The Best Way To Start an Electoral Campaign in Lebanon

It was May 2012 and I had a death in the family. This necessitates being in church for a lot of time which I normally spend just being “there,” not really useful and not able to leave because that’s a big no-no.

Part of Christian funeral “traditions” is the family of the deceased getting flower arrangements that will be put on the grave once the funeral and the burial are done. If the deceased is part of a bigger establishment, they get a flower arrangement from there as well. If the deceased was active politically or have politically active offspring, they get a flower arrangement from their corresponding politician of choice.

And sometimes, there are flower arrangements which leave you baffled as to who that person is. As I said, it was May 2012 and as I screened the flowers, I noticed a name that didn’t seem familiar to me: Sandrella Merhej.

I asked around and almost no one knew who she was – until I ran into a staunch FPM supporter who said the main attorney was on Fayez Karam’s treason case.

Fast forward a few months later, to December 2012, and another death in the family. And there it was – the infamous Flower Cross:

Sandrella Merhej FPM Batroun Elections 2013

 

The key difference between December and May 2012 is that the arrangement which everyone found odd and strange back then now made sense. She wasn’t a stranger anymore – she had become a household name. She didn’t use social media. She didn’t inundate everyone with ads.

It only involved a bouquet. Sandrella Merhej had actively kickstarted an electoral campaign with her doing absolutely nothing.

 

She doesn’t have to be present at the funeral as many other politicians do. I bet she doesn’t even know who the people who died are. Odds are she has some sort of deal with a local florist to send an arrangement to every single funeral in the whole district. As a result, very few are those across Batroun today who don’t know who Sandrella Merhej is.

They have no idea where she stands on some key issues. They probably don’t know yet where she stands politically. But she’s in a much better place, reputation-wise, than where Gebran Bassil and Antoine Zahra were in 2005, when they were both running for the first time.

People love it when politicians, or politician-wannabes in Sandrella Merhej’s case, acknowledge their sadness during funerals. It makes them feel relevant and actually gets them to think that politician truly cares about their strife and that he – or she – are not just there for electoral purposes.

I personally couldn’t care less if a politician attends a funeral of a person I cherish or not. But I’m the exception. In fact, many people in Batroun hold it against Antoine Zahra that he doesn’t do funerals. Many won’t be voting for him precisely because of that. I find it sad that voting – or not voting for someone – revolves around them making the time to attend something they’re not even supposed to attend when there are so many other things that could stop them from voting for a politician.

But I digress.

Today, Sandrella Merhej’s name is a frontrunner to be on the FPM ticket with Gebran Bassil. She fits the bill – she comes from one of Batroun’s towns at a higher altitude – the poor thing has to go against Boutros Harb. A lot of people now know who she is. And by the looks of it, she is a staunch FPM member. A three in one combo? Apparently so. Of course, her nomination is not set in stone. There are other names being jumped around but out of them all, she might be the most interesting: a newcomer, who was relatively unknown less than a few months ago. Now everyone knows her name.

Whether she will win or not, however, is an entirely different story. Entre nous, the chance of her ticket winning in my district is dismal at best – almost nonexistent actually.

Check Out Lebanon’s 2013 Voters Lists

We may not have an electoral law yet but our elections will happen regardless. And despite many of us saying that we won’t vote now, come June (or July if there’s a slight delay), we will all be heading to the polls to cast our votes.

The ministry of interior affairs has just published the lists of the 2013 elections eligible voters (لوائح الشطب ) and speaking from experience, it’s always better to check if your name is there or if there’s any mistake in advance in order to avoid any surprises come election day.

1 – Go to the website (here). It doesn’t support firefox so make sure you’re using Safari or Chrome or – God forbid – Internet Explorer.

2 – Go to the “voters list” section (القوائم الإنتخابية) and choose your mohafazat.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 23 – Next, choose your district. In my case, it’s Batroun.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 34 – Choose your village. Ebrine, in my case.

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 45 – Choose your gender and sect.

My town has Sunnis. Unacceptable.

My town has Sunnis. Unacceptable.

The list corresponding to the sect, gender and town you chose will then be made available. If you are an expat who registered at an embassy, your name will have a remark indicating that you have chosen to vote abroad:

Lebanon Voting Elections 2013 - 6

If you’re not an expat, locate your name and make sure it doesn’t have any mistakes in your birthdate, father’s name, mother’s name or even your own name:

There's me

There’s me

I personally had a problem with my mother’s name on the list which missed one dot, making her name totally different. I spoke to the mokhtar about it but he dismissed it as irrelevant and didn’t fix it. Remembering a story when a friend of mine was not allowed to vote by some political observers because his mother’s name was wrong on the list, I didn’t let it go and while giving fingerprints for my new ID at my district’s Serail, I asked to have my mother’s name fixed and it was.

