Candidate nominations for the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon closed on Tuesday at midnight, where nominees compete to secure their spot in the 128 seats in parliament.
What distinguishes these elections is that they be will be held after the current parliament, elected in 2009, extended its term twice. It’s thus been nine years since the last parliamentary elections were held. Note that the official parliamentary term in Lebanon is only four years.
What also distinguishes this year’s elections that are scheduled for May 6 is that they are void of political discourse. Meaning that the alliances imposed by the proportional representation system, which will be adopted for the first time in the history of Lebanese elections, and the nature of the division of electoral districts, make the competition limited in most constituencies to a sectarian nature.
Hezbollah’s dominance over the Shiite sect allows it to win any parliamentary elections taking place in areas which are predominantly Shiite. This is not only because of its supporters, but also because logic stipulates that competition between the armed and unarmed ends in the former’s victoryAli Al-Amin
The exception here is the Shiite sect, as the two major Shiite parties (Hezbollah and the Amal Movement), control the results that they want, and that is winning most Shiite seats in Parliament, as well as the ability to infiltrate the Sunni sect in some electoral districts.
When examining the adopted proportional representation system and the nature of electoral districts, one can see that the results are in favor of the Shiite alliance, specifically Hezbollah. The latter is the party that first decided to impose this law, although it is common belief that Free Patriotic Movement leader and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was the one who promoted it and succeeded in imposing it. Hezbollah, however, is the primary beneficiary here. But why?
First of all, we should pay attention to the fact that Hezbollah is the only armed force that operates outside the framework of the country’s security and military institutions. It can even be said that it has power over all the official security and military entities. This weapon is not an idle element in any electoral process and any electoral law. When it comes to Shiite communities, the power of arms dominates the scene under the pretext of “resistance”.
Only Hezbollah has the ability to place its opponents in the category of the “enemies of the resistance”. This accusation in itself, and in the absence of an effective role by the state as a protective element of society, especially in the Shiite environment, makes objecting to Hezbollah’s policies or opposing them in elections come at a high price.
Parties or figures that seek to confront Hezbollah are simply aware that whoever thinks of competing with them within the Shiite community may face negative consequences such as accusations of treason or collaboration with an ‘enemy’ Arab or a western state. This threat will not only be directed at the opposing candidate, but also to anyone who votes for them and is aware of the cost of deviating from Hezbollah or publicly supporting its opponents. A voter’s livelihood may thus be threatened and they can be prevented from receiving the most basic rights.
There are many examples of individuals and entities within the Shiite community showcasing how Hezbollah does not tolerate any opposition. Their specialty is fabricating and installing security files against their rivals, and then accuse them of being employed by the enemy.
This is what happened with Sheikh Hassan Mesheimsh, a cleric who opposes Hezbollah and who was imprisoned for four years over accusations of working for the enemy. This is a false accusation. But Hezbollah showed a great capability of fabricating files via official institutions without appearing in the picture. But everyone knows that they are the ones who drive and manage state institutions to serve their interests.
Other prominent figures have been attacked in Hezbollah strongholds because of political differences, including Sayyid Ali al-Amin, who was expelled from his city and dismissed from his job as a mufti because he opposed Hezbollah’s policies. A similar situation happened with Ahmad Kamel al-Asaad, a Shiite anti-Hezbollah politician, to the extent that one of his supporters was killed. Hashem al-Salman was also killed three years ago, when he and other Asaad supporters tried to protest in front of the Iranian embassy over the Syrian conflict. Salman was killed after a group of thugs opened fire on protestors. Due to Hezbollah’s dominance over the state, this case was never investigated or taken to court.
From this viewpoint of violence, Hezbollah succeeded in suppressing any opposition within its Shiite community.
Some may ask aren’t there differences between Hezbollah and the Amal movement? No, because the alliance of the Shiite duo has been the only constant in Lebanon’s political life since 1992. This alliance’s strength is not due to local elements but is a result of Syrian tutelage. The latter actually imposed this alliance during the 1992 elections and until 2005. When the Syrian army exited Lebanon, Iran managed to strengthen this alliance thus solidifying Hezbollah’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, the Amal movement, headed by Nabih Berri, accepted the new situation, i.e. to be committed to the requirements of the Iranian strategy in exchange of maintaining its presence in the political scene and guaranteeing its share in the governance of domestic quotas.
Room for hope
Hezbollah’s dominance over the Shiite sect allows it to win any parliamentary elections taking place in areas which are predominantly Shiite. This is not only because of its supporters, but also because logic stipulates that competition between the armed and unarmed ends in the former’s victory. Therefore, the March 14 coalition’s victory in the 2009 parliamentary elections did not affect Hezbollah at all. Hezbollah’s possession of weapons was sufficient to end any meaning to its rivals’ electoral victory. Its arsenal turned the equation in its favor.
But if that’s the case, why does Hezbollah care about electoral law today?
There are two reasons behind Hezbollah’s interest and enthusiasm towards the law’s details. First is that this law, which adopts the proportional representation, allows Hezbollah to infiltrate other Lebanese sects as it aspires to have allies and followers from different factions. The new law makes them capable of doing so; while other Lebanese parties within the Shiite communities do not have this advantage for several reasons, mainly due to Hezbollah’s dominance via its arms.
The second reason, which is political, is that this law has helped Hezbollah impose non-political electoral alliances in most districts. This made Hezbollah’s secretary general say that there are no political alliances in the upcoming elections and that those who politically agree with one another can compete in the elections thanks to the nature of the law.
The results concluded by Hezbollah in advance are not definite. Elections’ results can still be surprising no matter how much Hezbollah can control them due to its power of arms. Holding elections is positive and necessary, even when the conditions of fair competition are absent and even when those who have power over state institutions can forge them. The Lebanese people’s optimism is thus limited to the elections’ ability to conclude with the election of some MPs who freely represent them and speak their voice. This is enough as long as the criterion of the minority and majority in Parliament is pointless due to the influence of Hezbollah’s arms. A Lebanese voice must continue to speak out in favor of the state project so that a “staelet” does not become the country’s destiny.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Ali Al-Amin is a journalist based in Lebanon and is the Editor of news site Janoubia.com.