Parliamentary Elections in Lebanon: Between Distrust, Disappointment and Hope

by Karin Leukefeld

Parliamentary elections will take place in Lebanon today, Sunday, May 15, 2022. Lebanese are eligible to vote from the age of 21, the passive voting age is 25 years. With a population of around 4.3 million Lebanese, almost four million people were registered to vote. The Lebanese diaspora was able to vote abroad for the second time.

The political system in Lebanon is subject to denominational proportional representation, political power is divided between Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims. Candidates must compete in their respective religious group. The voters vote for lists and can also vote for individual candidates with a second vote. The country is divided into 15 constituencies.

The elections are overseen by an electoral commission designed to stop vote-buying or intimidation. The European Union has sent its own election observers to Lebanon. This will be in Lebanon for a total of almost eight months and will observe the preparations for the elections in the first four months. After the election, the commission will remain in the country for another three months to monitor the implementation of the election results.

In the last elections in 2018, turnout was 49 percent. The Lebanese Hezbollah emerged victorious with an allied alliance (Free Patriotic Movement, Amal, etc.). Because Hezbollah is considered a “terrorist organization” in the United States and numerous European countries, Washington has imposed a whole host of unilateral economic and financial sanctions on the organization that are affecting the entire country.

Syrians living abroad in 48 countries were already able to vote on May 8th. In addition, elections could also be held on May 6th, a Friday, in Muslim countries. Friday is a public holiday in Muslim countries.

The largest Lebanese diaspora lives in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. Lebanese also cast their votes in the USA, Canada, Australia, Russia, the EU and in African countries, according to the news agency AP reported.

On the evening of May 8, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry already had the first figures on the turnout of Lebanese abroad released. According to this, 55 percent of the Lebanese who were eligible to vote abroad took part in the elections in Australia, 44.6 percent in the United Emirates, 20 percent in Europe and 13 percent in African countries. In Germany, 3,480 voters cast their votes.

In Lebanon, people vacillate between distrust, disappointment and hope. In discussions in Beirut, people openly express their opinions. A shop owner whose shop on Armenian Street in the Mar Mikhail district was destroyed in the explosion at the port of Beirut was able to reopen the shop with the help of family members, but he said he will not vote. “They offer us money and a voucher for petrol so that we can vote in our villages,” he said. “I’d rather go fishing. At least then I can bring something home for a meal.” An elderly lady, an Armenian, who lives a few steps away and whose grandparents had to flee the then Ottoman Empire more than 100 years ago, is convinced that one has to choose. “Even if we don’t know if it will get better, we have to at least try and choose,” she says. “We must not give up hope.”

A young saleswoman in the Ashrafiye district of Beirut will not go to the polls either. She provides for her mother and grandmother with her meager monthly salary of the equivalent of 100 US dollars. “Those running for election are only the grandchildren of the old politicians, we can’t expect anything from them.” On the other hand, an elderly lady across the street who has just exchanged money at a money exchange office (Western Union) will vote. “It’s a civic duty,” she says. After all, she can withdraw 400 US dollars a month from her assets frozen in the bank, which she then exchanges for Lebanese pounds. “I can pay the rent and doctors and also help neighbors here and there, although not like I used to.”

For 23-year-old Mohammed T., who hails from southern Lebanon, these elections will be the first he can participate in. The young man says his father wants him to vote. But he is still undecided whether the election can really improve the bad economic situation. Good work is important to him, which he cannot find as a computer engineer in Lebanon. He would like to leave Lebanon and work in the Gulf, but his mother doesn’t want to let him go. “All my siblings live with their families abroad, in Germany and Canada. I’m the youngest and will probably stay with my parents for the time being.”

When asked who he would like to win the election, Charbel M. becomes enthusiastic. “I have a dream,” says the thirtysomething. “I dream that I wake up in the morning of May 16 and the Lebanese forces have won. Then Hezbollah would be gone and Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Emirates would return to Lebanon. They would invest, invest their money and with Lebanon would be on the up again.” Lebanon is just a small country and everyone leaves their footprints in it, the clerk continues. He says he has “no desire to live in Kandahar,” but that will happen if Hezbollah is not defeated. Keep Hezbollah strong, keep Iran in Lebanon and that would be the end for its homeland. “Then I’ll take my family and go.”

Economic problems and education are in the foreground for the population

The country’s economic problems are overwhelming, and tens of thousands of Lebanese have fled the country in search of work since the economic crisis began in 2019. The political elites have long since lost the Lebanese’s trust. For decades, mismanagement and corruption have prevailed at the expense of ordinary people. There is no regular and reliable power supply from the public electricity companies. Instead, if consumers can afford it, they have to buy additional energy, which is offered by generators at high prices. You also have to buy water. The education system, like the health sector, is completely underfunded. Teachers and medical staff are on strike because their salaries are no longer sufficient to cover living expenses. The collapse of the Lebanese currency has brought even the middle class to the brink of poverty. Whole families are trying to build a new future for themselves outside the country.

The election campaign in Lebanon in 2022 will be conducted with debates on television, on social media channels and with large billboards. Over the past few weeks, a veritable forest of signs has sprung up along the streets. Individual candidates and lists compete for voters’ favor on the oversized panels. With the exception of the Sunni Muslim Mustaqbal Party, the traditional parties have again put forward candidates who will presumably return to parliament.

Sunni Muslims in particular are in a difficult situation following the withdrawal of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri from politics and the dissolution of his Mustaqbal party. An agreement was not reached, so that their candidates are running on different lists and new parties. The Lebanese forces of Samir Geagea, who is considered a harsh critic of Hezbollah and receives support from the Gulf States, Israel and the USA, are trying to profit from this.

Civil society groups are also trying to exploit the Sunni bloc’s weaknesses. Their representatives have come together as “independents” to form new lists and are being supported in part with money and “advice” from the Arab Gulf Emirates, Europe and the USA. The main focus of their mobilization is the demand that Hezbollah surrender its weapons.

On the other hand, smaller independent lists that want to distance themselves from the opposition are focusing their campaigns on the criminal prosecution of corrupt elites in politics and banking, education and health care. Surveys have shown that basic supplies of electricity, water, work, education, health and affordable food are particularly important to the population.

Hezbollah is again in alliance with the (Shiite Amal movement) and the (Christian) Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Hezbollah’s slogan is both an insurance policy for its supporters and a response to critics at home and abroad: “We stay, protect and build.”

more on the subject – German Foreign Minister in the Middle East

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