Beyond the serious violations of its democratic activity, extending the Lebanese parliament’s term past May 2022, could significantly worsen the political, economic, and social instability that the country is currently facing, analysts have said.
The current government’s inability to properly address crises, including widespread negligence and corruption is a constant replay of the political mismanagement covering the last 30 years.
With the public debt soaring to $92.42 billion, a $15 billion bill for the port explosion there is an estimated 1.7 million people falling under the poverty line.
This month next year 2022 one last existing beam of hope amongst Lebanese citizens that marks a high stakes milestone for the country’s domestic politics, but change is unlikely, according to a geopolitical analyst from Clipper Data.
Bachar el-Halabi told Al Arabiya English that the last parliamentary session set to discuss the new electoral law was held in 2020.
“It is more likely that the upcoming parliamentary elections gets postponed because the parliament has not yet met nor discussed the electoral law that will be applied to conduct the elections,” he said.
El-Halabi stressed that on the weight of the diaspora and the urgent need to mobilize it in order to better impact the future elections by liberating the country from sectarian tendencies. Lebanese living abroad are not consumed by the internal political, economic and sectarian conflicts as those based in the country, he explained.
“While it’s a positive measure that the opposition groups are connecting and taking a step forward in establishing their presence, mainly by building alliances, this might not be enough, as the groups have failed to introduce a proper alternative political agenda which provides solutions for Lebanese citizens reeling under a political deadlock and an economic collapse,” he said.
As Lebanese citizens move into survival mode, the opposition groups will not be able to afford the connections and resources that the sectarian parties retain, he suggested.
Lebanese elections: a peculiar urgency
Lebanon last held parliamentary elections in 2018. Originally scheduled for 2013 the polls were postponed three times amid security concerns and disagreements about the adoption of a new election law that was approved in 2017.
The new law divided Lebanon into 15 electoral districts and reforms saw the introduction of proportional representation for the first time in the country’s history. Although, it changed the previous winner-takes-all system, it has been widely criticized for its failure to offer those outside the traditional political elite the opportunity of winning parliamentary seats because the sectarian discourse remains.
A remote discussion was held recently with the purpose of pushing Lebanese opposition groups to introduce their political agendas and further connect with each other.
Moderated by political psychologist and doctoral researcher at the University of Kent Ramzi Abou Ismail, it was by invite only.
“The postponement of the elections is in hands of the ruling class. This is why it’s important that the civic society takes action, and up until now there is no sign of the elections happening so, the more we drag past May 2021, the less time we have to properly prepare,” Ismail told Al Arabiya English.
He explained that the current situation Lebanese people experience daily is reason enough to encourage the parties on the periphery to reach a common ground and challenge the status quo.
The Lebanese opposition groups consist mainly of: Lebanese Kataeb Party, Minteshreen, National Bloc, Al Takaddom, Ammiyet 17 October, and Beirut Madinati.
The parties are pushing for the parliamentary elections to happen, but have not yet agreed on a common interest which, in Abou Ismail’s opinion is weakening their own political agendas, giving the ruling elite to promote themselves and justify the status quo.
Kataeb Party leader Samy Gemayel resigned as an MP after the Beirut port explosion in August that killed at least 190 people, including Kataeb’s secretary-general Nazar Najarian. Before the blast, the country’s economic crisis already existed with regular mass demonstrations common. Gemayel tried to shed the Kataeb Party’s image as a hardline party activist.
“Having more time to prepare for the election is a double-edged sword,” el- Halabi explained. In his opinion, it might help the opposition groups in better communicating and cooperating, but it might breed discord between ideologically incoherent opposition groups. It also gives time for sectarian parties to restructure relations with their disgruntled followers by providing food and security, two much needed commodities in the current phase.
Meanwhile, elections pose a major challenge for the opposition groups that need to devise a strategy and run on a platform that can convince Lebanese citizens to take them seriously and vote for them while also trying to push back against pressure from well-organized and deeply rooted sectarian parties that can mobilize on excessive attachments, el-Halabi added.
Abou Ismail considers it is much easier to target the people who participated in the 2018 elections than the people who, amid a serious crisis at that time, had a passive approach to politics.
To become a reality, and elections were to happen, the unanswered question remains: will the national identity prevail over its sectarian burden?