Recent Lebanese elections have polarised results among spectators with some acclaiming that it should be considered the first democratic turnaround in the Middle East. While others believe that it is continuing the maintenance of the political immobility that has reigned in the country since the end of the civil war (1975 – 1989).
Elections in Lebanon: defeated Christian ‘tsunami’ Michel Aoun. The path to democracy remains on the rise.
The ‘tsunami’ Michel Aoun (as the local press defines it) a former Christian-Maronite leader and a hero of the Syrian occupation of the 1980s, failed to drag the electorate with its disruptive program of reform and fighting corruption that might have accelerated renewal. It’s inconvenient the same anti-Syrian opposition led by Muslim Saad Hariri, son of the former Prime Minister was assassinated last February after securing a formal majority in Parliament with 72 seats out of 128.
The unorthodox way in which the Hariri Jr. coalition won the elections and the presence in its ranks of forces ready to come out as soon as the parliamentary armchair was obtained highlight that there may be some shadows in transparency in the Parliament.
Syrian forces still on the ground
The fact is that electoral scrutiny has once again bowed down to the unhealthy logic that has made democracy in Lebanon a farce since the elections of 1992: the vote buying and the constitution of ‘electoral cartels’ among the same opponents.
It’s a system which makes a mockery of the right to elect of voters and which has served to maintain the division of power between the religious sects that control all sectors of society and the economy. Pro-Syrian hawks have managed to reinvent themselves under the signs of renewal.
The opposing sides on the ground, both the Future Movement of Sunnis Hariri Jr. and the defeated Free Movement Patriotic of Aoun (21 seats) have used them as strategic allies. They have gained 35 seats for the pro-Syrian bloc Amal-Hezbollah, an electoral monopoly in the Shiite enclaves of the South and East, with which the Future Movement of Hariri Jr.
The momentum driving the street protest of March 14 against the old regime has been lost during these long elections (four weekly runs from May 29 to June 19). That in the end they have been reduced to a confrontation between religious leadership that has prevented the creation of a united front against the continuing interference of Damascus.
Failed the anti-sectarian battle of Aoun
Rather than accepting a subordinate role in Hariri Jr’s lists, Aoun preferred to compete as “opposition” to the opposition, attracting accusations of pro-Syrian demagoguery and military populism from his opponents.
The old rifts with the other Christian fringes (Lebanese Forces, Qornet Shehwan and Falangists) and the unfair electoral law of 2000, which penalizes the vote of small Christian communities in a Muslim majority country (about 70%) didn’t allow him to repeat in the North the success of the third ballot obtained in the Center-West.
Exiled in France from 1991 until last May and absent from political life during the last years of Syrian occupation, the seventy-year Christian leader remains alone and not involved in the corrupt governments maneuvered by Damascus. He has the charisma of a patriotic leader however, was not enough to coalesce all the religious components of the country under the banner of the secular state that he wants to promote by abolishing the sectarian system.
Artificial electoral alliances and vote buying
In the end, confession antagonisms and clientele networks were prevalent. Thanks to them billionaire Hariri managed to buy certain votes by distributing family allowances, medicine and money. It is about $ 35 million spent in just two days with which could have been used to build schools and roads.
A charitable maneuver well rewarded last Sunday when the decisive round took place in the Sunni-dominated Tripoli districts and in the province of Akkar, the poorest in the country with an unemployment rate of 35% (higher than the already high national average reaching the 25%).
“Voters don’t have faith in a virtually non-existent state that does not provide them with adequate assistance, so they want to seek it among the heads of their religious sects, so they can preserve the fullest control of the country’s life,” explains Francisco Acosta, political and economic counselor at the European Commission’s representation office.
An opinion shared by a few Lebanese people however illustrates otherwise. “All parties preferred to join Hariri only because it was the only way to go to Parliament” says Sharon Maronite, “His allies will soon abandon him to form their parliamentary blockade and continue stealing until the next electoral deadline” agrees Leila who preferred to vote for Aoun, despite his Shiite faith.
Some light of hope
However, some do not want to hasten judgments. “I think that under the pressure of the international community threatening to cut funds to the country, Lebanon will have to seriously engage in promoting reforms and fighting illegal trafficking that still binds them to Syria,” commented Nicolas Sbeih, chief editor of economic monthly Commerce du Levant, “The problem is whether Hariri will succeed in keeping Hezbollah and Amal Shiite pro-Syrian forces out of the new government”.
It is a delicate issue because the Lebanese multi-confessional system is based on balance and the political compromise between different religious components. Marginalizing and disarming the forces that represent the country’s most populous community can be dangerous.
“Aoun will certainly try to continue his fight against corruption,” continues Sbeih, “but he must be careful not to turn it into a clash between Christians and Muslims whose clan leaders are more involved.” Sbeih prefers to conclude with vehement optimism: “The road to change is still long and difficult. But the dynamic is now triggered”.