Election Campaign in Lebanon: The Rebellion of the Millionaire

Neemat Frem drives himself. The Lebanese industrialist and politician has just completed the kick-off event for his election campaign. Frem leaves the theater surrounded by well-wishers, advisers and questioners. He has to move on quickly, freeing himself from the crowd of people as inconspicuously as possible. His dark limousine is ready for departure. Frem does not take a seat in the back seat, as the arrogance of other politicians in his country dictates. He swings behind the wheel. The bodyguards stay behind.

The journey leads through Jounieh, a coastal town with around 350,000 inhabitants, in which the contrast between the dreary Lebanese present and the time that the country mourns becomes particularly visible. It’s no longer the long nights in the clubs or casinos associated with the city, or carefree days by the sea. Above all, it is the notorious traffic jams that seem to exist here at any time of the day.

It doesn’t take long for Neemat Frem to come to a standstill on the expressway. “That disgusts me,” he calls out over the steering wheel. “To hell with them.” He doesn’t mean the motorists crowding into four lanes on what is actually a three-lane road. It is the powerful in his country who make him angry. Who first ruined people and then offered them money for their votes. “I’m going to start another campaign,” says Frem. “Take the money – and vote whoever you want!”

Observers attest to a credible will to change

It is a good tradition that the Lebanese voter can count on a tangible return for their vote. Usually, the rush to the authorities is particularly great when an election is coming up. It’s worth waiting for an ID card. A new parliament is to be elected on Sunday – and the balance sheet of the current ruling political class, which has divided Lebanon among itself like a mafia cartel, is devastating. The country is stuck in one of the worst economic crises in recent history. The state is officially bankrupt, its infrastructure is deteriorating, the value of the national currency has already fallen. According to United Nations estimates, three out of four Lebanese live below the poverty line.

There is no end in sight to the downturn, let alone an improvement. In addition, this political class is responsible for the largest non-nuclear explosion in history, which devastated large parts of the capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. “If you are satisfied with the current situation, then vote for the people who put you in this situation,” says Frem at the start of the campaign.

Neemat Frem is driving home from a campaign rally in Jounieh.

Neemat Frem is driving home from a campaign rally in Jounieh.

Image: Maria Klenner

In fact, there should be a gold-rush mood in the opposition. But traditional political principles do not apply in Lebanon. The chances of change are minimal. All candidates smiling from the big election posters may promise reforms. But most of them, especially those with the best chance of success, are not to be believed.

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