SIDON, Lebanon ( Associated Press) — Running for parliament for the first time, the independent Hania Zaatari walks down the street of an old souq in the port city of Sidon, telling poor workers and businessmen that fixing Lebanon’s devastating economic crisis is her top priority. Is.
“The economic plan needs to consider marginalized people like you and give them a chance to resurface,” she told Ahmed Abu Dhar, 70, who two years ago was one of the two remaining carpenters on the street, who died of nearly 50. used to claim.
The engineer-turned-candidate exudes confidence and hope. Yet his enthusiasm was met by shrugs and resignations, reflecting widespread fears that the mid-May vote would only perpetuate the dire situation.
Lebanon has been in free-fall for more than two years, should it be a make-or-break vote for the country’s ruling class. His decades-long hold on power has led to the ruin of one of the Middle East’s most enthusiastic countries.
May 15 is the first election for parliament in Lebanon since the economic downturn began in late 2019. Government factions have done virtually nothing to address the collapse, leaving Lebanese to fend for themselves as they plunge into poverty without electricity, medicine, or garbage collection. Any other form of normal life.
It is also the first election since August 4, 2020, the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut, which killed more than 215 people and devastated large parts of the city. The destruction sparked widespread outrage over the endemic corruption and mismanagement of traditional parties.
A new generation of political opposition activists such as Zatari emerged after the protests that began in October 2019, a historic moment when Lebanese temporarily renounced their confessional identity and chanted shoulder to shoulder to topple the ruling elite.
Activists are trying to build that political engagement and awareness in Lebanon to implement the change.
Yet, instead of uniting, self-proclaimed opposition groups are divided on ideological lines on almost every issue, including how to revive the economy.
As a result, each of the 15 electoral districts has on average at least three separate opposition lists, a 20% increase from the 2018 elections. There are a total of 103 lists with 1,044 candidates for the 128-seat assembly, which is divided equally between Christians and Muslims.
Many are afraid of the possible outcome.
Lebanon’s rulers, many of them warlords and militia holdovers from the days of the 1975–90 civil war, have proved extremely resilient.
They hold onto their seats from one election to the next and can be treated with impunity in power, mainly because a communal power-sharing system and an ancient electoral law virtually guarantee their place in parliament.
His parties can rally followers who remain staunch loyalists for communal or ideological reasons, despite their displeasure over the situation in the country. The economic crisis has made people more dependent on the protection and cash provided by the parties.
For many, the election is a futile exercise.
Carmen Geha, an associate professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut, said, “I am extremely disappointed and to be honest this is the last card before I come from Lebanon.” She said that she was going to Spain in the summer and she no longer felt safe in the country.
“It is unacceptable that they ruined the speed and suffering of people on the roads,” she said. In the past two years, more than 250,000 people have left the country with a population of about 7 million.
In the lead-up to the vote, the streets are full of billboards and posters of candidates with impossible promises of change. As the currency continues to depreciate and inflation, poverty and hunger continue to rise, it is a shocking sign of money being spent on campaigns.
Even mainstream factions, claiming to be in favor of reform, have tried to use the anger over the port blast to gain in the election. The Christian Lebanese Forces Party has sent out campaign messages emphasizing the need for better surveillance at the port prior to the explosion.
The explosion was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate randomly stored in a port warehouse. The ruling class united to stop the investigation of the explosion. Nevertheless, the terrorist Hezbollah group, which dominates the political landscape and the government, says in its campaign messages that it wants an investigation.
Elections are underway in open defying the two former ministers wanted for questioning in connection with the port blasts in connection with criminal negligence. Two, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter, belong to the Hezbollah-allied Shia Amal party.
Paul Naggar, the father of one, said, “If he is to be re-elected, I would consider it a direct insult to the entire nation and the victims of the blast, to every common man left in this country.” The youngest victim of the explosion, 3-year-old Alexandra.
Naggar, director of the newly formed political advocacy group Kulluna IRADA, said the election was a historic occasion, but expressed dismay at the failure of the opposition to unite.
“We don’t have the luxury of thinking about right and left and center and socialism or liberalism, we are in a state of existence. Either we survive or we go,” he said.
In the northern city of Jounih, candidate JD Ghosn, a journalist who recently decided to contest with the leftist group Citizens in a state, said the division was clear from the start.
“We have 300 political groups that claim to be opposition and revolution, and we have no structure to discuss or try to coordinate between all these opposition groups.”
Ghosn is running alongside the youngest candidate, 25-year-old Verena al-Amil, and three others in a list in the district of Meton.
Outside a Starbucks, al-Amil was approached by a man who said he was voting for the Lebanese Forces, one of the main traditional Christian parties. He said he was ready to change, but had not heard of many other parties.
Minutes earlier, a group of teenagers made jumbled hand gestures referring to another Christian party founded by President Michel Aoun, which is politically affiliated with Hezbollah. This was a strong indication of power over the constituents of the mainstream parties.
“The new independent lists are non-sectarian, so they lack community support, which is the dominant discourse in Lebanese politics,” said Imad Salameh, a professor of political science at Lebanese American University.
“If the groups were well-financed, or supported by foreign powers, such as traditional parties, they may have had a better chance.”