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Lebanon crisis

International observers vital to protect democratic process in Lebanon’s election

Hanin Ghaddar

Published: Updated:

When the results of the Iraqi parliamentary elections came out, Iran and its regional proxies were taken aback. The fact that Iran-backed militias lost around 60 percent of their parliamentary seats reflected an Iraqi discontent with the behavior of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iraq.

The loss also sheds a dark light on the prospects of the upcoming Lebanese election. For Iran, the victory it scored in the 2018 Lebanese parliament is at risk.

Iraq constituted a preview of what might ensue in Lebanon in six months. There are many similarities between the two countries in terms of Iran’s military presence and hegemony over state institutions.

In addition, both Lebanon and Iraq witnessed massive street protests in the autumn of 2019, with the same calls for reforms; fury at the political establishment; corruption, and Iranian influence.

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Like the Iraqi people, the Lebanese public are looking at the March 2022 parliamentary elections as the only chance for change, but without a transparent and secure voting process this will not happen.

The international community must play a crucial official observing role to help the Lebanese people vote safely, without facing the risk of coercion or worse, violence.

In Iraq, more than six hundred international observers were present at polling stations, including UN observers. Lebanon is much smaller, and does not need the same number, but it certainly needs the same determination and diplomatic weight.

Without international support during this critical phase, Lebanon will lose its last chance to move on from the political deadlock, an economy in freefall, and Iranian influence.

Supporters of Iraqi Shia armed groups run from security forces after clashes during a protest against the election results in Baghdad, Iraq, November 5, 2021. (Reuters)
Supporters of Iraqi Shia armed groups run from security forces after clashes during a protest against the election results in Baghdad, Iraq, November 5, 2021. (Reuters)

We have hit a crossroad where the West readies itself to return to the negotiating table with Iran over its nuclear program while Tehran positions itself to use its powerbase in Lebanon as a bargaining chip.

With elections on the horizon, Iran is hitting a known unknown: no international observers will allow it to dictate the outcome, but if observers are present it will lose much of its political muscle.

The discontent of the Lebanese voters in their political leaders, the scale of the diaspora’s ability to participate, and the presence of alternative electoral lists all add to the necessity of protecting the democratic process.

It is not too late to apply the same international observation tools used in Iraq to oversee the transparency of the polling, and the safety of both the candidates and voters. But more importantly, having them in place ensures that the election take place on time.

In Lebanon, Iran’s main proxy Hezbollah is preparing for all scenarios, and might postpone or cancel the voting if they feel their control over the parliament’s majority is at risk.

Creating the conditions to postpone or jeopardize the elections via violence or security risks is very easy, and incidents similar to the Tayyouneh clashes of last month can be repeated without trouble or accountability.

Another tool the Iranian regime has in Lebanon is the presidency, the parliament, and the current government, where Hezbollah enjoys the majority and the blocking third.

The elections could technically be postponed through legal means. However, this becomes unlikely if international pressure is coordinated and implemented, particularly at a time when Lebanon’s government needs to show signs of goodwill to the international community.

Decisions on the electoral process are taking place as the government prepares for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiations, and while the country receives humanitarian assistance from the West and Arab states.

Of course, Hezbollah in Lebanon is more rooted and established than the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, but the terrorist group still needs its allies and votes from other communities.

With plummeting support for its main allies in the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), President Michel Aoun and MP Gebran Bassil, the group risks losing the majority of the parliament.

If Bassil fails to guarantee victory or the government fails to postpone the elections, the political establishment might resort to electoral fraud, which has been common throughout the country’s modern history.

To prevent violations from taking place, and to ensure the Lebanese people get the chance to act and move on from their crises, international observers and proper monitoring are vital.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.