04/12/2022, 15.52
LEBANON
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Elections on 15 May are crucial for the future of Lebanon (and Christians)

by Fady Noun

The vote is an act of faith at a critical moment in the country’s life. Hezbollah’s weapons, positive neutrality, financial crisis and law reform are the main issues. Christian parties are vying for voters’ support amid polarisation. Lebanon-North III is a key constituency. The new parliament will elect a new president.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – The fact that parliamentary elections are taking place at all, despite all the darkness of the times, bears witness to Lebanon’s durability. Still, a month and a half before the election (15 May), political polarisation is growing day by day.

The election has crystallised around four main themes: Hezbollah’s weapons; Lebanon’s “positive neutrality”, defended by the Maronite patriarch; the banking and financial crisis which have ruined the Lebanese; and law reform, in particular as it relates to uncovering the circumstances that led to the Beirut Port explosion of 4 August 2020.

Following the vote, the new 128-member parliament, elected via proportional representation, will be tasked with choosing a new President of the Republic. The mandate of the incumbent head of state, President Michel Aoun, will end on 31 October.

Over the past two years, cracks have emerged within the incumbent majority between Gebran Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Nabih Berri’s Amal movement, as well as between the FPM and Suleiman Frangieh’s Marada Movement. Hezbollah is trying, out of necessity, to bridge the gap between these groups.

The election is also seen as an opportunity to structure the thaoura (revolution), the protest movement of 17 October 2019, with the help of Western embassies through direct aid or NGOs, to change the balance of power within Lebanon’s parliament.

However, the proliferation of party lists resulting from the protest movement is a sign of its pending defeat since its leaders have failed to form a united front. Of the 103 registered party lists, around 30 belong to this area.

More generally, the election will be influenced by the decision of Saad Hariri, leader of the moderate Sunni Future Movement, to drop out of the race and call on his supporters not to stand for election.

This vacuum could considerably reduce the electoral threshold and might benefit pro-Syrian Sunni leaders won over to Hezbollah. This in turn might compensate for the potential losses caused by the FPM’s decline in popularity among Christians.

Meanwhile, conscious of the risks of a stronger Hezbollah, the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait came back to Beirut last Friday, a little more than five months after they were recalled following a serious diplomatic spat between Lebanon and several Gulf monarchies.

Saudi and Kuwaiti diplomats are working, during Ramadan, to show their support for Sunni candidates who have defied Hariri’s ban, by organising iftar, the post-sunset meal Muslim take to break their fast.

North Lebanon III, key constituency

North Lebanon III is a constituency where the battle for votes is likely to prove decisive for the Christian camp, in particular Maronites. The future of this group will be decided on 15 May in this Christian majority a region, including perhaps that of Michel Aoun’s successor.

Covering four large districts (Batroun, Koura, Bécharré and Zghorta), it has 10 seats (seven Maronite and three Greek-Orthodox).

The two great Christian rivals are Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea (who is not running) and FPM leader Gebran Bassil. Marada Movement leader Suleiman Frangieh is the third major Maronite leader, who could also run for president.

In addition to Geagea, Bassil and Frangieh and their parties, other groups in the race are: an alliance that includes Michel Mouawad, a former Bassil ally who moved away from the FPM after the uprising of 17 October 2019, the Kataeb (Phalanges) party and a new emerging figure, Majd Mouawad, son of former lawmaker Boutros Mouawad.

Three other lists bringing together the protest movement will also join the race hoping to make a breakthrough.

It should be finally noted that North Lebanon III has the largest number of expatriates registered to vote (more than 26,000), and could flip the result if they vote as a block for the same list.

According to experts, more than 40 per cent of expatriates are said to be close to the Lebanese Forces, a clear threat for the FPM.

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