Politics

Lebanese look to May 2022 elections as key chance for change

By Junaid Salman

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Lebanese protesters lift placards demanding transparency in elections and accountability for public fund misappropriation, as they march in downtown Beirut on March 12. [Joseph Eid/AFP]

BEIRUT -- The Lebanese people and the international community are looking towards the May 2022 parliamentary elections -- of critical importance in light of the country's economic and political crisis -- with optimism and apprehension.

There are fears that the political forces in power may try to postpone the elections or use them as a tool to re-establish their grip on power in the country.

Those fears are colliding with hopes that the popular protest movement, which kicked off in October 2019, will succeed in ushering in an era of much-needed change that will set Lebanon on the path to recovery.

During a recent trip to Lebanon, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian explicitly stated that any attempt to postpone democratic elections would trigger appropriate measures from Paris and the international community.

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Lebanese protesters, draped in national flags, take part in a rally pressing the president to call for parliamentary elections, on a road leading to the presidential palace near Beirut on December 1, 2019. [Anwar Amro/AFP]

Separately, on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Italy, the top diplomats of France, the United States and Saudi Arabia on June 29 jointly pushed for Lebanon's leaders to come together to address the country's mounting crises.

The three countries are key players in Lebanon, having worked together on the 1989 Taif accord that ended the civil war and have since been intricately involved in trying to lift the country out of the current crisis.

Another major actor is Iran, which supports Hizbullah and its allies. The Iran-backed party has a stranglehold on Lebanon's political decision-making process.

Lebanon has been without a functioning government since a devastating blast in Beirut last August killed more than 200 residents and ravaged the city.

The political indecision comes amid an economic crisis that includes prolonged waits for fuel and a precipitous tumble in value of the Lebanese currency.

The international concern about the May 2022 parliamentary elections comes at a time when the Lebanese people, through demands raised during popular protests, are calling for a radical change in the country's administration.

Many in the popular protest movement remain convinced that reversing the deterioration in living conditions, combating corruption, and achieving economic reform will not be possible if the country holds on to the prevailing mentality.

They see the elections as a valuable opportunity to bring about change and have voiced concern that the authorities could attempt to circumvent this opportunity in a bid to preserve the dysfunctional status quo.

Political opposition front

Protest movement activists and opposition parties and entities have begun to organise in anticipation of the elections to collectively achieve tangible results.

In an April 13 statement, they called for the formation of "the widest political opposition front" to establish a counterbalance to the ruling regime and to set up a political programme that expresses the aspirations of all the Lebanese.

Taqaddom (Progress) party chief Mark Daou said civil society organisations and entities are capable of effecting a change of between 20% and 30% in the existing composition of the Lebanese parliament by doing the right work.

This includes "forging broad alliances across Lebanon with qualified male and female candidates based on a clear and convincing political programme", he said.

Daou's rejection of amendments to the current electoral law is noteworthy, observers said, as he is facing considerable opposition from the political forces in power, and as this law was introduced in 2018 to bring those same forces to power.

Taqaddom is rejecting amendments to the law in order to deprive the forces in power of a pretext to postpone the elections: namely, a politically useful inability to agree on a new law.

This is the most serious risk of all, he said.

Increased political awareness

Political activist Halimé El Kaakour pointed out that "change is very possible because the public's general mood and political awareness have changed".

But she said that achieving change requires elections that allow democratic representation pursuant to the constitution and that in turn reflect the justice of representation.

In order to achieve this justice, she said, it is necessary to pass a fair electoral law to be applied by an independent election administration under an independent judiciary.

"Give us these conditions, and you will witness a major change in the country's administration," El Kaakour said.

"Even if we do not get these conditions, change will happen, but its extent will depend on the extent to which these conditions are met before the elections begin," she added.

It is possible to achieve change that can be built upon in the future, said social scientist Mona al-Basha.

Achieving this change requires that civil society forces "organise themselves and run in the elections with a single programme and unified electoral lists", she said.

To do this, she said, new candidates must make their agenda known so that electoral lists can be formed, and the elections must be publicised via advertising campaigns to increase participation, especially among youth.

"It is possible to sidestep the demands for change in the current electoral law and to have an independent administration supervise the elections, as long as the international community monitors the electoral process along with local civil society bodies," she said.

"This would limit the opportunities for manipulating the elections and their results," she added.

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