Lebanon’s Elections: Who’s In and Who’s Out?
If you’re worried about Lebanon’s commitment to a democratic character more insulated from its oligarchs, look to the results of the candidate registrations for the Parliamentary elections on May 15. According to Arab News, “The final number of candidates who will run for the May 15 Lebanese parliamentary elections is 1,043. The final total includes 155 women, 15% of the registered candidates.” It remarked, “This is the highest number of candidates in Lebanese political history, with the number of candidates for one seat exceeding expectations in some electoral districts.”
And if you crave even more details about who’s in and who’s out, check the comprehensive list published by L’Orient le Jour here. The proliferation of candidates, however, is only one aspect within a larger story of this historically significant moment for Lebanon. The real story lies in the background leading up to the May 15th elections. You can count on the traditional elites, especially those who are now in the majority with Hezbollah, to hand out more cookies to their constituents or provoke sectarian feelings through the kind of fake news that has now become a ubiquitous and all-too-familiar scourge of elections across the globe. The offensive is already underway, as we continue to watch incumbents slowing down any momentum for reforms coming from the Parliament. This includes dragging out the process of appointments to the Electoral Board, the Electricity Regulatory Commission, and the Public Procurement oversight monitor in addition to delaying any actions that may bring more independence to the judiciary.
Lebanon’s politicians speak volumes of their intentions, yet all they have to show for it is their mastery of procrastination, denial, thuggery, abstentions, and other tactics from their corruption toolkit, ensuring that any threats to their priorities are mitigated. As Ibrahim Johari has documented, there are significant obstacles imposed on new entrants to politics as well as to voters, themselves. The Arab News article observes that less than half of all registered candidates survive to get on a ballot, being unable to find a list that will include them. Although in some districts the election regulations do allow for both individual and list-based voting, independent candidates without more unified backing ultimately face an arduous challenge.
In order to register, candidates must submit a $1500 deposit, an obstacle for many especially amid the recent Central Bank circulars continuing restrictions on depositors’ access to capital. Moreover, if they do not appear on the ballot, candidates forfeit the deposit, an especially heavy loss in this current economic climate. In addition, candidates must show evidence of a new account with $5000 deposited, another hurdle for new entrants or anyone without major political backing. Both mega-centers and electronic voting cards have been postponed until the 2028 election cycle as the current government claims that there was not enough time to implement either. Some analysts claim, however, that the IMPACT and other social services databases provide more than enough capacity for the government to introduce digital innovations supporting both initiatives.
With the registrations now complete, emerging questions are increasingly concerned with the possibility of the election‘s postponement should Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement come to the conclusion that their alliance will lose its majority position in Parliament after May 15th.
Tony Francis, a political analyst noted that, “The determination of the parties in power to nominate the same people who were MPs while some of them are accused in the Beirut port blast case and some accused of financial irregularities, is disrespectful to people.” More than disrespectful, one World Bank executive told ATFL that it is beyond cynical to think that the ruling elites and their friends have no intention of exposing themselves to potential losses in the election. They are, therefore, deliberately stalling IMF negotiations until the formation of a new government, thus solidifying their position as the dominant ruling force.
Interestingly, an article in L’Orient Le Jour noted that the Saudis were potentially interested in reviving the Sunni presence in the elections in order to prevent Hezbollah from gaining seats at the expense of the Sunni community. Rather than endorsing candidates, however, the Kingdom is hoping that the Lebanese Sunni community will decide on an effective approach to the elections on its own. The Saudis have discussed this issue several times apparently, with the French, and, according to the article, have already committed to joint humanitarian projects for Lebanon with them.
In light of this development, the French-Saudi influence may prove its impact on the election results. As time passes, though, the Syrians and Turks, among others, will increase their activities in Lebanon so as not to lose their stake in the country’s affairs. So while this seems like a typical Lebanese election with entrants and prospective opponents facing off with the corrupt classes depriving the country of its stability, there may still be some surprising outcomes. That, however, must be decided by the Lebanese people and the Lebanese people, alone, through free, fair, and on-time elections.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.