Lebanese vote Sunday in the first election since the country’s economic collapse.
The key is whether Hezbollah-backed Iran and its allies can retain a parliamentary majority amid growing poverty and anger against the ruling parties. After months of uncertainty over whether there would be an election, the polls opened at 7 am.
The country is rocked by the economic collapse blamed by the World Bank on the ruling class and the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020. Analysts say public outrage on both issues could push some reform-minded candidates into parliament.
But expectations of a major upheaval are slim in Lebanon’s sectarian system, which divides parliamentary seats among 11 religious groups and is skewed in favor of established parties.
In the last vote in 2018, the heavily armed Shiite movement Hezbollah and its allies – including the Christian Party – President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement – won 71 of 128 seats in parliament. These results have pulled Lebanon deeper into Iran’s orbit, a blow to the influence of Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah has said it expects little change in the composition of the current parliament, although its opponents – including the Lebanese forces of Saudi Arabia and another Christian group – say they hope to gain seats from the Aun forces.
The boycott by Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri added a touch of uncertainty, leaving a vacuum that both Hezbollah’s allies and opponents seek to fill. As the vote approaches, observers have warned that candidates will buy votes through food parcels and fuel vouchers issued to families severely affected by the financial meltdown.
The next parliament must vote on key reforms required by the International Monetary Fund to unlock financial support to alleviate the crisis and elect a new president to replace Aun, whose term expires on October 31st.
Whatever the outcome on Sunday, analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis that would hold back economic recovery as factions negotiate portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet, a process that could take months.
Two-thirds of Lebanese want to emigrate, and “deliberate depression” scares the cabinet.
Almost two-thirds of Lebanese would leave the country, if they could, permanently. That’s according to a new Gallup poll, indicating attitudes in the worst political and economic crisis to shake the country in decades.
A day after the data was released, Beirut authorities signaled that they were looking for a way out of the deepening crisis, which was compounded by regional isolation due to political tensions between Lebanon and the Persian Gulf.
Information Minister Georges Kardahi resigned after the government did not meet for weeks to avoid the process. Lebanon has formed a cabinet after more than a year of deep political stalemate following the resignation of the previous government in the devastating bombing of the port of Beirut, but more than a year before the blast.
Kordahi has angered Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait by commenting on the war in Yemen since he became a minister. As the coalition is fragile, the authorities tried to avoid the issue by simply postponing their meetings.
There is also a geopolitical element in the latest layer of the crisis that has been raging for years, as Kardahi is from the Marada Christian Party, which is backed by Hezbollah, which is close to Iran (the great Saudi rival). Whatever the reasons, the Gallup poll shows that the worst consequences are not for parts of the political elite, but Lebanese society.
What the Gallup study says
Most Lebanese would flee to Germany (19%) or Canada (28%) if they could, according to a Gallup poll.
The effect of the economic collapse preceding the explosion, linked to corruption and mismanagement, is crushing for the middle class. “Political instability and government inefficiency are virtually constant in Lebanon, but the recent crisis in the country has gripped people more severely than all the hardships of the civil war since,” Gallup wrote.
Brain drain and emigration have been constant features of life in Lebanon since the civil war, and migrants around the world are thought to be more than they are today. However, the proportion of people in Lebanon wishing to leave has always been relatively constant – between 19% and 32% – in all the years since Gallup asked the question (since 2007).
Among the main points in the study:
- more Muslims than Christians (67 vs. 57%) want to leave;
- more than 8 out of 10 Lebanese (85%) experienced “difficult” or “very difficult”;
- the second of the above two answers gave 62 percent, twice as much as in 2019 when their share was 32%;
- more than half (53%) have gone through a period in the last 12 months in which they were without enough money for food – 45% in 2020 and 14% in 2019;
Government and the “deliberate depression”
As early as December last year, the World Bank called the situation in the country a “deliberate depression” because it was provoked by the reluctance of the political elite to carry out reforms.
In support of this sentiment, exactly one year after the World Bank designation, the government’s decision to open an emergency aid registration portal for needy Lebanese created a picture of the situation. Nearly 31,000 people registered at the portal just 24 hours after its appearance, and it only started working in March next year. Most are in Tripoli, once Lebanon’s economic heart. The registration will continue throughout December and January.
In this situation, Kardahi announced that he was putting his country ahead of himself, a month after Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on him to step down with almost the same words, hoping to restore key ties with the Persian Gulf. The Gulf Arab monarchies have been reluctant to pour billions into the Lebanese economy for years, but remain a valuable economic partner. Due to Kardahi’s comments, Riyadh’s ambassador to Beirut was recalled, and other countries in the region followed suit. Saudi Arabia has also completely banned the import of Lebanese products.
“I learned from Mikati that the French want my resignation to take place before his visit,” Kordahi said. He is referring to a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he said Mikati had assured he would discuss with Lebanon during a visit to Saudi Arabia. The French leader begins a tour of the region today.
However, Kordahi’s resignation will not solve the problem – access to funds from international financial institutions and allied countries such as France and the Arabs in the Persian Gulf requires deep reforms, for which there has been no political will in recent years.
Even if Lebanon doesn’t hit rock bottom, it will be difficult for it to get out of the current environment, Gallup said in a statement. appropriate to the crisis. “
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