Lebanon goes to the polls on Sunday for the first general elections since a severe economic and political crisis hit the country in late 2019.
Over the past three years, the currency, the Lebanese pound, has lost more than 90% of its value, trapping the vast majority of the population in poverty, according to the United Nations.
The country’s economic collapse and political instability sparked a series of protests that began in 2019, also known as the October 17 Revolution or thaw (revolution).
Civil society organizations have joined those on the streets to protest against the current sectarian political establishment, accusing it of corruption and blame for the economic free fall and its consequences.
But although Lebanon is a country in desperate need of change, Sunday’s election is unlikely to help.
Civil society groups, activists and citizens involved in mass protests have created a fragmented opposition, reducing the likelihood that independent candidates can topple the current political class and win enough seats to trigger change.
The events of the past three years have shown that the Lebanese state has failed to provide basic services. It also showed how sectarian political parties have repelled mass protests and dispersed public anger by ignoring political grievances or accusing each other of maintaining and entrenching the status quo.
Lebanon has been plunged into financial meltdown after a Ponzi scheme collapsed, in which fresh money was borrowed to secure high-interest payments. However, the collapse forced private banks to lock depositors’ dollar accounts. Even today, no one has been held responsible for this economic collapse.
Such a financial and economic situation has created a multidimensional crisis that has affected all sectors of society, including a lack of electricity throughout the country, uncontrolled inflation, a decline in living standards, the erosion of the middle class and a mass exodus from the country.
The Beirut explosion in August 2020 that killed over 218 people and injured over 6,500 brought the Lebanese population to a new level of discontent and anger.
The explosion in the port of Beirut quickly became the symbol of the corruption and negligence of the political class, and it exacerbated the discontent of the population towards the traditional political parties, considered to be the culprits of the tragedy. Additionally, political attempts to obstruct investigations into the explosion have led to the politicization of the investigation, polarized public opinion and heightened resentment.
Lebanese civil society groups and activists have tried to pressure the government and lawmakers to hold them accountable for the economic disaster. They protested across the country by blocking roads and storming public institutions and the private households of politicians. On social networks, activists carried out doxing activities.
However, these and other events over the past three years may not be enough to change the political scene in Sunday’s general election.
Since the end of the civil war in 1990, the Lebanese political system has distributed power among its religious communities, establishing a political class that has dealt with state administration for its own interests.
According to the power-sharing system, the Lebanese presidency is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia.
Currently, the Shiite Hezbollah party and its allies, including the Shiite Amal party and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), lead the majority of parliament.
The next elections should not change much. It is difficult to predict who will win on Sunday and, in a country desperate for change, it is likely that the current composition of parliament will change dramatically.
While the FPM is expected to lose seats, which would also weaken the influence of Hezbollah and its allies in parliament, the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) party, led by Samir Geagea, could win some seats.
Established parties are expected to retain power, but some independents are pushing for a political breakthrough.
weTahalof Watani, including Paula Yacoubian, the only independent to win a seat in the 2018 elections and now seeking re-election, is running with 13 candidates.
Verena el Amil is the youngest contestant at 25 and one of 155 women who will compete on Sunday. She was active during the October 17 protests.
Independents are expected to win some seats, especially if young people, who have been active in the protests, vote.
A more nebulous situation grips the Sunni voting community, which was left leaderless when Future Movement (FM) party leader and former prime minister Saad Hariri announced in January 2020 that he would not run. in the next legislative elections and withdraws from Lebanese politics.
Hariri’s resignation has fragmented the political landscape, and the situation could tempt people away from voting in Sunni neighborhoods on Sunday. The Sunni vote will be the unknown and decisive variable for the results. Their vote could block the expansion of Hezbollah and its allies, increase the number of independent candidates, and it will also be decisive in the selection of the future Prime Minister. However, some Sunni voters are likely to abstain from voting.
A poll commissioned by the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation earlier this year showed that a quarter of Lebanese would consider voting for independent candidates (25.7%). Hezbollah obtained 14.7% in the same poll, followed by groups created during the popular protest movement with 12.3%, the LF with 11.5% and the FPM with just under 7%.
Many put hope on the vote of the diaspora. Expats voted from abroad earlier this month. Around 130,000 Lebanese voted, while in the 2018 general elections around 50,000 out of 90,000 registered voters abroad voted.
As independent political parties attempt to channel public anger against traditional sectarian rivals to secure parliamentary seats, they have failed to unite and the opposition stands little chance of winning.
Opposition candidates also report threats of violence and accuse supporters of mainstream parties of disrupting their campaigns.
But whoever wins the election will face a cash-strapped country and a hopeless population.
In addition, the new government will have to contend with International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiations over economic reforms to release $3bn (£2.45bn) in loans and aid.
Very few experts believe the election will improve the country’s economic and social prospects.
The Independent Gt