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Lebanon crisis

Opposition groups eye 2022 parliamentary elections to force change in Lebanon

But with so many groups vying to position themselves on the political scene, these expanding opposition factions face difficulty organizing a common front to effectively challenge the traditional parties safely entrenched in the current political system.

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Since 2019, when a mass uprising failed to achieve immediate political change in Lebanon, the country has lurched from crisis to crisis. The current political class has remained in power for the last three decades, and the nation’s collapse is their responsibility and theirs alone.

The parliamentary elections set for mid-2022 are largely seen as the avenue in which substantial change is achievable unless they are postponed.

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Given the current environment, no eventuality can be ruled out.

A large number of opposition political groups were established after the October 17 uprising in 2019. They are trying to organize, along with other already present opposition parties.

Minteshreen is one of these groups, a youth led-movement established on the back of the uprising and organized into a political movement after the Beirut Port blast in 2020.

Another movement is much older. The National Bloc was first established in the 1940s but relaunched in 2018, scraping off its stale political inheritance in the process through the introduction of reforms in its internal structure.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, several opposition party members and political commentators revealed the chances of success for the growing number of new parties and their efforts to mobilize in the effort for real change.

Too many offering too little

With so many groups vying to position themselves on the political scene, these expanding opposition factions face difficulty organizing a common front to effectively challenge the traditional parties safely entrenched in the current political system.

“There is no justifiable reason as to why there are so many parties,” Bassel Salloukh, Associate Professor of Political Science at the Lebanese American University, said.

With so many new and old parties in the opposition, this will play against them in the elections, Salloukh believes, “because sectarian parties are much more organized, and they have the electoral law and the infrastructure [to win].”

But those involved in these groups do not see this as an impediment.

Cars stand in line at a gas station as they wait to fuel up in Damour, Lebanon June 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Cars stand in line at a gas station as they wait to fuel up in Damour, Lebanon June 25, 2021. (Reuters)

“We might have many parties and groups with our differences, but when the time comes, we will all work for the common goal which is to get rid of [this] political class,” Laury Haytayan, founding member of Taqaddom, a political party formed in the past year, said.

With Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing political system in place since the end of the 1975-1990 Civil War, no real opposition has existed to counter the status quo.

“The sectarian system in Lebanon is organized in such a way as to not allow for the emergence of a viable opposition,” Salloukh explained.

Lebanon is facing a multitude of crises on the economic and social fronts. With the country’s collapse, Salloukh believes the challenge for the political movements to organize is greater.

“Those who want to oppose the system today have to do it while they are organizing at the same time, and much more importantly when the country has already collapsed,” Salloukh said.

Many common themes unite the current “alternative parties.” All are calling for the establishment of a civil state, the rule of law, the upholding of democracy and social justice.

The lack of distinct ideologies expressed across the spectrum of these new political groups makes it difficult for the populous to separate them and decide which one to vote for.

It begs the question: Are the large number of parties justified?

“Because we are youth-oriented and youth-led groups, we don’t really believe in having a fixed ideology. We are a post-ideological centrist group,” Samer Makarem, co-founder of Minteshreen, said.

Many of the groups understand their predicament and have started to group themselves into coalitions to expand cooperation and challenge the long-standing regime.

This year, an alliance called April 13 was announced, comprising Minteshreen, Beirut Madinati and the National Bloc. These parties call themselves “centrist.”

Difference in approach

While elections are a means to try and achieve change in crisis-stricken Lebanon, they are not the only opportunity for the opposition to achieve a system overhaul.

Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat Fi Dawla (MMFD), translated to “Citizens in a State,” established in 2016, wants to force change upon the ruling class.

“Our aim is for there to be a different type of legitimacy. We want to force a peaceful transition on the ruling class,” Mounir Doumani, a member of MMFD, said.

He explained that the opposition forcing this transition should have a strong political platform which he said was absent in many opposition parties operating today.

“Until now, the alternative parties and groups have not unfortunately produced political agendas … these are electoral agendas,” he suggested.

With a political class clinging onto power at any cost, illustrated by the country’s dire economic situation and exacerbated with almost a year of political deadlock, it is unclear whether a real change will materialize.

Doumani said that the moment of “rupture” is when the current system loses the tools that permitted it to thrive and persevere for the last three decades.

“When they lose these tools, there is an exceptional opportunity for a negotiation to be forced on this regime to lead the country toward a different system,” he said.

Doumani said that MMFD was ready to take the reins if this opportunity arises, but the group has not taken a stance on parliamentary elections.

“It will at some point become apparent if these elections contribute to the transition of power or not and if they will lead to the construction of a new system,” he said, adding that only then would MMFD decide if they will run for elections or not.

Vehicles drive near the grain silo that was damaged during Beirut port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon April 9, 2021. (Reuters)
Vehicles drive near the grain silo that was damaged during Beirut port explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon April 9, 2021. (Reuters)

Small wins lead to big gains

Most opposition parties believe in the parliamentary elections as a key tool for change, or at least the beginning of what could be a long and arduous road to alternative governance.

“My main critique for those who believe elections are the way [to achieve change] is that what they end up doing [if they win a small number of seats] is legitimizing the political class that created the mess we are in,” Salloukh said.

Myriam Sayah, a member of the National Bloc, argued that “Opposition from the inside is more effective than opposition from the outside. Change takes time. Parliament change will not come in one night,” she added.

Haytayan is optimistic about the outcome of the elections, underlining that the conditions are drastically different from the 2018 elections because the political elite’s unfulfilled promises made it easier to incentivize people to vote.

“In 2018, there was CEDRE, it came one month before the elections, and it saved them [political elite] because they convinced the people that it would help the economy ... however, in 2022, this won’t happen. No one in the international community has trust in this political class anymore,” she said.

In 2018 the international community pledged more than $11 billion in soft loans and grants to Lebanon, but they were contingent on reforms the politicians in power had to implement. Three years later, the funds remain locked as politicians have been unwilling to undertake any reforms, which are also pre-requisites for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

Many predict that the opposition parties currently organizing will not achieve a breakthrough next year and will gain only a few seats.

“That is a very pessimistic reading of the situation. At the end of the day, we have the Lebanese people, who, after everything they are going through, will make the right choice which is voting against this system,” Haytayan said.

“It will be interesting to see if the same people will still vote for their leaders,” Salloukh said.

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