Elections in Lebanon
In this article, we shall discuss the 2016 Elections in Lebanon. Lebanon has experienced years without holding elections in the country. In this article, we shall discuss the political gridlock in Lebanon, the different parties (and groups), their differing political positions, as well as the 2016 municipal elections in Lebanon.
History of Stalemate in Lebanese Politics
Traditionally, municipal elections have paled in comparison to the importance of national elections in Lebanon. However, the reason for the attention to these elections has been because of a history of no elections in Lebanon (Khatib & Dealbess, 2016). Prior to 2016, the country of Lebanon has not experience elections since the year 2010. There have been calls and attempts at holding parliamentary elections, but each time that they have tried to do so, the elections were postponed. They have also tried to hold Presidential elections; these elections have been unsuccessful on multiple accounts, and thus, Lebanon has not had a President since 2014 (Mroue & El Deeb, 2016).
There is a primary reason for the stalemate in Lebanese politics, and it has to do with the strong political divisions within the different Lebanese coalitions.
Following the 1989 Taif Accords, Syria increased their presence in the politics of Lebanon. Al-Assad found ways to “electorally engineer” the domestic situation in Lebanon. For example, “Syrian manipulation included composing candidate lists and draw- ing electoral districts with a view to isolating opposition voices and ensuring the victory of allies. Syria’s ‘‘pro-consuls’’ in Lebanon, General Ghazi Kanaan and later General Rustom Ghazzali, imposed periodic diktats, notably three-year extensions to the presidential terms of Elias Hrawi in 1995 and Emile Lahoud in 2004. In each case the Lebanese parliament compliantly approved the ‘‘one-time exceptions’’ to the constitutional provision that limits presidents to a single six-year term” (Norton, 2007: 482).
Rafik Hariri, a Lebanese politician, was one of the most outspoken critics of the extension of Lahoud’s term. He spoke out against Syria and Hezbollah. Then, on February 14 2005, Hariri was assassinated by a bombing carried out what many in the international community believe to be actors linked to Al-Assad and Hezbollah.
As a result of this, Lebanese citizens took to the street to condemn the role of Syria in Lebanon, and called for their complete withdrawal from the country. This was known as the “Cedar Revolution.” Syria did leave the country in April of that year (Norton, 2007). Then, elections were held in the next month. Here, two different political blocs formed. One of the umbrella groups identified under the “March 8” coalition, and this included groups opposed to Hezbollah and Syria.
Then, the opposition group was the “March 14” coalition, which was comprised of Hezbollah and pro-Syrian parties (Norton, 2007) such as Amal (Aziz, 2015).
On top of this political division, in 2006, Israel and Hezbollah went to war with one another, after Hezbollah went into Israel to release prisoners under the control of the Israeli Defense Force. In response, Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon. This month long conflict resulted in the loss of 1,109 lives, not to mention billions of dollars in tourism (Norton, 2007).
These events led to two opposing political groups. And in the following years, there has been an inability to have elections because of the ability of the sides to block political action.
It is for the reason that there has not been elections in years, and also why the 2016 municipality elections have been given more weight.
2016 Municipal Elections in Lebanon
In 2016, Lebanon held municipal elections beginning in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. In the two weeks that followed, additional municipal elections were held in other parts of Lebanon. This first voting includes areas with 1.8 million Lebanese eligible to vote.
One of the key reasons for the elections in Lebanon had to do with a government failure of providing basic public services such as trash removal. In fact, for these early May elections, “In Beirut, residents are voting for the first time since an eight-month trash crisis ignited anti-government protests, with an outsider group of candidates challenging a political establishment widely seen as corrupt and incompetent” (Mroue & El-Deeb, 2016).
Political Parties in Lebanon
There were different political blocks in the 2016 Elections in Lebanon. One of the groups goes by the name of Beirut Madinati (“Beirut, My City”). This groups has been outspoken about the need to implement immediate garbage collection services in Beirut, along with many other issues. In their 1o point plan (Ghattas, 2016), they also discuss the importance of urban mobility, working on better greenery and public space, housing, socioeconomic development, along with other issues.
In fact, it has been argued that “Madinati hopes to channel the energy of the protest movement, which emerged in response to the trash crisis that stemmed from a government failure for months to reach an agreement on how to deal with it. The protests went on to challenge the political class that has governed Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war” (Mroue & El Deeb). 1975-1976 marked the end of the first civil war in Lebanon, and with that, call for increased shared governance, as well as a role for Syria to help oversee domestic stability in Lebanon.
