinks the Christian Lebanese Forces and their allies could try to “crowd out” anti-establishment lawmakers from the political debate and then focus largely on challenging Hezbollah, rather than economic reforms and accountability.

“I think the type of politics that will be introduced by the Lebanese Forces and its allies – especially its Sunni allies – will impose much more dominance on the public sphere,” Hage Ali said.

“It wouldn’t allow independents and civil society groups to have a say in how to get things done… but hopefully over the next four years they try to bring the debate back there. where he should be.”

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