Leading media figure Paula Yacoubian, a new face in Lebanon’s parliament

The journalist-turned-MP is determined to continue her struggle for the “good causes” from within the political establishment.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Journalist-turned-MP Paula Yacoubian. (Paula Yacoubian campaign office)
Independent voice. Journalist-turned-MP Paula Yacoubian. (Paula Yacoubian campaign office)

BEIRUT - For years as a member of the media, Paula Yacoubian raised issues of public concern, championed national causes, exposed government failures and interviewed politicians on their performance and deeds.

After her election to Lebanon’s parliament, the journalist-turned-MP said she is determined to continue her struggle for the “good causes” from within the political establishment.

Yacoubian, 42, said she thought she could do more for her country as a politician.

“I have been talking repeatedly and for many years in the media about our chronic problems but no one would listen,” Yacoubian said in an interview with The Arab Weekly. “I feel that by moving into the political arena, I can get into more serious work, because (being an MP) gives me immunity and puts me in a better position where I could be more heard and I can stand for rightful causes.”

One of Lebanon’s leading media personalities, Yacoubian resigned in January from Future TV, the channel owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri where she had hosted a political talk show for more than a decade. She joined Sabaa, a newly formed non-sectarian political alliance of candidates drawn from civil society.

Yacoubian grabbed an Armenian Orthodox seat in the newly elected parliament, running on a list known as Kulluna Watani, representing a coalition of civil society groups. She is among six women lawmakers — but the only candidate from outside the traditional political class — to have won a seat in the May 6 elections.

Though it was uncertain, her victory came as a positive change.

“Stat and survey companies kept telling me that I would not win but I could feel that the pulse of the street was in my favour. I have worked hard on my credibility and I will maintain it at any cost,” Yacoubian said.

“I represent the people who voted for me. The people who are tired and fed up with the current situation, which can’t be worse, and with the politicians who rely on fearmongering to rally the support of their electorates.

“For decades people have been protesting and demanding change, but without results. I am determined to make the experience of the civil society in power a successful one.”

The trigger that prompted Yacoubian to contemplate a political career was the country’s garbage crisis in 2015 when Beirut’s main landfill shut down after running beyond its expiration date. That sparked a protest movement that criticised politicians over their inability to resolve the issue.

“When the garbage crisis started and they reopened Bourj Hammoud dump, I was filming in the area and I remember the smell was unbearable and flies were everywhere. I thought it is no longer acceptable that we sit idle, just curse and feel sorry for ourselves but we should act,” Yacoubian said.

“It was then that I realised that our voice through the media is not making a difference. Regardless of how much we talked and criticised it was not having an impact. So I thought that maybe I should try to initiate some change from inside. I was approached by activists from the civil society. We found lots of common ground and this is how it started.”

“It was still bearable when the corruption of political leaders was bankrupting the country but, today, we have an environmental catastrophe, corruption is killing us, our health is at stake. Every person in this country should act in some way, be a political activist because the country is in such a bad shape and needs us,” the descendant of Armenian genocide survivors and mother of a 13-year-old boy said.

Despite being a political host on Future TV, the mouthpiece of Hariri’s party, Yacoubian never joined a political party.

“I never wanted to join any of the traditional groups,” she said. “I decided to work with people who were never in power and who cannot be held responsible for the failures of the political class and the situation we have reached.

“We have become the most polluted country in the world and no one is willing to take responsibility for that. No one is willing to retire. They all want to stay in power.”

As an independent MP, Yacoubian said she would not be part of any parliament bloc.

“Which bloc can I join?” she asked. “None. Bloc members always follow the directives of the bloc leader. I may be closer to certain blocs on certain issues — I can lobby with the various blocs on specific topics — but not be part of them.”

Shifting from journalism to politics is a decision that Yacoubian said she won’t regret.

“I did so many years in the media raising awareness about important issues and engaging with activists. Now I will seek to work through parliament and by means of legislation,” she said.