The Lebanese Parliamentary Elections
Peter Nassif: The Lebanese Parliamentary Elections of 2018: Much Ado about Nothing?, AIES Fokus 4/2018
On 6 May 2018, Lebanon went to the polls to elect a new parliament for the first time in nine years. These elections stand out for the largest reform in voting laws in Lebanese history, the influence of regional tensions, but also a civil society challenging the old guard. After much anticipation, the general elections changed less the political landscape than many people had hoped. The results demonstrated that Lebanese voters and political parties are still far away from running and voting on policy-based solutions to tackle the socioeconomic challenges facing the country. Since their last election in 2009, the parliament had extended its mandate three times before agreeing to hold elections in 2018. The delays were so extensive that the last parliament was elected in a different regional context – before the “Arab Spring” and the Syrian War. Revolutions have reshaped Tunisia and Egypt, while Syria, Iraq and Yemen plunged into gruesome wars and experienced the rise and fall of the Islamic State. In recent months, the Trump administration, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been increasingly escalating their campaign against Iran, with the US withdrawing from the Iran Deal (JCPOA) two days after the Lebanese elections. Internally, Lebanon is closely affected by neighboring Syria where the war has produced an outflow of 5.6 million refugees, with around 1.5 million refugees living in Lebanon, rendering it the country with the highest count of refugees per capita. Interestingly, the war and refugee crisis did not play a large role during election campaigns – partly because of the lack of feasible solutions and partly because of a tacit agreement among parties to avoid this path. An important aspect was the buildup of major international conferences where Lebanon wanted to give a positive image and avoid populist campaign rhetoric: On 24 and 25 April 2018, the Brussels II conference was held to secure humanitarian support for Syrian refugees as well as political support for neighboring host countries. More important was the CEDRE donor conference that was held in Paris on 6 April, where 11 billion USD in credits and grants were pledged to Lebanon during election season – a country with a gross public debt of almost 80 billion USD and the fifth-highest debt-to-GDP ratio worldwide.