David Hale: Lebanon’s elections do not offer any salvation

Former US Assistant Secretary of State David Hale talks in an article in the “Wilson Center” about the results of the elections in Lebanon, and says that there are “3 misconceptions about Lebanon and the elections.”

  • An American reading of the results of the parliamentary elections in Lebanon

Former US Assistant Secretary of State David Hale wrote an article onWilson CenterToday, Wednesday, he spoke about the results of the elections in Lebanon, the presence of Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese parliament and the division of parliamentary seats.

The following is the text of the article, translated into Arabic:

There was a lot of wishful thinking ahead of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Sunday 15 May. Many hoped that the independents would take advantage of the despair of the Lebanese Want To the elites who pushed their country toward the economic, social and economic abyss. There was speculation that the results would deal a blow to Hezbollah and its Christian allies. The reality on Sunday is that while Hezbollah’s Christian allies have suffered setbacks, Lebanon’s democratic practices and sectarian political structure tend to paralyze.

3 wrong beliefs

One of the illusions is that reducing Hezbollah’s parliamentary presence and its alliances reduces its power. Indeed, Hezbollah’s influence in elections and parliament is just a useful byproduct of its parallel power structure outside the state based on arms, fighters, services, and illicit funds. Electoral victories give Hezbollah legitimacy and insider access to politics to influence and obstruct the opposition and direct state resources to its Shiite constituents. But the group’s strength lies in a “militia” that stands in the face of defenseless politicians who realize the mortal danger in confronting it. Under the heading of “resistance” to an Israeli occupation that ended more than twenty years ago, Hezbollah alone among the Lebanese militias evaded the disarmament clause in the agreement that stipulated ending the civil war.

Another delusion is that Lebanese elections can produce the kind of active government needed to restore confidence in the country’s finances and governance. 80 years ago, the leaders of the main religious sects (Christians, Muslims, and Druze) accepted a state on the condition that it was so weak that one sect could not use the official tools to defeat the other sects. Over time, this situation developed into more than just a patronage machine, and many Lebanese condone the escalating corruption as long as the spoils were distributed proportionally among the sects.

The third misconception is that freelancers can advance in such a closed system. Lebanon’s parliamentary elections are held in multi-seat districts, with seats divided according to a demographic formula reached in 1989, which no longer reflects reality. Citizens can vote for one candidate in their area, including seats reserved for other sects. Leaders in each region form lists of candidates and encourage their followers to endorse the whole thing. In most circles the real competition is to have the dominant list led by the dominant and leader society. Final poll results are often taken for granted.

The low Sunni participation resulting from Hariri’s withdrawal proves that Hariri is still leading his constituency.

Lebanon paralysis

The anti-Hezbollah Christian opposition’s gains on Sunday are impressive but not enough for it to steer the political landscape. Significantly, the Hezbollah-Amal bloc captured all 27 Shiite seats, giving this faction a decisive influence in future political choices. After the re-election of Nabih Berri as Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, the next step is to form a government that can win the confidence of Parliament. Prime Minister Najib Mikati will move to the position of caretaker prime minister until the formation of the new government. Maneuvering may be more difficult and longer than usual in such a closely divided parliament.

The powerful Christian opposition may demand that Hezbollah be excluded from the government as a condition of its participation in it or a vote of confidence. However, the government is subject to a sectarian power-sharing formula like parliament whereby Shiites are allotted 20-25% of ministries depending on the total number. Given Hezbollah’s control, only Shiites wishing to die would be inclined to join the cabinet without its consent. Hezbollah and its allies can boycott a vote of confidence in any government they consider unrepresentative, paralyzing the entire process.

The presidential elections, scheduled for no later than October 31, 2022, will lead to further tension. Parliament elects the Maronite president by a two-thirds vote, and the occasion usually leads to a protracted crisis. The terms of some presidents were extended with questionable legitimacy. The current president, Michel Aoun, is likely to prepare his political heir and son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, to succeed him. It is unclear how Bassil can secure the needed parliamentary support.

This problem leaves Aoun with three options: to seek a term extension for himself, which would require an unlikely two-thirds vote in Parliament, which may not be achieved before the deadline. Or support a compromise option, which he previously refused, or leave the position vacant on October 31 – leaving Lebanon without a president, prime minister, and government. Those who count on the reforms needed to restore confidence, unleash the financial life and end the country’s economic free-fall may have to wait before this stalemate is broken. Time is running out for Lebanon.

What’s Next?

In moments of acute internal discord, many Lebanese look to regional and international actors to intervene. However, the foreign players are likely either satisfied with the Lebanese paralysis or unwilling to compromise, or they have trouble connecting the dots between the Lebanese dynamics and the problems of the wider Middle East. French President Emmanuel Macron may seek dialogue among the Lebanese about bold new formulas of government. But such an approach threatens to open a Pandora’s box of tension and sectarian conflict ready to be exploited by Hezbollah.

For US officials, it is time to assess whether Lebanon is a priority and understand why Hezbollah has grown from a small and dangerous “terrorist entity” to the brutality it is today, despite forty years of American opposition. America’s vacillating approach to Lebanon–long periods of neglect followed by activism in crises–is not as perfect as the fairy tale that punishing Hezbollah’s non-Shiite allies will undermine the fundamentals of its power that lie outside the political alliance and state structure. America must be realistic, moderate, and ready to act if Lebanon collapses. The current US policy of building the army and security forces as forces of stability and a strong love for making financial aid conditional on reform is the best that Washington can do under the current circumstances.

Translated into Arabic by Maysa Shadid

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