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New on The Scene? Can Emerging Political Actors and Women Make Headway in Lebanon’s 2018 Parliamentary Elections?

Hivos International: Call for Researchers

Thirty years after the official end of the civil war in Lebanon (1990), the Lebanese political system is showing, more than ever, symptoms of a deeply entrenched crisis.

The “con-sociational” political system[1] (meaning anomy system where every deputy is a major businessman?) contributes to hampering the stabilisation of the political scene as well as the consolidation of the state[2].

These confessional and religious divisions embedded in the system along with political familism[3] (feudalesm?) contribute to restrain the effective participation and emergence of new actors, notably women, thus limiting political turnover.

The 2018 Lebanese parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place on 6 May after nearly a decade since the last time they were held. (Parliament extended its tenure 3 times for no valid reason)

A new election law was finally  passed in October 2017, after members of parliament had extended their mandate three times – in 2013, 2015, and 2017 – each time with questionable legality[4].

While MPs cited security concerns (2013 and 2015) and technical concerns (2017), political analysts referred to an overall lack of political will to hold the elections, lack of adequate campaign financing, possible voter apathy, and no agreement on a new election law[5].

(The election was delayed an entire year in order to come to term with the reformes of the new law, but none of the reforms were voted on)

In the the near decade since the last time Lebanon held elections in 2009[6], much has changed: 3 governments have come and gone, the Syrian crisis which had an important impact on the Lebanese political landscape[7], notwithstanding several terrorist bombings, and the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Lebanese soldiers by ISIS[8]; waves of popular protests in the summer of 2015 over the government-induced garbage crisis[9] and, last but not least the Hariri resignation crisis in November 2017 (held prisoner in Saudi Kingdom) and the ensuing reshuffle of political alliances.

Domestically, the Syrian crisis continues to put an additional layer of pressure on an economy long neglected by the Lebanese political class.  (And Not aided by the colonial powers who supported the terrorist factions in the the war on Syria).

Weak infrastructure, stagnant wages, less than ideal labour conditions, and a squeezed job market are a major concern for many Lebanese, especially young people.[10]

It is against this backdrop that the elections will take place in Spring 2018. Although the Lebanese political class collectively approved the new law, it appears uneasy about the law as it cannot entirely pre-guarantee the result. The new election law introduces some aspects of proportional representation for the first time in Lebanon, and political parties are still grappling with how to adapt their campaigns.

In addition, given that national elections have not taken place in a decade, there may be some uncertainty over the “mood” of the electorate.

The 2016 municipal elections which took place after the popular protests against the then-government over the garbage crisis showed that at least in some areas in Lebanon, notably Tripoli, and to some extent Baalbeck and Beirut, voters were more willing than in the past to vote for new political actors, mostly coming from civil society.

In fact, new actors such as Beirut Madinati, managed to challenge the traditional political establishment during the last municipal elections in 2016, and exceeded the expectations of many in terms of polls.[11]

In this vein, some analysts see that the new proportional law may pave  the way for breakthroughs in the different regions and, hence, constitute an opportunity for the emergence of political alternatives to traditional parties[12].  Its adoption on June 2017  appears to have initiated a new dynamic and has contributed to the rise of new political alliances formed by “civil society actors”, which aim to participate in the upcoming elections in May.

However, the major challenge for such groups remains the establishment of a unified front against traditional political parties, based on a relevant electoral programme that will convince voters to shift their political allegiances.[13]  Other challenges include mobilising sufficient financial and human resources to fund efficient campaign machines that can compete effectively with more seasoned traditional parties.

Likewise, the current political system was born out of the convergence of many constructs such as sectarianism and “kin-based patriarchy”.[14] While the former is a about how religious “differences are constructed” in relation to the institutions of social organisation such as the family and the state,[15] the latter is a hierarchical system and a contract that governs the relationships among kin members, empowers men and the elderly over women, children and young adults, and gives “primacy to kinship” over the state.[16]

Such system continued to impede women’s access to the political arena despite having obtained political rights since 1953, when they gained suffrage and were granted the right to run for parliamentary elections. Ever since, however, women’s representation in parliament as well as political office continued to be minimal[17]. In 2016, women candidates only represented 6.9% of the total candidates for the municipal elections, and  1.9% of the candidates at the 2009 parliamentary elections, even though they represent 51.2% of the registered.

Today, Lebanon counts four women MPs,[18] all of whom are daughters, wives or sisters of prominent politicians, ministers and parliamentarians.[19] In political as well as public office, women are rarely associated to decision-making processes in Lebanon, and if they are, their function is often symbolic.[20]

In this vein, Hivos International – Beirut Office and Lebanon Support are seeking to commission a researcher (or a team of researchers ) to critically investigate the two following axis, in two separate briefing papers: The emergence of new political actors: the Lebanese consociational system, consisting of power sharing between communities, has not allowed circulation of political elites, limiting the entry and participation of newcomers to the political scene.

However, popular mobilisation in 2015 against the government’s handling of the garbage crisis, the subsequent rise of “new” political groups contesting the 2016 municipal elections coupled with a new election law make the 2018 parliamentary election results less predictable.

A) To what extent does this new political situation facilitate the emergence and participation of new political actors? Also, and without falling in the trap of the “immaculate contestation,” to which extent are these actors new? What  activist histories, genealogies, and experiences do they build on?

  1. What are the alliances and coalitions that they are building? And what are the dynamics, shared visions, and interests enabling their coalition forming?  What are their main political demands? Are women’s rights/ issues tackled within these new electoral programmes and how?
  2. B)Women’s participation in the electoral process (campaign period to election-day): The existing political system that is grounded in patriarchal political familism(s) contributes to  beget questions about the position and status of a politically underrepresented constituency; namely women.
  3. What new openings or opportunities have the recent changes in the political terrain brought to women? Which actors are contributing to such changes and how?
  4. How successful have been the attempts to create alliances or coalitions supporting the participation of more women? How are women responding to these attempts? What is the impact of these developments on their organising and/or campaigning, if any?

adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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