Hezbollah’s wrong bets in Lebanese elections
Parliamentary elections in Lebanon are scheduled for the beginning of May. They can be expected to be different from previous ones given the new political alliances in place. The old split between the March 8 and March 14 blocs is no longer valid.
To ward off Hezbollah’s platform, which was known as “the mini-state inside the state,” March 14 used a platform based on state sovereignty. That face-off was won by the mini-state platform but the pro-state sovereignty parties were not really defeated.
What happened was that most political forces engaged in compromises that ended up sidetracking the state sovereignty project. They chose to close their eyes on the question of Hezbollah’s illegal armed forces and, under the watchful eye of the group, they slipped into a phase of full-blown sectarianism and of self-serving power sharing.
That experience had a familiar ring to it. From 1992-2005, Lebanon went through a similar experience under the watchful eye of the Syrian government.
The coming elections serve one purpose: to legitimise this rotten power-sharing scheme. Hezbollah was instrumental in pushing the new electoral law down everybody’s throat and it is looking to manage the electoral process to ensure for itself a majority of seats in the new parliament. Hezbollah believes in its capacity to manipulate all sects and communities in Lebanon, a capacity that other parties painfully lack.
Political observers in Lebanon say Hezbollah does have that capacity. Unlike the other parties, Hezbollah has weapons, financial resources and well-oiled election and security machines that enable it to engineer, finance and protect alliances in most Lebanese regions as well as effectively disrupt its opponents’ alliances and actions.
Hezbollah is insisting on having the elections take place on time. This is because the cards are stacked in its favour. It is eager to maintain the political status quo in the country because it, too, works in its favour. Hezbollah is looking to reign supreme on Lebanon for the next four years. However, is this really the case?
On the surface, Hezbollah looks like a shoo-in to win the next elections. In Lebanon, however, the power balance between the various religious affiliations is a determining factor. That Hezbollah succeeded in manipulating the election law might trigger a negative voter reaction.
For Lebanese voters, not being able to stand up to Hezbollah militarily will instinctively push them to correct the equation through the ballot box. They would do that because they refuse to legitimise Hezbollah’s grip on the country and they do not like for any religious affiliation in Lebanon to overwhelm the others.
The delicate power equation in Lebanon is self-preserving. This is why we can speak of a nascent civil resistance in Lebanon to a possible disruption of this balance in the elections. There is a consensus among the Lebanese, regardless of their religious affiliation, on the necessity of preserving the state and of reforming its authority so that it can protect its interests and those of its citizens. The Lebanese have lost patience regarding corruption, a slumping economy and a dangerous public deficit.
The population wants a state administration totally different from the one Hezbollah wishes to put in place. The various Lebanese communities might seem to be competing for power but, in the end, they share a deep sense of national interest.
In the region, a victory for the Iranian axis in Syria and Iraq doesn’t seem likely. It is also difficult to predict the outcome of the power equation in Lebanon because of the shifting economic and social conditions.
In times of political and cultural openness and when it was well-integrated in its Arab environment, Lebanon flourished but the country regressed with the appearance of isolationist policies after Israeli invasions and Iranian efforts to lay hands on it. Today, a combination of Iranian and Israeli interests is keeping Lebanon in check.
The coming Lebanese elections is not going to pit March 14 parties against March 8 parties. They are going to pit Hezbollah against those refusing the latter’s custody of the country and its consequences. If Hezbollah takes custody of Lebanon, the delicate sectarian balance will be upset, Lebanon will be cut off from its Arab environment and heritage and a Hezbollah-sanctioned authority will not be able to offer viable solutions to the country’s economic crisis.
Hezbollah supporters say that winning the coming elections will be the last link needed to complete the party’s grip on Lebanon. History and reality say differently. Ballots say in secret what tongues do not dare say explicitly. Fraud and illegal pressure remain expected but these elections will be an opportunity for Lebanese citizens to showcase their patriotism.
The population wants a state administration totally different from the one Hezbollah wishes to put in place.