What Beirut’s Election Results Tell: Lebanon Can Hope For Change

Beirut Madinati - bIERTE list 2016 2

This post was written with Ramez Dagher from Moulahazat

As promised earlier, this is the more detailed look at how Beirut voted, beyond the surprisingly great outing of the civil movement Beirut Madinati’s list, which even though it didn’t get actual seats, still has plenty to celebrate.

It is important to note that in the most optimistic of cases, the chances for any list other than the list of the political parties to win was next to zero. No this isn’t retrospective analysis. 

Despite the context of the trash crisis, rising corruption, overall voter discontentment, parliament extending its mandate twice, etc… the math of the Beirut electoral equation was never in favor of any non-political movement: the division of districts, the system, demographics, the sectarian propaganda – The Bierteh list had tried to attract voters – especially Christian ones – by proposing a 50-50 Christian/Muslim list, although Beirut Madinati had also kept the same quota.

So no, the cards were not the best that could be given for Beirut Madinati, or any other movement for that matter, simply because those cards were being played on a table that served only one side: the political establishment.

As a result of all of the above, the loudest of voters on Sunday was the low turnout.

20% Voted:

This is not a historically low number. In 2010, 18% of Beirutis voted. Beirutis simply do not vote in Municipal elections, and only do so at slightly higher numbers in parliamentary ones: 33% in 2009.

This is due to many factors. Voter learned helplessness is an important one, but so is the feel that there really isn’t a contest to begin with further increasing the sense of voter apathy. 

33% voted in 1998, the first election since the Civil War, and the lower turnout since should be enough to tell you how much people lost faith.

Many partisan voters were also not willing to vote for the “zayy ma hiye” list but did not want to break lines.

Achrafieh El Bidayi:

Beirut Madinati won the Beirut 1 district with around 60% of the vote, a blow to the rallying calls of Christian parties in the area for their supporters to vote for the Bierti’s list. The 60% figure is not only exclusive to the mostly-Christian Beirut 1, but is also applicable to the Christian vote in the rest of Beirut.

This doesn’t mean the weight of the LF and FPM combined is 40%. Many LF and FPM leaning voters voted for Beirut Madinati more against Hariri, but it sets the precedence that politically affiliated people can go beyond their affiliations and vote in a way that breaks what they were instructed to do.

Boycotts from the bases of the FPM, LF, and Kataeb were also there on election day, as a sign of disagreement with the recent choices of their parties: The FPM electorate isn’t a fan of Hariri; the LF base isn’t a fan of an alliance with the FPM, and the Kataeb aren’t fans of anything.

This lack of enthusiasm was probably one of the causes of the lower turnout in Christian polling stations.

The context of such a vote, however, is probably not sectarian as is circulating. Achrafieh is one of Beirut’s higher socioeconomic areas, with higher income and education rates. You’ll probably see a similar phenomenon in the higher socio-economic districts of Beirut III. Those residents are more likely to vote for issues such as reform, transportation and trash sorting. Those are also the voters that are the less afraid of change.

Many if not all of Lebanon’s parties count on clientelism to widen their electoral base. In higher socio-economic echelons, the reliance of the electorate on the mainstream parties is less.  Those voters don’t need their political parties in the neo-socialist way that most parties in Lebanon function. In Achrafieh, for example, the LF and FPM do not provide medical services, free education, job opportunities for Achrafieh voters as much as other parties in other districts, so throughout the years, the electorate managed to develop an independence from traditional Christian parties.

The Example Of Tariq El Jdide: Anyone Can Be Reached

Sectarian talk is terrible, but is a necessary evil until the political system is not one where people go and vote in segregation based on how they pray. If you crunch Beirut’s numbers, you will end up with a rough figure of around 30% of the Sunni vote not going to Hariri.

This is probably as important, if not more, than BM winning 60% of the vote in Beirut 1.

I don’t believe we can call this a dissent from the Future Movement yet, but it is a continuation of the gradual and progressive Sunni dislike of the way Saad Hariri is running things, even with his rise of popularity after his return.

The reason the Future Movement won is not because voters are “sheep.” It’s because the Future Movement, through various governmental policies, has forced the people of many Sunni areas to always remain in need for their intervention to get the basic necessities that should be a right for every Lebanese citizen, which many in other areas have access to without needing their political parties: do not cut the hand that feeds you.

The political framework of the elections is important. They come at a time when Sunnis in Lebanon feel increasingly threatened by being categorized as potential-Islamists, to the background of a party in power fighting for a regime they do not approve of in Syria.

