First legislative elections in Lebanon since the start of the crisis

(Beirut) The Lebanese vote on Sunday to choose their deputies in elections that should maintain the status quo in favor of traditional political forces, yet held responsible for the worst socio-economic crisis in the country’s history.

This election represents a first test for opposition groups that emerged following a popular uprising sparked in October 2019 to demand the departure of a political class accused of corruption and incompetence.

Some 3.9 million voters are called to the polls to renew the 128 members of Parliament as soon as the polling stations open at 7 a.m. (4 a.m. GMT). The results are expected on Monday.

According to experts, independent candidates are expected to win more seats than in the last election in 2018, but no major change in the balance of power is expected.

Corruption

The elections are being held in accordance with a law adopted in 2017, tailored to the advantage of the ruling parties, and in the absence of the main Sunni leader Saad Hariri, who is boycotting them.

The 2018 legislative elections were dominated by the pro-Iranian Shiite movement Hezbollah – the only Lebanese faction to have kept its weapons after the civil war (1975-1990) – and its allies, in particular the Cour patriotique libre (CPL) of President Michel Aoun and the Amal Movement, led by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri.

“Paradoxically, the first national elections in Lebanon since the start of the crisis seem unlikely to make much of a difference,” writes researcher Sam Heller in an article published on the website of the American think tank The Century Foundation.

“It seems unlikely that these elections will significantly change the composition of the Lebanese parliament or the way politics is conducted in the country,” he adds.

This election takes place as Lebanon has been mired since 2019 in a socio-economic crisis classified by the World Bank as the worst in the world since 1850 and caused by decades of mismanagement and corruption of a ruling class almost unchanged for decades. decades.

In almost two years, the national currency has lost more than 90% of its value on the black market and the unemployment rate has almost tripled. And nearly 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the UN.

These are also the first legislative elections since the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which killed more than 200 people and ravaged entire districts of the capital.

The free fall of the economy, insecurity and the collapse of basic public services have pushed a large number of families and young people to leave the country.

Patronage

But some, like Mariana Vodolian, spokesperson for the families of the victims of the explosion at the port, aspire to change through these elections.

“We are against this political class which has governed us for 30 years and which is responsible for the economic collapse and the explosion,” the 32-year-old woman told AFP.

“These elections represent a chance for change, to hold those responsible to account so that we can continue to live in this country,” she added.

Despite the discontent, the political class takes advantage of the absence of the state, now unable to provide basic services such as electricity, medicine or fuel, to activate their networks of traditional community patronage, seeking to win the favor of voters by offering financial assistance.

An approach that could pay off in a context of deep crisis, especially since the independent candidates lack experience, resources and do not present a united front, according to experts.

In an April survey by the NGO Oxfam on voter turnout, 43.55% of Lebanese polled said they would abstain. More than half of them justified their decision by the absence of “promising candidates”.

During the legislative elections organized for Lebanese expatriates, on May 6 and 8, the participation rate was around 63%.

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