One of the main groups running against Beirut Madinati are the “Beirutis” which are “a list backed by several political groups, including the powerful predominantly Sunni Muslim Future Movement of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Shiite Muslim Amal group and the country’s three main Christian groups” (Mroue & El Deeb). The interesting point about the “Beirutis” has been that it is actually a coalition of rival political groups: the March 14th alliance, and the March 8th alliance. As we discussed above, these two groups have been in opposition with one another for over a decade. However, they have been coming together to counter this new political block in Beirut and elsewhere.
Thus, the Madinati group has tried to run against what they view as the reign of authority by political elites (from both groups). To them, the Beirutis represent all that is wrong with Lebanon politics; political insiders who have done little to help the country, and actually a lot to impede effective governance.
A third main political organization is Hezbollah. While they are a part of the March 14 coalition, they have at times acted outside of the immediate political block. For Hezbollah, it has been reported that they are not putting forward municipal candidates in Beirut, although they are doing so in the Bekaa Valley, as well as in Southern Lebanon, their geographical stronghold in the country (Mroue & El Deeb, 2016).
Lebanon Election Results
According to the results in the first voting in Beirut, the Beirutis group won every single seat. This was devastating to Madinati who continues to speak against what they believed was a political system in Lebanon that has been dominated by political elites for decades (cite). Another disheartening factor that has been the low turnout in the Beirut elections, which were at 20 percent. It has been argued that the low amount of citizens voting “underlines the stagnation of politics in Lebanon and represents the entrenchment of the status quo” (Mroue & El Deeb, 2016).
But while the Beirut Madinati movement failed to do well in the elections, there was still a level of joy amongst supporters. Why? Well, in a system heavily dominated by certain blocks of political elites, this new movement won 40 percent of the entire vote. As Ghattas (2016) writes: “the candidates of Beirut Madinati showed their fellow Lebanese, and perhaps the rest of the region, that it is possible for civil society to organize, engage in politics, and start the process of political reform. Ibrahim Mneimneh, the head of the list, told me the group of concerned citizens had initially thought of fielding just a few candidates as a symbolic protest, until they realized there was an opportunity to seize upon citizens’ deep frustration with the current system.”
Election Results in Tripoli
The city of Tripoli, the second largest city in the country, held its municipal elections in late May, 2016. According to reports, “A list backed by emerging Sunni politician Ashraf Rifi won a majority of seats on the council elected in Tripoli on Sunday, defeating an alliance backed by Sunni leaders including former prime ministers Saad al-Hariri and Najib Mikati” (Perry & Bassam, 2016). Of the 24 overall seats that were up for contention, none of the seats looked to be going to a Christian or Alawite. This has led to fears that there would be increased sectarian tension in the country. Along with the concerns that no seats would go to religious minority groups, but Rifi has been called a “hawk” who is staunchly opposed to Saad al-Hariri. There are concerns that there is a rise in overall tensions between different religious groups, which has not been helped by the ongoing conflict in Syria, and also the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran (Perry & Bassam, 2016).
Lebanese Elections References
Aziz, J. (2015). Will Lebanon finally get a new president? Al Monitor. December 8, 2015. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/12/lebanon-president-elections-hariri-jumblatt-franjieh.html#
Beirut Madinati (2016). The Program. Available Online: http://beirutmadinati.com/program/?lang=en#program10
Ghattis, K. (2016). Beirut’s Lovable Losers. Foreign Policy. May 26, 2016. Available Online: http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/26/beiruts-loveable-losers/
Mroue, B. & El Deeb, S. (2016). Lebanon Holds Local Elections, 1st Vote in 6 Years. ABC News. May 8, 2016. Available Online: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/lebanon-holds-local-elections-amid-tight-security-38963356
Norton, A. R. (2007). The Role of Hezbollah in Lebanese Domestic Politics. The International Spectator, Vol. 42, No. 4, pages 475-491.
Perry, T. & Bassam, L. (2016). Sunni hawk wins Lebanon vote, risking new tensions. May 31st, 2016. Available Online: https://www.yahoo.com/news/sunni-hawk-wins-lebanon-vote-risking-tensions-205001266.html