Don’t worry, fixing anything wrong with your registration is not a hassle. Just have some form of identification with you, an ID or a recent ikhraj eid, and head to your nearest “ma2mour l noufous” and they’ll be more than glad to sort things out.

As an example, a relative whose name appears on the list for the first time this year has her mother’s name all wrong. If she hadn’t checked the list, she wouldn’t have known that and she would have been not allowed to vote come election day. Another friend, who’s my age, doesn’t even have his name registered yet. Seeing as the lists are readily available online till March, it is our duty to make sure that human errors do not keep us from voting.

Myriam Klink To Run for Lebanon’s 2013 Elections

Myriam Klink and her revolution took it to her Facebook profile (link) to announce that she will be running for the Orthodox seat in Metn in Lebanon’s upcoming 2013 elections. She joins another model-turned-politician-wannabe called Nathalie Fadlallah who runs a modeling agency in seeking a parliamentary seat in the Northern district of Koura.

Klink wants to go parliament in a super mini skirt and give people electricity and development. I know a few things that will get “developed” in parliament if she wins. If you know what I mean.

Myriam Klink Elections 2013 Lebanon

 

 

With the current political blockade of the country Klink doesn’t stand a chance if she goes through with her plan. But I actually agree with a few points that she raised there especially when it comes to women rights. She may not be nowhere near qualified, not that most of our MPs actually are, but she might as well bring a breath of fresh air – no pun – to parliament.

So the hell with it – why not have Klink run for elections?

Lebanon’s 2013 Elections Campaigns: Khlosna Ba2a

While politicians from Lebanon’s two main political camps bicker over an electoral law they can’t wait to disagree upon, the campaigns to kick off the 2013 election season have begun with “Khlosna Ba2a” – Enough is enough.

The main party behind the campaign is the National Dialogue Party (NDP), spear-headed by engineer and businessman Fouad Makhzoumi who’s a known philanthropist.

The campaign aims to show what I think the majority of Lebanese believe and it’s our utter disgust at the current situation of the country: corruption, immigration, violence, dismal economical prospects, lack of proper dialogue, entrenched sectarianism. And the list goes on.

While I believe that such campaigns, similarly to Take Back Parliament, should have been started a long time ago and not only a few months before the elections in order to rally people and have a functional grass-root movement to get their votes, it’s still nice to see that there’s at least potential for alternative candidates spread around the country who would run based on qualifications not based on how big their family is or how faithful to a corresponding party they are.

Either way, I believe that the coming few weeks will start seeing more electoral campaigns kicking off as the electoral law should – theoretically – be known by then. And I believe the least we can expect is interesting slogans. The least we can hope for is less “Sois Belle et Vote” this time around and more intelligent messages such as “Khlosna Ba2a.”

Here are the other ads in the campaign so far:

We’re sick of corruption and sectarianism. Enough is enough.

Our only option is dialogue. Enough is enough.

We want to stay in Lebanon. Enough is enough.

Let’s Talk About The Rights of Lebanese Christians

Lebanese Christians are worried nowadays about their constitutional also known as God-given rights of having a firm grasp on political power again. They want to vote for their half of parliament, they want to restore the powers of the president, they want to be the tipping balance between the ongoing Shia-Sunni feud.

They want their right to their “former” glory.

This “need” to feel more relevant politically stems from a conviction that’s rising among Christians lately that their presence in Lebanon is threatened.
I have no idea where they get these ideas from to be quite honest. Even if Islamists end up ruling Syria, even if the devil himself ends up ruling Syria, their presence in the country is not threatened one bit by those bad Muslims, especially not the Muslims of Lebanon who, whether we want to admit it or not, share our same woes.

While admittedly the past 23 years have been quite harsh on this section of the Lebanese population and some things need to be fixed when it comes to their status in Lebanon especially when it comes to political representation, is political isolation really the solution for the Lebanese Christian predicament? Is our politicians counting the number of Christian voters across the country really in our interest?

Are our rights as Christians really only summed up in us wanting to vote for 50% of an arguably stillborn parliament with members who don’t care about said rights to begin with outside of electoral-sectarian-fuel purposes? What is better for us as Christians, to vote for 64 useless parliament members without any qualifications just because of their “services,” their “name,” or their “political affiliation” just because it’s our “right” or to vote for less than 64 but actually qualified parliament members?

I find it ironic that Lebanese Christians want everyone to accept that the country’s president is one of them to rule over everyone else. But they can’t fathom how everyone else (Muslims) can get to choose a few of their MPs.

But I digress.

