Lebanon as a Small Middle Eastern Country with Big Problems

After six long years, May 2016 witnessed the gathering of Lebanese for the local municipality elections in different regions in Lebanon.

Lebanon as a Small Middle Eastern Country with Big Problems

Musab Eryigit - Lebanon

Once again, the political crisis, the presidential crisis and the garbage crisis, that have erupted in recent years, have led to the weakening of Lebanese’ confidence and interest in politics and politicians in general. In fact, the latter was evident with a 20% decrease in the elections participation rate in Beirut Municipality.

Quoting Zeina Helou, head of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections and one of hundreds of the elections observers, "The elections were a disappointment. Precisely, after a break in parliamentary elections, we had expected that there would be more interest. Unfortunately the elections did not meet international standards. There were more than 647 violations during the elections, up from 314 in 2010."

However, despite Helou's reference to the elections falling short of international standards, the very fact that elections took place in a sheltered democratic system could be considered a success. In fact, participation rate in total was up from 15% in 2010. Additionally, the elections were uneventful, which is a positive sign of a well functioning democratic system in the country, in which elections is proven to be able to take place.

Indisputably, the biggest surprise took place in Tripoli, the country's second largest city. Actually, the Sunni former Minister of Justice, Ashraf Rifi's list was able to secure 18 out of 24 seats in the council elected in the Muslim-Sunni majority city, Tripoli; defeating an alliance backed by former ally Saad Al-Hariri. In fact, this was the biggest loss for the Sunni leader Saad Al-Hariri after the assassination of his father, Rafiq Hariri. Rifi's popularity amongst Sunni groups is increasing daily, with word that Rifi has become a serious candidate against Hariri. Furthermore, his tough stance against Hezbollah, supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, could also be considered a point of concern for Hariri's leadership.

On the other hand, the municipality elections that was held this year, has increased people’s expectations in the parliamentary elections, which have been postponed twice since 2009. In fact, the parliamentary mandate was extended by two and a half year in 2014 due to claimed security threats. However, this year’s municipality elections has proven that the security claims are no longer valid; hence, diminishing the possibility of postponing the parliamentary elections next year.

Ever since its independence from France, Lebanon has been based on a delicate religious and sectarian foundation; moreover, Taif agreement came to approve and protect the latter foundation. However, the instable situation in Iraq and Syria has had a hand in messing up Lebanon’s sectarian equilibrium.

In accordance with Taif agreement, all armed groups, apart from Hezbollah, surrendered their weapons to the Lebanese army; However, Hezbollah, being the party fighting Israel in southern Lebanon, was an exception. Apart from the Shi'ite, the latter agreement was accepted by several groups who supported Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel.

Eventually, after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah gained a great prestige, not only in Lebanon, but amongst the Middle East. However, the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri's assassination in 2005 changed the Lebanese balance. Back then, Hezbollah was considered as an opponent of Hariri and was in close cooperation with the Syrian regime. In fact, the tension between Hariri and the Syrian government was blamed on the close ties of Hezbollah and the Assad regime.

A special tribunal conducted by the United Nations had accused five senior Hezbollah suspects of Hariri’s assassination. However, Mustafa Badreddine, one of the accused suspects, has refused to surrender to the court. Hassan Nasrallah, the General Secretary of Hezbollah, said that the party would never surrender the accused suspects, not in 10, 100 or 1000 years.

Despite the Syrian army withdrawal from Lebanon, provoked by international pressure, the Syrian influence in the country has remained. In fact, Syria-bound March 8 and the opposing March 14 alliances have divided the country into two, between which the competition and tension led to the threatening of an already fragile equilibrium in the country.

Hezbollah, who has been supporting the Assad regime ever since the Syrian civil war erupted, has caused Sunni and many of the Christian parties in Lebanon to be alarmed. In fact, the latter groups had agreed to the Taif Agreement considering that Hezbollah would only use their weapons against Israel. However, the Assad regime fighting against the Muslim-Sunni population of Syria has disrupted the peace and pushed the political mechanism into a deep crisis. In time, Hezbollaha's political support and military aid offered to Assad in Syria implied that the same could take place in Lebanon. As a result, those who never felt threatened by Hezbollah's possession of weapons have now started doubting the group and its intentions.

The crisis itself is still very warm. The presidential authority has been vacant for 25 months and no parliamentary elections have been held since 2009. The parliament’s term has been extended twice, with many arguing its legitimacy. On the other hand, the municipality elections that has been recently carried out, despite a lower than expected turnout, brings an element of oppression to the fore. According to the Lebanese constitution, the government appoints the president; hence, holding parliamentary elections without a president in place leaves the possibility of the country lacking a ruling government. Consequently, before any other election takes place, a presidency consensus has to be made.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Haziran 2016, 19:02