On May 15, 2022, Lebanese citizens headed to the polls to elect a new parliament. Despite the dire conditions in Lebanon, around 3.9 million people, including nearly 130,000 expats, cast their votes and took part in shaping the future direction of their country. “I am in my 50s and this is my first-time voting. I had to do something for change,” said Suzy Majzoub.
With a governing system where power is shared along sectarian lines, it becomes difficult for political groups to win a landslide election in Lebanon. All parties from Lebanon’s 18 sects have the chance to be involved in and affect the decision-making process in the country, without one sect dominating the political field. This sectarian distribution of seats has reduced electoral competition as parties’ share of seats is almost “pre-determined.” Hence, election results in Lebanon are often unsurprising. The election this time, however, has seen some disruption of this traditional share of power.
The largest factor in the shake up to the status quo was the absence of the Future Movement, the largest Sunni party, from the election as its leader Saad Hariri decided to end his political career and not to run with his party for parliament. Moreover, Hezbollah and its allies, while still having the plurality of seats, lost their majority of 71 seats in parliament. The election also saw the victory of politically varied independents, who succeeded to secure 13 seats in parliament.
Despite these results, the future of Lebanon remains gloomy. The important question then is: what change will this election bring about? Will the new elected parliament implement genuine plans that could ultimately relieve the plight of people in Lebanon? Or will we see another wave of mismanagement and ineffective governance that could further worsen the situation in the country?
Lebanon Today: Mired in Problems
After years of being known as the Switzerland and jewel of the Middle East, Lebanon today is collapsing. Due to corruption and economic mismanagement stemming from decades of political stagnation, the country has been suffering a severe economic depression, which the World Bank has ranked as one of the most severe global crises since the 1850s.
The country defaulted on its debt in 2020 after failing to repay US $1.2 billion Eurobond. Lebanon’s national debt amounts to US $95.49 billion. Inflation rates skyrocketed from 147.55% in January 2021 to 239.68% in January 2022, and the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value.
The currency collapse has weakened the purchasing power in the country, which heavily relies on imports. This has led to a significant surge in the prices of food and other basic necessities, making life in Lebanon almost unaffordable. The United Nations estimates that 78% of the population in Lebanon has fallen below the poverty line. “We cannot buy meat. The last time we had it was last Eid. We cannot buy it,” complained an elderly Lebanese woman in an interview with Aljazeera.
Moreover, with the country becoming cash-strapped, the Central Bank is no longer capable of paying for imported fuel, which has caused an electricity crisis. With constant power outages, hospitals face the risk of losing patients, water stations cannot pump water into people’s houses, and bakers struggle to fire up their ovens to sell fresh bread.
In short, the situation in Lebanon has become unbearable, and many people now live in despair. “Every day, the Lebanese lifestyle is deteriorating … There is no future here,” lamented Ahmed Hamour.
Will this Parliamentary Election Usher in Real Change?
Yes and no. On the one hand, 10% of parliament seats are now occupied by independent candidates, most of whom oppose the governing system and have progressive plans for Lebanon. These people, including Rami Finge, Najat Aoun Saliba, Paula Yacoubian, and Firas Hamdan, aim to combat corruption, address the socio-economic and environmental challenges, and improve accountability and transparency in the country.
The new parliament members seem to offer some hope to many people who have been yearning for change, including Marianne, a Lebanese student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “The election was a vehicle for hope in the sense that we saw a rise in independent campaigns centered on progressive policies such as strict stances on climate change and anti-corruption,” said Marianne in a conversation with Spheres of Influence.
On the other hand, the victory of independent members will not necessarily usher in change. This is mainly because these members do not have enough seats. After all, this election still “[re-legitimized] the failed system” in the country and kept many of the parties that have been part of the problems that plague Lebanon in power.
Instead of working on reforms and developing strategies to enhance the socio-economic situation in the country, these parties pursue their interests and often get involved in disputes over their different views, dragging the country into deadlocks over many issues.
For example, in the wake of the Beirut port explosion and subsequent government resignation, political parties disagreed upon the formation of a new government, leaving the country without a government for 13 months. And with the new parliament having no party with the majority of seats, deadlocks are expected to occur, impeding Lebanon from moving towards positive change.
With these parties occupying the majority of seats in parliament, it will be difficult for the independent members to implement their plans and foster change in the country.
What to Expect
For the upcoming period, the new parliament will have to form a new government, select a new president, and work with the International Monetary Fund on a 46-month financing program that is allegedly devoted to mitigating the economic crisis in the country. Importantly, the parliament needs to bring about sustainable socio-economic changes that improve the standard of living in the country and people’s access to their basic rights, including food and electricity.
For this election to bring about real change, political parties need to put their differences aside and work with the new independent members on getting the country out of this economic meltdown. As Marianne put it, “meaningful and sustainable positive change in Lebanon requires strategically and creatively organizing through intersectional solidarity and coalition-building.” Otherwise, this election will change nothing but add injury to insult.
Edited by Majeed Malhas