In Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, independent candidates hope to shake up the political status quo

Lebanon’s National Coalition was introduced January 19, consisting of at least 11 groups, including protest group You Stink.
Sunday 28/01/2018
Evolving landscape. Lebanon’s State Minister of Women’s Affairs Jean Oghassabian speaks  during a conference on women’s participation in politics at Kempinski Summerland Hotel in Beirut,  on January 17. (AP)
Evolving landscape. Lebanon’s State Minister of Women’s Affairs Jean Oghassabian speaks during a conference on women’s participation in politics at Kempinski Summerland Hotel in Beirut, on January 17. (AP)

BEIRUT - As Lebanon approaches its first parliamentary elections since 2009, independent candidates and movements fuelled by years of political deadlock are eager to take part.

While challenging Lebanon’s political establishment appears to be a daunting task, independent candidates are hoping to breathe new political life into a country overwhelmed by difficult socio-economic conditions and political instability.

Lebanon’s National Coalition was introduced January 19, consisting of at least 11 groups, including protest group You Stink, which emerged from Lebanon’s garbage crisis of 2015.

“We believe in a democratic, civic and just country that is capable of governing its entire lands,” a member of the coalition said, asking to remain anonymous.

Another actor involved in the coalition is Li Baladi (For My Country), which includes familiar activists, such as Tarek Ammar, who ran with Beirut Madinati during the 2016 municipality elections.

Away from Beirut, in the Chouf-Aley district, public relations professional and activist Mark Daou has publicly discussed his candidacy and campaign. Having worked alongside local activist groups, he said he hopes to push for better infrastructure in the predominantly rural area. He initially geared up to run for parliament when elections were scheduled in 2013. However, he said that things have only worsened since.

“Three major issues are most dominant in the Aley area,” Daou said. “The old landfill in Naameh, the new landfill in Costa Brava and you have the quarries and cement factories planned to be built in Ain Dara.” The cement factory, often referred to as the “the factory of death,” is a public health and environmental concern.

Lawyer Nadine Moussa ran for president in 2014. Four years later, she is determined to become an MP for the Metn region. Under a campaign called “Taneesh” (“To Live”), she said that Lebanon’s solutions boil down to “political will.”

For Moussa, Lebanon’s political class demands too great a slice of the pie. “Lebanese people, perhaps except for the [richest] 1%, are deprived of their basic rights,” Moussa said. “All this is public funds that can be used for better public education, universal health care and retirement social security.”

Paul Abi Rashed played a high-profile role during Lebanon’s infamous garbage protests in 2015. Now he’s running for parliament in a movement called “A New Page for Lebanon.” Abi Rached, head of environmental NGO T.E.R.R.E. Liban said it was a natural progression for him to run for office, following years of work at the grass-roots level.

“We are now touring different towns [in Metn] alongside experts to make sure we prepare to take on emergency issues,” Abi Rached said. “None of the existing political parties and MPs have fulfilled their duties… so there is a need [for change] in parliament.”

Another lawyer and activist, Nayla Geagea, said she was a “potential candidate” for Li Baladi, adding that the political establishment has failed. “These parties have not been able to create a clear plan for the country,” Geagea said. “There was never proper (post-war) reconciliation… The divisions we are seeing today are worse than those of the war.”

The new parties also hope to shake up Lebanon’s political gender divide. Only four of the country’s 128 MPs are women.

Lebanon’s recently passed electoral law did not include a women’s quota to increase representation.

A State Ministry for Women’s Affairs was formed in the cabinet but Minister Jean Oghassabian, a man, leads it. He expects that “at least 20” women will be voted into the new parliament.

These candidates expect better. “Women are prevented from taking any key decision-making positions in society,” Moussa said. “This is because of our patriarchal society.”

A quota is not enough for Geagea, who suggested that traditional political parties could use female candidates to “sugar coat” their slates. In contrast,

Li Baladi adheres to evenly splitting candidate lists along gender lines.

Olfat el-Sabeh, a business law professor, said she was inspired to fight for gender equality from experience. She was forcefully dropped from school at 16 to get married, though, with determination, she eventually earned a law degree.

Given Lebanon’s confessional system, the minimum age for marriage is applied based on religious and not civil law.  We are [also] preparing to present a [draft] law against domestic violence,” Sabeh said. “We will push

people to boycott electoral lists that do not include women in them.”

Voters won’t line up at the polls until May 6. However, Lebanon’s political scene looks drastically changed after a 5-year delay in elections. In the time that has elapsed, a new generation will vote for the first time.

In the face of deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and political deadlock, various new and independent blocs that are emerging are promising an interesting summer for Lebanon’s long-stagnant political scene.

Independent candidates are hoping to breathe new political life into a country overwhelmed by difficult socio-economic conditions and political instability.

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