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The Illusion of Elections.. A Black Shirt-Less Repeat of May 7

The Illusion of Elections.. A Black Shirt-Less Repeat of May 7

Monday, 9 May, 2022 - 11:15

The only thing that the Lebanese can agree on is that a state of chaos and confusion defines all aspects of life, from politics and security, to the economy and society. That state manifested itself in the absurdity of the electoral campaigns preceding the day of the vote on Sunday.

The absence of a central authority is perhaps the most prominent reason for this chronic disillusionment. There is no dispute that rebuilding this authority through the legislative elections is the correct framework to adopt because a political vacuum calls for the intervention of external forces near or far and gives extra-governmental forces and terrorists the freedom they need to build a platform to realize their greater ambitions, as was the case in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya. All of them are countries that have submitted to the tide of fundamentalism, both Sunni and Shia, and to terrorism in general, becoming safe havens with ample space for such movements.

The biggest beneficiary of this chaos and vacuum is Iran, which found a successful formula for expanding its influence in neighboring countries, a formula based on cooperating with proxies from its sect and providing them with money, weapons, and political and logistical support. These proxies, like Hezbollah and militias, Afghan, Iraqi, Syrian and Yemeni, are religiously, ideologically, and sectarianly committed to Tehran’s geopolitical project. They are ready to work across borders to support Iran’s aggressive and expansionist policies, considering its leadership legitimate and its theocracy a political model to be emulated.

Iran was able to expand its influence in the Near-East not through military expansion, but by infiltrating the local Shiite communities. It succeeded in empowering its proxies to become mini-states that chip away at the pillars of statehood and push the state to failure, with Lebanese Hezbollah its greatest success.

After this introduction, let us ask, since the legislative elections in Lebanon are approaching, whether democratic processes, especially the elections, are the right solution for weak and socially fragmented countries dominated by forces that reject democratic values and are subordinate to foreign powers? Is democracy reduced to ballot boxes and major undemocratic political parties that do not believe in political participation, the peaceful transfer of power, or freedoms?

Regional precedents do not suggest that elections are capable of resolving state weakness and bridging social rifts when extremist forces are hegemonic, as they use this democratic process to rise to power and then undermine democracy. The best example of this was seen in the Tunisian Constituent Assembly elections held after the 2011 revolution, when the Islamist party won and tried to annul everything civic about the new constitution.

The same thing happened in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in 2012. Iraq, for all the elections it has organized since 2003, has not found a solution for the rampant violence and spread of arms; it never became a proper democracy because the election brought hard-line Tehran proxies to power. After the results went against their favor in the latest elections because of a shift within the Shiite community, those proxies obstructed the formation of a government and disrupted the presidential elections.

Even with the sharp divergences between our conditions and of the US, we can add that the American scholar Gregory Gause wrote recently that those who believe that elections are the best tool for bridging social divides should take a look at the last two presidential elections in the United States. When societies are sharply divided, whose directives should the government follow? Meeting the demands of one group will necessarily imply allowing them to dominate the other group.

To go back to the unique difficulties of the Lebanese situation, even the most optimistic analysts do not believe the elections will change the political scene, but rather strengthen the power and authority of the parties currently in control led by Hezbollah. The elections will dispel many of the hopes and illusions that the poor or marginalized, as well as those yearning for a better life, are now clinging to, especially the forces advocating change that emerged after the October 17 uprising.

Attitudes on the merits of the current electoral process, which some describe as historic, vary. On one camp, we have those who support holding the election on schedule regardless of the circumstance, as the vacuum is more dangerous and worse. On a second camp, we have those who see that occupation, tutelage, or hegemony through illegitimate military power and arms not only deprives the elections of their legitimacy, but also presents the occupier or those in power with a tool that enables them to legitimize their practices and perpetuate hold on power. The debate between the two points of view goes on and on; it is too long to summarize here.

Moreover, these elections are marred by several issues. First among them are fears that manipulating democratic processes is a hallmark of the parties in power’s governance. That includes elections, which are exploited to ensure that these parties emerge victorious and are enabled to overthrow that process. This tactic is common to most of the hardline ideological parties who understand the processes of democracy and the peaceful transfer of power from an opportunistic lens. It is true that some Lebanese peculiarities complicate this task, most notably the schisms between its sects and their divergent interests, but they can be overcome. Indeed, the Lebanese have seen elections and the work of democratic institutions paralyzed without the need for electoral victories.

The second issue is the enthusiasm for the election shown by international and regional powers insistent that the elections must be held despite the fact that it is almost certain that they will neither change the political scene nor threaten Hezbollah’s dominance. These countries will not hesitate for a moment, after the results are announced, to accept them and cooperate with the officials that emerge from them, many of whom are on terrorist lists! How could one overcome this conundrum, and what does it make of the elections’ credibility? This state of affairs reminds us of the West’s enthusiasm for the 2006 Palestinian elections despite warnings about the consequences being made by most of those monitoring the situation at the time. Hamas indeed won, and cooperating with them was rejected.

The third problem is that the opposition parties and forces across the spectrum are unanimous in their support for holding the elections and their optimism regarding the elections’ impact on Lebanon’s future. However, they have carried themselves incoherently, and they are not seen as credible.

We begin with their reluctance to conclude alliances that would enable them to confront the parties in power, remaining fragmented and split between a conflicting and fragmented traditional opposition and the forces of change that sprung from the October 17 uprising, growing like mushrooms divided between those who prioritize reform and addressing corruption and those who prioritize restoring sovereignty and the state.

Furthermore, the latter have refused to cooperate with the traditional opposition, and so the votes for these parties will be scattered. How can such an opposition make gains against the cohesive powers running the country?

Even more strange are the hopes that the main Christian forces in the opposition have placed in the results. This enthusiasm, which has been openly reiterated on many occasions, is beyond comprehension, especially given the failure to build robust alliances both with the sect and with other sects, especially the Sunnis, who are divided into competing blocs and camps. How will it face its followers and supporters if they lose their bet on realizing change through the ballot boxes? What is true of the Christian forces also applies to the resounding collapse of the forces of change, whose supporters will feel the same sense of hopelessness.

The first rule of election campaigns is to avoid going overboard with pledges, as these promises are a debt. What if the results do not meet expectations and the opposition, both sides of it, lose the bet? What if the forces in power manage to consolidate and even add to their gains? What if they managed to attain a majority in parliament or two-thirds of the seats? Many questions should have been resolved before rushing to sell unpurchased merchandise. If the widely expected scenario plays out and Hezbollah’s allies win, it would pave the way for completing the process of changing the country’s foundational function and identity.

The fear is that May 15, 2022, will become May 7, 2008- that it will kill democracy with its own tools and without the need for black shirts. These are historic elections indeed but in a negative sense. Their results could destroy the Lebanon we know from within, using its own constitutional institutions.

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