More of the same stagnation?

Assuming nothing will stop the legislative elections in Lebanon, 1046 candidates will compete for the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament for the next four years. (Some candidates may still be disqualified or decide to withdraw their candidacy.) The elections will be held on two dates: from May 6 to 8 for the nearly 250,000 Lebanese living abroad and registered on the electoral lists (out of nearly 14 million Lebanese in the diaspora) and May 15 for the general elections in Lebanon.

These elections are crucial because they will probably determine the identity of Lebanon in the years to come. The struggle opposes two main ideological blocks: one aiming to transform Lebanon into another province of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the other block fighting for the Arab identity and independence of Lebanon.

Never has an election campaign experienced so much violence as the present one. Thugs sent mainly by Hezbollah and Amal physically attacked potential candidates who threatened their hegemony in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley. In Sarafand, in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese army intervened to protect candidates beaten by Hezbollah thugs. In contrast, candidates on rival lists in the Bekaa have decided to withdraw their candidacy, fearing for their physical survival.

As in every election campaign in the past, and especially against the backdrop of the catastrophic economic situation, the big players have intensified vote buying by distributing basic necessities that are too expensive for almost 50% of Lebanese – mainly fuel, food and basic daily needs. The benefits to voters are so great that the outcome of the vote may not be fair or democratic in every way and biased in the extreme.

(Screenshot/Ministry of Information, Republic of Lebanon)

This situation has led retired judge Nadim Abd el Malek, who heads the electoral commission of the Lebanese parliament, to declare that the upcoming elections will see serious violations that could jeopardize all the results of the elections.

Even if all eyes are on the party lists resulting from the “Lebanese spring” of October 2019 such as Khat Ahmar (red line) or Li-Haki (My right), most mainstream Lebanese politicians, political faction leaders and tribal chiefs represent the “more things change, more things stay the same” tragedy of Lebanese sectarian and sectarian politics. Only 88 candidates out of 1,043 (8.4%) are between 25 and 35 years old, and only 157 women (15%) presented their candidacy, a fact which proves that nothing has changed in Lebanon since the October demonstrations which hoped to generate change in the political system and enact revolutionary reforms in the economy and the body politic.

Observers will focus in these elections on three issues:

Since former Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri withdrew his list, the Future Movement, from participating in the elections, the question that arises is what sort of Sunni representation will emerge? A split Sunni vote will make it more difficult for the next Sunni prime minister to form a coalition and a government, a fact indicating that these elections will lead to a paralysis of the political system in Lebanon.

The second problem is the Christian camp. Division in the Christian camp is a tradition in Lebanon and particularly within the Maronite community. In the previous legislature, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), led by the president’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, had the majority of the Christian vote and used it to form a majority coalition with its strategic ally, Hezbollah. Now the tide has changed and it seems that due to a chain of scandals and corruption cases, the FPM will suffer losses in its representation of its direct competitor, the “Lebanese Forces” led by Samir Geagea. In such a case, and even if the Maronites of northern Lebanon represented by Suleiman Tony Frangieh Marada party join Hezbollah as in the past, the chances of forming a majority in parliament are likely to be very slim.

The third problem concerns Hezbollah and Amal (the Shiite tandem): the Shiite tandem will maintain its electoral representation and even increase it in certain regions due to its vote buying and the intimidation of potential rivals. However, due to the two previous problems, Hezbollah and Amal will find it difficult to form a new government and impose their policies on the whole of Lebanon despite preserving their ability to block any major decision in parliament, including the formation of a government.

Who will parliament choose as president?

Recall that the Lebanese parliament chooses the next Lebanese president (the current president, Michel Aoun, ends his term on October 22, 2022). Therefore, it is very likely that the Lebanese political system will enter an impasse, as in the past, without the possibility of choosing the next president to head the executive in Lebanon.

Currently, there are four potential candidates (all Maronites, in accordance with the constitution) for the presidency:

  • Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of President Aoun, leader of the FPM, who is on the US sanctions list. He’s probably not eligible.

  • Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, is ineligible due to his identification as an “Israeli agent”.

  • Suleiman Tony Frangieh, Head of Marada, a very small party known for its propensity to change alliances, once with Syria and once with the Shiite tandem. Frangieh, close to Syrian President Bashar Assad, is deemed ineligible by rival Christian and Sunni camps.

    Frangieh and President Assad
    Frangieh and President Assad (Syrian News Agency, SANA)

  • A compromise candidate, such as an army general (see below).

In this scenario, the possibilities are reduced to three options:

  • Opt for a compromise candidate. In this case, the name now considered is General Joseph Aoun, the pro-American army chief. This option is in line with former Lebanese presidents who were generals. Aoun is not related to the current president.

    General Joseph Aoun
    General Joseph Aoun, Commander-in-Chief of the Lebanese Army

  • Vote for a postponement to parliament to decide the new president. This has been done twice in the past because of the political deadlock. Given Michel Aoun’s record, that would mean continued stagnation in the Lebanese body politic. However, with a newly elected divided parliament, such an option may not be feasible.

  • Leaving the presidency vacant. In this case, the guardian would be the incumbent Sunni Prime Minister. Lebanon has experienced such a scenario in the past, and it might become the preferred option for the future to come.

In conclusion, the current legislative elections will lead to an almost total paralysis of the Lebanese body politic, adding to the national chaos due to the disastrous and exceptional economic situation. Such stagnation would indicate the disintegration of Lebanon as a state, from a failed state as it is today to a theoretically non-existent state in the future.

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