A Lebanese vote for hope

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Jess Diez
Managing Editor & Research Associate, Middle East Policy Council

May 17, 2022

On Sunday, May 15, Lebanon held its first parliamentary election since the onset of the country’s economic crisis, one of the most severe globally in over 150 years, according to the World Bank. The culmination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Beirut Blast pushed almost 80 percent of the population below poverty lines and these exponential problems intensified due to governmental corruption and egocentric mismanagement. Major protests across Beirut, Tripoli, and other large cities have become prevalent, demanding parliamentary change for financial and governmental reforms. This week’s elections have the potential to reflect a better future for the Lebanese population, therefore possessing heightened importance. 

An absorbent amount of young educated Lebanese have fled the country within the past few years in hopes of a brighter future. Thus, expatriate voters from approximately 50 countries casted their ballots on either May 6 or 8, depending on their country of residence. Writing for Arab News, Najia Houssari highlighted expat voting proved weaker than 2018 elections; however great enthusiasm remained, such as in Dubai: “Expats living in countries that have a Sunday weekend voted on Sunday, while those living in the 10 Arab and Muslim countries that have a Friday weekend were the first to vote on Friday. The third and final stage will take place on May 15, with the Lebanese voting at home…The queues at the Lebanese General Consulate in Dubai stretched for over 1 km, as voters waited for hours under the scorching sun to cast their votes, while the turnout in Abu Dhabi hit 65.2 percent at 3 p.m. Beirut time.”

Discussed further in Arab News, Lebanese President Michel Aoun, as well as other foreign diplomats, visited Beirut’s operation room while the expat voting occurred, and was briefed on how the elections were being monitored: “Aoun hoped that ‘the elections will end smoothly, without problems or objections and for things to improve in the upcoming elections so that they would be easier and at a lower cost than today, by using a code to vote and not having to fly in ballot boxes’…The EU’s Election Observation Mission’s deputy, Jarek Domanski, said ‘the mission’s 16 teams are monitoring the progress of the electoral process, and they are distributed over 13 European countries. The teams that will undertake the same task next Sunday will include about 170 observers. The mission team will monitor the numbers of ballot boxes coming from abroad in order to match them when the counting process begins on May 15.’”

On the day of national voting, polls opened from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in almost 8,000 stations across all of Lebanon. All 128 parliamentary seats were up for election. Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies lost significant support in these elections. According to Hurriyet Daily News, the Hezbollah-led coalition won 61 seats in the 128-member legislature, a drop of 10 members since the last vote was held four years ago. The loss was largely due to setbacks suffered by the group’s political partners, and was not expected to weaken the Iran-backed group’s domination of Lebanese politics. All 13 Hezbollah candidates who ran got elected. Still, the results were hailed as a breakthrough for groups opposed to Hezbollah and the country’s other mainstream political parties blamed for the collapse, introducing more new independent faces than was expected.”

Naharnet expanded on Hezbollah’s drop in members, falling short of the 65 needed to retain a majority in the parliament: “Their strongest opponents in parliament will be led by the Christian Lebanese Forces party of former warlord Samir Geagea, that raked in several new seats on the back of a virulent anti-Hizbullah campaign. New reformist faces who entered the legislative race on the values of a 2019 anti-establishment uprising made a stronger showing that many had predicted…One of the most notable victories notched up by independents was the election in the third South district of Elias Jradeh and Firas Hamdan for seats that Hizbullah and its allies had not lost in three decades.”

The elections marked the first time in decades without Lebanon’s largest Sunni party, the Future Movement. This party, led by former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, dissolved after Hariri stepped down earlier in 2022 from politics. Writing for Al Jazeera, Kareem Chehayeb highlighted that “analysts and some Hariri allies feared that the political vacuum created by Hariri’s departure would allow Hezbollah’s allies to expand their influence in Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli, and other key constituencies. However, in Beirut’s second district, a key electoral stronghold for Hariri, three opposition candidates broke through. Ibrahim Mneimeh, an independent who won a Sunni seat in Beirut’s district with the most individual votes, believes that people want a new way of doing politics, and dismissed fears of a ‘Sunni gap’…‘Those who said so were wrong – Beirutis decided to overcome traditional leaders and having to wait for their rights,’ Mneimneh told Al Jazeera. ‘And we didn’t just get Sunni votes, we got votes from Shia, Christian, and Druze, showing that having a civil discourse in the city matters to people.’”

The elections also marked the small but significant growth in female representation in the Lebanese government. Writing for Al Arabiya, Sally Abou AlJoud states that “in a country where women comprise less than 5 percent of parliament, 118 women candidates created cracks in the political glass ceiling, vying for a broader representation in the 128-seat male-dominated Lebanese public office in the general elections on May 15. The unprecedented number of women running for legislative seats accounted for a staggering 37 percent uptick from the 86 who ran in 2018. It came a long way compared to the paltry number of 12 and 4 who ran in 2009 and 2005, marking a rising wave of interest among Lebanese women to throw their hat into the ring and run for office. Men still make up the bulk of candidates on the 103 electoral lists – at around 84 percent – and evoked mixed reactions among voters and experts. Some see no reason to celebrate, while many onlookers were urging people to hone in on the impressive qualitative turnout rather than the numerical, which panned out despite a substantial absence of national effort and a gender quota to support women in politics.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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