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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Lebanon faces first hopeless elections since crisis began

Latest NewsLebanon faces first hopeless elections since crisis began

Lebanese soldiers are deployed ahead of Saturday’s Sunday elections in Beirut.MOHAMED AZAKIR (REUTERS)

“Beirut is a feeling.” The voice of singer Fairuz, who best embodies the soul of Lebanon, fills the public address of the pavilion of the Bil District Trade Fair, near the remains of the bunker that exploded in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020. more than 200 lives and plunged an entire country into despair. Red flags of the Sunni coalition fly in a hall of almost 3,000 visitors, where veiled women converse with disheveled young women. Hundreds of buses and minibuses delivered them to the capital free of charge. The final rally of candidate Fuad Majzoumi, a 70-year-old businessman who made his fortune in the Persian Gulf, on Friday symbolized the fate of the first election Lebanese faced after three years of crisis, unrest and rule-breaking: more of the same.

Shia Muslim Hezbollah, backed by the largest militias in the Middle East, and their Christian allies, such as those who back President Michel Aoun, are hoping to regain or consolidate most of the 71 of the 128 parliamentary seats they have won. in the 2018 legislative election, Sunni Muslim candidates like billionaire Majzumi are in turn trying to contain the hecatomb threat at the polls after intimidating former prime minister Saad Hariri, their natural leader, who retired from politics in January. Meanwhile, opposition groups that emerged from a protest movement that opposed the sectarian and patronizing distribution of power in 2019 presented themselves in the elections as divided and with little opportunity to gain representation.

Whoever wins, a Sunni will be at the head of the government. This is stated in the agreement signed in Taif (Saudi Arabia), which put an end to the 15-year civil war between Lebanese factions in 1990. The country’s richest man, Nayib Mikati, who managed to form a government in September last year after 13 months of chaos punctuated by the failure of three other candidates, will presumably end up at the head of a failed state. Back then, he had already announced to the citizens that they would have to “tighten their belts” in the face of a crisis that the World Bank defines as one of the worst since the beginning of the industrial age in the mid-nineteenth century, and for which he blames the nation’s ruling class as a whole. The International Monetary Fund is awaiting the new cabinet’s constitution to activate the $3 billion (€2,880 million) bailout program it approved in April.

18 ethnic and confessional communities

Parties representing 18 ethnic and confessional communities in a country with 15 different civil rights laws are resisting the abolition of the quota system, under which the head of state is appointed by a Maronite Christian and the presidency of parliament by a Shia Muslim. After the explosion that destroyed the port of Beirut and caused damage estimated at 5 billion euros, the international community made the delivery of aid dependent on the establishment of a government of national unity with the presence of qualified technicians who would carry out political and economic reforms.

Bernard Bridie, campaign manager for the Beirut Needs a Soul list, led by the wealthy Majzumi, elaborates that his program includes, among other priorities, “the elimination of illegal militias, in particular the Hezbollah arsenal, and the transfer of weapons to the army.” The pro-Iranian paramilitary party, declared a terrorist organization by the United States and some European countries in general, has become a state within a state thanks to a wide network of influence in power and the offer of social services.

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The participation of its fighters in the war in Syria in the ranks loyal to the Damascus regime has turned Hezbollah into the most trained and combat-ready militia in the region. In 2006, she had already challenged Israel in an open war in southern Lebanon. Since then, this diverse eastern Mediterranean country has become the scene of a clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Shiite and Sunni forces for regional hegemony. Its leader Hassan Nasrallah has now called on his candidates to “defend Lebanon” with a vote.

Government of technocrats outside the parties

Adviser Bridie believes that after the Sunni campaign in the Beirut district, the new cabinet should consist mainly of “technocrats” in the service of the national interest and regardless of the polarization of the parties. The crisis in Lebanon, the worst since the civil war that bled the country between 1975 and 1990, has thrown 80% of its 4.5 million inhabitants and almost all of the refugees – more than a million Syrians and almost 300,000 Palestinians – below the threshold of extreme poverty. The pound, the national currency, has lost 90% of its value against the dollar over the past three years, while inflation has exceeded 200%. Foreign currency savings remain blocked in banks, in corralito, which allows you to withdraw only up to 200 euros per month.

After the government of Beirut partially removed subsidies for fuel imports, gasoline prices rose sharply last year. The escalation has affected the economy as a whole and affected essential services such as electricity generators, on which citizens depend for survival due to constant power outages.

Despite the high price of fuel, almost one euro per liter, in a country where the minimum wage does not reach 30 euros a month, Lebanese who want to vote this Sunday will have to travel to their places of birth, where electoral law requires it. exercise the right to vote. The results of the polls will determine the future of the reforms demanded by international donors to save Lebanon from endless shipwreck. As in every decisive case, the Armed Forces, the only truly national institution for the Lebanese, were deployed on the Saturday afternoon ahead of the call for elections.

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