Lebanon - 2022 Parliamentary Election
Lebanon's parliament voted on 19 October 20021 to hold legislative elections on 27 March 2022, giving Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government only a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid a deepening economic meltdown.
Lebanon's financial crisis, labelled by the World Bank as one of the deepest depressions of modern history, had been compounded by political deadlock for over a year before Mikati put together a cabinet alongside President Michel Aoun. The currency has lost 90% of its value and three quarters of the population have been propelled into poverty. Shortages of basic goods such as fuel and medicines have made daily life a struggle.
Mikati, whose cabinet is focused on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund, had vowed to make sure elections are held with no delay and Western governments urged the same. But a row over the probe into last year's Beirut port blast that killed over 200 people and destroyed large swathes of the capital is threatening to veer his cabinet off course.
The early election date - elections were originally expected to be held in May - was chosen in order not to clash with the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Once a new parliament is elected, the Mikati cabinet will only act in a caretaker role until a new prime minister is given a vote of confidence and tasked with forming a new government.
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 understood their predicament and had 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.
Bahaa Hariri said on 28 January 2022 that he will continue the journey of his father, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and would “enter the battle to take back” the country. Bahaa’s younger brother, Lebanon’s veteran Sunni Muslim leader Saad Hariri, a three times prime minister, said earlier in the week that he would not run in a forthcoming parliamentary election and was suspending his role in political life, calling on his political party to do the same. Saad’s decision opened a new phase in Lebanon’s sectarian politics and would accelerate the fragmentation of the Sunni community which his family dominated for 30 years with Saudi support.
At the end of January 2022 Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, led by Speaker Nabih Berri, announced the suspension of their boycott of the Najib Mikati cabinet. In October, they started the sanction with the demand to remove Tarek Bitar, the special investigator, from the August 4, 2020, Beirut Port explosion investigation. Both Amal and Hezbollah had justified their backtracking to serve the public good as their boycott of the cabinet meetings have obstructed the discussion and passing of the country’s budget. Talks are needed to obtain loans from the international community and the International Monetary Fund.
The issues the groups were ready to discuss are the annual budget, the IMF negotiations, the economic rescue plan, and “all that concerns improving the living conditions of the Lebanese,” their joint statement said. They will not discuss and decide on the upcoming appointments, mainly the judiciary ones. That is, of course, related to their efforts to jeopardize the investigation of the Beirut Port Blast, headed by Judge Tarek Bitar, who was the reason why both organizations boycotted the government in the beginning.
US efforts now led by America’s Senior Advisor for Global Energy Security Amos Hochstein put more pressure on Lebanon, mainly after awarding the contract for these contested oil fields to Halliburton. Hezbollah’s and Amal’s return to the cabinet meetings also stems from the High Judicial Council, which oversees the judiciary, being in limbo after one of its members reached the legal age of retirement, preventing the council from convening.
President Michel Aoun’s mandate expires later in 2022. Suppose Hezbollah’s calculations indicate that the new parliament will not grant it the power of the majority. In that case, it will probably try to postpone May’s election or push to have the presidential elections sooner. The group certainly needs to influence the cabinet to make these decisions. Another danger linked to the election preparations is implementing policies protecting and preserving the political elite. Reversing the plummeting valuation of the Lebanese Lira has seen the Central Bank’s reserves plundered.
Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary vote is being anxiously awaited by most of the Lebanese and the international community hoping that its outcome would bring an overdue political change and provide solutions to the country’s multiple crises, including the worst economic meltdown in decades. The elections, slated to take place on May 15, had been billed by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum as “crucial” and “decisive” because the next Parliament will elect a new president to succeed President Michel Aoun whose six-year tenure expires by the end of October. This year’s elections are different from previous ones because of a hotly-contested battle among rival parties seeking to gain a majority in Parliament that would enable them to have a final say in choosing a new head of state.
The vote was touted as a fierce confrontation between Hezbollah and its opponents who saw the elections as an opportunity to end what they call the Iranian-backed Shia party’s “domination” of the country’s political decision-making and “Iran’s occupation” of Lebanon through its powerful proxy. ormer MP Fares Souaid, an outspoken Maronite critic of Hezbollah who is running in the elections in the Jbeil-Kesrwan district, established “a national council for ending Iranian occupation” of Lebanon. The council includes Muslim and Christian politicians, academics and key figures of civil society opposed to Hezbollah’s influence.
There are two opposing camps jockeying to gain the majority in the next Parliament: One camp is led by the Lebanese Forces party and its allies to confront Hezbollah’s influence and its dominance of the country’s decision-making, and another camp is led by Hezbollah and its allies that will fight to retain the majority they currently hold in Parliament, defend the group’s arms arsenal and prevent attempts to normalize ties with Israel.
Hezbollah’s opponents from both Christian and Muslim parties accused the heavily armed group of running a mini-state within the Lebanese state. They contend that Hezbollah’s insistence on retaining its arms arsenal, its involvement in the 11-year-old Syrian war and its interference in other regional conflicts ran contrary to the country’s sovereignty. Hezbollah, designated by the US and Gulf Arab states a “terrorist” organization, has staunchly rejected local and foreign calls, including UN Security Council resolutions, to disarm, arguing that its weapons are needed to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.
“There are several camps contesting the elections. The first camp is the Lebanese Forces, the second camp is the Kataeb Party, the third camp is the civil society forces, the fourth camp is the Islamic forces and the remaining forces of the Future Movement. This is in addition to Hezbollah’s camp and its allies. But the forces opposed to Hezbollah are not united. expectations indicate that the “change groups and the opposition forces” will not succeed in gaining a majority in Parliament because of their splits and differences. Even if they succeed in gaining a majority, they will not be able to govern the country alone.
By gerrymandering districts and abusing its power, the Lebanese political establishment has the ability to control the final elections result, leaving May 15 to become an intermural sports event between the ruling elite themselves who stand to gain or lose a few seats. Many groups who brand themselves as progressive for the sake of unity accepted alliances with figures and groups that view Hezbollah as a resistance movement, going as far as to deny the militia’s involvement in any of the corrupt dealings which bankrupted the state.
Lebanon held its first election 15 May 2022 since a painful economic crisis dragged it to the brink of becoming a failed state, a major test for new opposition groups bent on ousting the ruling elite. But few observers expected a seismic shift, with all levers of political power firmly in the hands of traditional sectarian parties and an electoral system seen as rigged in their favor. Lebanon shares power among its religious communities, and politics is often treated as a family business. By convention, the president is a Maronite Christian, the premier a Sunni Muslim, and the parliament speaker a Shiite.
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