Lebanon votes amid discontent, little hope of change

By Noemi Jabois

Beirut, May 14 (EFE).- Lebanon heads to the polls Sunday for a decisive parliamentary election amid widespread discontent over the economic crisis and few expectations that the fragmented opposition can snatch the majority from the Shiite group Hezbollah and its allies.

Overseas voting last week registered a 63% turnout and more than 142,000 members of the Lebanese diaspora cast their ballots, almost three times more than the last elections, which some experts attribute to a desire for change among the electorate.

These are the first legislative elections since one of the worst economic crises in recent history erupted in the small Mediterranean country at the end of 2019, one that has pushed almost 80% of the population below the poverty line and caused the value of the local currency to fall by more than 90%.

The Lebanese people will vote with their savings locked up in banks and hardly any electricity in their homes due to a depression which, to make matters worse, is considered to be the result of widespread corruption among the ruling class.

Before the collapse, the first symptoms were beginning to show in October 2019 when a new tax triggered a wave of mass protests against endemic corruption, the rigid sectarian system of power sharing and the entire political class.

The movement resurfaced in August 2020 over the alleged negligence that claimed more than 200 lives when hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely for years in the port of Beirut exploded.

The current jaded atmosphere seems conducive to a triumph for the so-called “thawra” or “revolution” parties, a myriad of opposition groups and candidates emanating from the protests who are running against the oligarchy of the traditional parties in Sunday’s election.

However, they are not expected to win many of the 128 seats at stake because they are so fragmented and have not seized the opportunity to unite in a large opposition coalition.

For Christiana Parreira, a research associate at Princeton University, the participation of these groups is part of a “pattern of objection” that dates back to the 2015 protests against the garbage buildup and will continue regardless of the results of the elections.

“The alternative or non-traditional political movements that are competing today, many of them under the premise that Lebanon is poorly governed and that the leaders currently in power are responsible for this, are part of a broader pattern of organizing against the ruling parties,” she told Efe.

The parliament is controlled by Hezbollah and its allies, mainly the Shiite Amal party and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of Lebanese President Michel Aoun.

Experts have not ruled out the bloc winning a new majority despite the fact that some of its members seem to have lost support in the years running up to these elections.

The new assembly, chosen through a complex system of closed lists and religious quotas, will be in charge of electing the next President of the Republic at the end of the year and will also have the last word on the government that will supervise an eventual solution to the economic crisis.

Aoun confirmed Friday that a new government would be formed after the legislative elections and hoped that this would be achieved “quickly and without obstacles”.

The current government took the reins of the country last September with the promise to deal with the dire situation and was formed more than a year after its predecessor resigned en bloc in the wake of the Beirut explosion.

Since the protests that began in October 2019 forced the resignation of then Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanon has lurched from one political crisis to another.

The post of prime minister can only be filled by a Sunni Muslim and the most powerful figure with this profile, Hariri, announced in January that he was retiring from politics and called on his Future Current party to boycott the parliamentary elections.

“The question of who is going to fill that kind of vacuum, if anyone, is open and perhaps to a large extent depends on the results of the elections,” Parreira concluded. EFE

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