Lebanon - 2022 Parliamentary Election
Lebanon is a parliamentary republic based on the 1943 National Pact, which apportions governmental authority among a Maronite Christian president, a Shia speaker of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament), and a Sunni prime minister.
The year 2022 is scheduled to feature three elections: municipal, presidential, and parliamentary; thus, parties are expected to fiercely fight to preserve or strengthen respective positions. Yet the Presidential election will most likely drive the main wedge between contenders. It is expected that mobilization to divide the pro-President coalition (with options to extend terms or elect Jubran Bassil) and the anti-President coalition (to elect Suleiman Frangieh) will bring a déjà vu of 2014-16 presidential nomination standoff. The latter coalition will most likely bring together LF, PSP, Amal, KP, and Marada while HA and FM will weigh their options according to gains. None of these groups or respective alliances, standing alone, can have a command of 2/3 seats necessary to convene the 2018 parliament to elect a President, hence a wider consensus will be required.
Lebanon last held parliamentary elections in 2018. Originally scheduled for 2013 the polls were postponed three times amid security concerns and disagreements about the adoption of a new election law that was approved in 2017. The new law divided Lebanon into 15 electoral districts and reforms saw the introduction of proportional representation for the first time in the country’s history. Although, it changed the previous winner-takes-all system, it has been widely criticized for its failure to offer those outside the traditional political elite the opportunity of winning parliamentary seats because the sectarian discourse remains.
A remote discussion was held recently with the purpose of pushing Lebanese opposition groups to introduce their political agendas and further connect with each other. Moderated by political psychologist and doctoral researcher at the University of Kent Ramzi Abou Ismail, it was by invite only. “The postponement of the elections is in hands of the ruling class. This is why it’s important that the civic society takes action, and up until now there is no sign of the elections happening so, the more we drag past May 2021, the less time we have to properly prepare,” Ismail told Al Arabiya English in May 2021. He explained that the current situation Lebanese people experience daily is reason enough to encourage the parties on the periphery to reach a common ground and challenge the status quo.
The Lebanese opposition groups consist mainly of: Lebanese Kataeb Party, Minteshreen, National Bloc, Al Takaddom, Ammiyet 17 October, and Beirut Madinati. The parties are pushing for the parliamentary elections to happen, but have not yet agreed on a common interest which, in Abou Ismail’s opinion is weakening their own political agendas, giving the ruling elite to promote themselves and justify the status quo.
Kataeb Party leader Samy Gemayel resigned as an MP after the Beirut port explosion in August that killed at least 190 people, including Kataeb’s secretary-general Nazar Najarian. Before the blast, the country’s economic crisis already existed with regular mass demonstrations common. Gemayel tried to shed the Kataeb Party’s image as a hardline party activist.
“Having more time to prepare for the election is a double-edged sword,” el- Halabi explained. In his opinion, it might help the opposition groups in better communicating and cooperating, but it might breed discord between ideologically incoherent opposition groups. It also gives time for sectarian parties to restructure relations with their disgruntled followers by providing food and security, two much needed commodities in the current phase.
Meanwhile, elections pose a major challenge for the opposition groups that need to devise a strategy and run on a platform that can convince Lebanese citizens to take them seriously and vote for them while also trying to push back against pressure from well-organized and deeply rooted sectarian parties that can mobilize on excessive attachments, el-Halabi added.
Abou Ismail considers it is much easier to target the people who participated in the 2018 elections than the people who, amid a serious crisis at that time, had a passive approach to politics.
Beyond the serious violations of its democratic activity, extending the Lebanese parliament’s term past May 2022, could significantly worsen the political, economic, and social instability that the country is currently facing, analysts have said. The current government’s inability to properly address crises, including widespread negligence and corruption is a constant replay of the political mismanagement covering the last 30 years. It is more likely that the upcoming parliamentary elections gets postponed because the parliament has not yet met nor discussed the electoral law that will be applied to conduct the elections.
The parliamentary elections set for mid-2022 are largely seen as the avenue in which substantial change is achievable unless they are postponed. Given the current environment, no eventuality can be ruled out. A large number of opposition political groups were established after the October 17 uprising in 2019. They are trying to organize, along with other already present opposition parties.
Minteshreen is one of these groups, a youth led-movement established on the back of the uprising and organized into a political movement after the Beirut Port blast in 2020. Another movement is much older. The National Bloc was first established in the 1940s but relaunched in 2018, scraping off its stale political inheritance in the process through the introduction of reforms in its internal structure.
With so many groups vying to position themselves on the political scene, these expanding opposition factions face difficulty organizing a common front to effectively challenge the traditional parties safely entrenched in the current political system. There is no justifiable reason as to why there are so many parties. With so many new and old parties in the opposition, this will play against them in the elections, because sectarian parties are much more organized, and they have the electoral law and the infrastructure to win.
With Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing political system in place since the end of the 1975-1990 Civil War, no real opposition has existed to counter the status quo. The sectarian system in Lebanon is organized in such a way as to not allow for the emergence of a viable opposition. Lebanon is facing a multitude of crises on the economic and social fronts. With the country’s collapse, Salloukh believes the challenge for the political movements to organize is greater.
Those who want to oppose the system today have to do it while they are organizing at the same time, and much more importantly when the country has already collapsed. Many common themes unite the current “alternative parties.” All are calling for the establishment of a civil state, the rule of law, the upholding of democracy and social justice. The lack of distinct ideologies expressed across the spectrum of these new political groups makes it difficult for the populous to separate them and decide which one to vote for.
Many of the groups understand their predicament and have started to group themselves into coalitions to expand cooperation and challenge the long-standing regime. In 2021, an alliance called April 13 was announced, comprising Minteshreen, Beirut Madinati and the National Bloc. These parties call themselves “centrist.”
While elections are a means to try and achieve change in crisis-stricken Lebanon, they are not the only opportunity for the opposition to achieve a system overhaul. With a political class clinging onto power at any cost, illustrated by the country’s dire economic situation and exacerbated with almost a year of political deadlock, it is unclear whether a real change will materialize. The moment of “rupture” is when the current system loses the tools that permitted it to thrive and persevere for the last three decades. Most opposition parties believe in the parliamentary elections as a key tool for change, or at least the beginning of what could be a long and arduous road to alternative governance.
The conditions are drastically different from the 2018 elections because the political elite’s unfulfilled promises made it easier to incentivize people to vote. In 2018, there was CEDRE, it came one month before the elections, and it saved the political elite because they convinced the people that it would help the economy. However, in 2022, this won’t happen. No one in the international community has trust in this political class anymore. In 2018 the international community pledged more than $11 billion in soft loans and grants to Lebanon, but they were contingent on reforms the politicians in power had to implement. Three years later, the funds remain locked as politicians have been unwilling to undertake any reforms, which are also pre-requisites for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.
Many predict that the opposition parties currently organizing will not achieve a breakthrough in 2022 and will gain only a few seats.
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