Is it my “right” as a Maronite from the North to choose the Maronite MP of Jezzine, an area I’ve never ever visited? Is it the right of a Maronite from Jezzine to choose my MP in the North just because he’s Maronite?
What does an MP’s sect have to do with guaranteeing rights? Why does an MP’s sect automatically means that person represents me? Does that restore our rights? Or does it violate them even more? Is an MP’s sect an automatic indication of their will to work, of their qualifications?

Is this how we get proper representation? Is this how we get “our rights?” Are “our rights” only summed up by having an MP from our corresponding religion represent us?

But yes, we, as Christians, do have rights that need to be accepted and acknowledged. We have the right to:

Better roads: this (click here) is the current state of the main road in Batroun. It is my right as a Lebanese citizen first and foremost and as inhabitant of the region to have a decent road for my car. My Christian Maronite representatives are not providing me with this.

Healthcare: how many decent hospitals do we have across the country? I can name three or four. And they are all in Beirut. Fact of the matter is most “Christian” areas have shortages in the healthcare system while it is our “right” to have a decent system to take care of us. I’ll take this even further: how many Christians in Lebanon cannot afford hospitalization due to rising costs? Isn’t it our “right” for a universal healthcare system to take care of us? I don’t see any “Christian” MP advocating this.

Electricity: here comes the broken record again. Isn’t it our right in the 21st century to have more than 12 hours of electricity per day? Isn’t it our right not to have to pay two electricity bills per month just because our “Christian” ministries can’t even do a good job?

Water: Beirut and Lebanon’s roads were flooded last week with water from the biggest storm to hit the country in years. A few days later, we were out of water. Is that acceptable? Isn’t it my “right” not to have water shortages in a country that’s arguably beyond rich in the substance?

Internet: Don’t we, as Christians, have the right for decent Internet access in the 21st century? Shouldn’t we have access to speeds that don’t die whenever it rains, whenever it heats, whenever anything odd happens? Shouldn’t we have the right for a better infrastructure that’s installed and provided to us without corruption, without political propaganda and surely without us having to overpay for it?

Security & Military Wings: Who among our “Christian” MPs is really working to boost security in this country? Who among our already-voted representatives can truly ensure our right for safety, our right not to become collateral damage due to some explosion somewhere? Who among our politicians is ensuring that some families don’t have military wings to threaten other people with?

Wasta: isn’t it also my right to have the same chances for employment, for university admissions, for a proper life as the sons and daughters of our “Christian” MPs and ministers? Isn’t my right not to have to worry about being excluded from something I’m more than qualified to get into just because some other candidate knows someone who pulled some strings for him or her?

Women: shouldn’t our Christian women be given the right to pass on the nationality to their children? Don’t they have the right to a state that protects them from abuse? Don’t they have the right for civil regulations that protect their rights?

State of Law: isn’t it my right as a Christian to expect the non-smoking ban to be applied everywhere, not to have our tourism police in a deal with restaurants to violate the ban? Isn’t it my right as a Christian not to worry about people violating every single form of driving laws, of every single law known to man in this country? Don’t I have the right to live in a lawful state?

You know what’s the interesting thing about our “Christian” rights? They’re also the rights of those “Muslims” that we love to hate. They have the same rights in this country as we do. And they need their rights as much as we need ours.

We blame Lebanon’s Muslims of being blinded and of voting in sectarian ways to the same parties without any convincing reason. But it seems we have forgotten that we aren’t voting for reforms and qualifications as well, but to people who give us the same sense of belonging, the same sense of safety – to the same people who offer us a service a couple of days before elections and then forget about us for four years before they give us the allusion of fighting for “our rights” when the going gets tough.

Is it our Christian “right” to have a bigger say in our representatives? Perhaps so. After all, this is how Lebanon is made up. But it is our duty to have our say in these representatives count – in making sure that these representatives advocate for our rights as much as the rights of others who are not “of us.”

It is our right not to live in fear all the time. It is our duty not to blindly allow our politicians to make us afraid of everything else all the time.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t the growing extremism around them, it’s the absolute neglect that they get from those representatives that we already voted for which leads us to leave the country and lose hope in it.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians are national policies which lead to the impoverishment of most of Lebanon while the focus is on making only select places more cosmopolitan. The latter areas become more liberal. The former areas fall into extremism and poverty and we panic about those “big bad Muslims” of Akkar and Bab el Tebbane being after us.

The biggest threat to Lebanese Christians today isn’t that we don’t vote for a full list of 64 Christian MPs. It is our mentality towards our own country: we have changed from people who founded the Greater State of Lebanon to people who just want their share of this country and the hell with everyone else.
And that, my fellow Christians, isn’t how we get our rights back.