Analysis: Cynics Aside Lebanon Could be Poised For Change

Published May 18th, 2022 - 06:54 GMT
Counting the votes in Lebanon
Lebanese electoral staff start counting votes for parliamentary elections in the presence of party delegates and European Union observers at a polling station the capital Beirut, on May 15, 2022. (AFP)

Chaos may continue to prevail in Lebanon despite the recent parliamentary elections held recently in the country, and which is being seen as a success by international bodies such as the United Nations. Elections aside, Lebanon is now at a crossroads - it has to immediately appoint a prime minister, form a government and its parliament has to vote on a speaker. 

In theory, that should be easy, in practice that could take many months judging from recent and past experience and the political system that exists in the country. Thus the Lebanese are bracing themselves for political horsetrading of deputies that will just take times; you can't hurry the Lebanese, or their political masters as many would say despite the pressing issues of economic collapse, nor the fact that a cabinet needs to be formed quickly to literally "beg" the IMF to provide desperately needed aid to get the country out of its deep malaise. 

The Elections:

The parliamentary polls have actually produced many surprises despite the glum faces previously displayed that the traditional political class - rulers of Lebanon - won't change. This was an unexpected elections, politicians, sects, parties, and even ideologies did change for won't of a better word. In this coming parliament, political posturing would be expected because of the new 'striking' givens at hand.

It maybe fair to say that the parliamentary power of Hezbollah will be dented somewhat. They will no longer be in the driving seat so to speak. Whilst the party, maintained its original batch of seats, at 13, and its traditional Shia Amal friends have a combined total of 27 seats, their Christian allies, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) lost their dominance at 17 seats climbing down from 20 seats won in the 2018 elections. Their overall bloc will only control 61 seats, having lost allies elsewhere in the country.

The alliance that includes Druze politicians - despite the fact that the Druze Progressive Socialist Party won maintained their eight seats - have lost their 71-seat majority of 2018 - and can't be set to dictate the next government because they need at least 65 seats in the 128-seat Lebanese parliament. So there are immediate changes there, though this is still theory.

The other bloc:

This is one of the other great surprises for Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces made significant gains at 19 seats, climbing up from 15 seats in the 2018 elections. Their win might be seen as a humiliation for the FPM who boosted of representing the Christian voice in Lebanon. Geagea and his allies, that are still-in-the-making and if they can muster the 65-majority, would be able to have a strong and leading voice in the next government. 

His latest won however, maybe due to the increased polarization of Lebanese politics, society and indeed within the Christian community, FPM voters who see the alliance of Michel Aoun - current Lebanese president and who says he is stepping down in October no doubt because of his old age at 88 - to Hezbollah as undesirable least of all because of the current economic meltdown and their relations with Iran and Syria. 

With Geagea's win, Lebanon's political relations may yet be changing again because he is openly anti-Hizbollah and pro-Saudi, something that would for the first time please Riyadh because of what they previously said about Iranian influence in the country, and together with Gulf states, recalled their ambassadors in Beirut and only recently reinstated them. We wait to see whether he would be able to form the next government. 

The upset in the parliamentary results may have been due to the fact that back in March Saad Hariri, who heads Mustaqbal and won 18 seats in the 2018 polls said neither he or his party would run in the coming elections. He represents a significant chunk of the Sunni community in Lebanon and many of whom were dissatisfied with the decision not to run. 

Thus, the question that begs itself is could these Sunni voters switched their ballots and voted for candidates like Geagea no matter how savory he is, nor of his bloody past in the Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 till 1990. That's one thing, another is the fact Geagea party was previously within the bloc represented by Hariri so voting for him would be seen as an natural development. To make that claim however you would need to know the number of Sunni voters and their percentage which may not be available. 

Non-traditional MPs 

The last election was 'good' as well in other ways, and that is why it may make a difference this time round. Eight women were elected in this parliament. However, the most significant win is for the so-called "independents" or the reformists; figures differ but at least 17 candidates who backed the 2019 protest movement in Beirut won seats and according to the local press at least 12 of them will sit in parliament for the first time.

Despite the cynics, this move to new blood signifies a move away from traditional parties who lost they political heavyweights such as Elie Ferzli, the ex-deputy speaker of the Lebanese parliament and Talal Arslan, a Druze MPs who long been in politics and backed Hezbollah as well as others. The elections of new opposition politicians like Yassin Yassin and Mark Daou may mean that government could be formed quickly to deal with the economic crisis and the health sector which has been bludgeoned by the long-reeling Covid pandemic. 

Its early days yet. But there is new and vigorous hope in the country despite incessant power-cuts, rampant inflation, a run on the Lebanese Lira that stands 27,000 to one dollar and the 2020 Beirut Port disaster that took away many lives and destroyed so much in a country that begs for a turnaround.

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