The need to not break rank was never greater. They may not approve of Hariri, but this was not the time to show it, and yet 30% did. The situation in the country is not one where sects have the prerogative to show cracks in their facade, or have we forgotten how Christians have also forced a seemingly unbreakable veneer over the past few months as well?

All of this makes the 30% figure of Sunnis who did not vote for Hariri all the more impressive and courageous. It’s the kind of percentage that breaks taboos.

Moving Forward:

The election’s overall results are telling. In Beirut I, the LF representative Elie Yahchouchi and the FPM’s Traboulsi lead their allies in the FM by around 800 votes (of around 6500 the list got). In Beirut II, with its important Shia and Armenian electorate, almost all of the winning candidates from LB are in the 9000 votes region. One candidate however, Amal’s representative, stands out as having 10000 votes. In the third district, Yahchouchi and Traboulsi are 5000 votes behind the FM’s candidates.

The difference between the first and the last of list is around 8000 votes for LB, and 3000 votes for BM. In other words, most of those who voted BM did not make major changes to their lists (“tochtib”) and were convinced with almost all of BM’s candidates, while the base of every single party in power was modifying the names.

That is the biggest proof that the ruling coalition is unstable, and that in 2017, even a minor split between the parties in power can lower that 60% and give way to an independent breakthrough. Check the results here.

But now is time to look ahead.

Our voting process needs to be modernized. 36 hours to go through Beirut’s voting results is a disgrace. There are no excuses.

The rhetoric we need to adopt should never call those who do not vote the way we want sheep or other varieties of animals. It is demeaning, and not any different than the system we want to change. Such horrific name-calling only alienates voters from your platform. The core of democracy is one where many will not vote the way you find is best.

Our rhetoric should also be more inclusive, and less elitist. Our bubble in which we believe our paradigm of Lebanese politics is scripture is exclusive to the people that are reached by our message, but the bulk of voters exist outside of that bubble. We need to be aware that what we know and believe is true doesn’t translate to others and work on reforming our message to make it holistic.

This means that calls to divide Beirut into smaller districts just because Achrafieh voted one way and Tariq el Jdide voted another are horrifyingly xenophobic. Beirut is a city that is 18 km2 with 500,000 voters only. It is too small to be divided. We need policies to bring people together, not segregate them into separate cantons.

Accomplishing so starts by championing policies to better the conditions of all Beirutis, especially those that exist in impoverished areas. Beirut Madinati did not, for instance, campaign as much as it should have in Tariq el Jdide.

Political parties in the country keep people at bay by keeping them afraid and hungry. Keep them as such, and they remain at their mercy. The first step in breaking this political hegemony is to make them need their political parties less: advocate for better schools, better and more comprehensive healthcare, fight economic inflation, raise the minimum wage, adopt a better taxing scheme, etc…

Such measures, however, cannot be done by simply complaining on Facebook. Modernizing our elections isn’t only about getting electronic voting machines, but also about having an electoral law that is fitting of the year 2016. The only law that can work to represent all different sections of Lebanon’s society is a law based on proportional representation. If such a law were adopted, for example, Beirut Madinati would have obtained 9 seats out of the available 24 on Sunday.

Proportional representation, as proposed during a cabinet meeting in 2010 tackling the municipal electoral law, is one of many reforms, such as electing the mayor directly from the people, and a 30% women quota, that are napping in parliament. The establishment is making it harder, but that shouldn’t mean that pressure should stop.

We also need to realize that, despite disagreeing with them, political parties are not going away. If we are to leave a mark, we have to find a framework in which we organize into a party that can compete better in elections, in politics and do so in unity: one of our biggest failings in this election was having like-minded people run on two different lists.

Today, we should be cautiously optimistic at what the future holds. Change in Lebanon is not a sudden process. It’s a tedious affair that needs planning over many years. Start planning for 2017’s parliamentary elections today and 2022’s municipal elections yesterday. Do not despair, and most importantly, always challenge the status quo regardless of how comfortable you are in it.

 

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Why Voting for “Beirut Madinati” Is Of Vital Importance To Get A Better Lebanon

Beirut Madinati May 8th vote

The first lesson we are taught back in our school’s civics class was the following: you, as a citizen, have rights and duties. Voting is a combination of both – it is the only way for you to hold those in power accountable.

We, as Lebanese, haven’t had the chance to hold those in power accountable for more than half a decade now. Starting this Sunday, and for a month, is our chance to do so.

Beirut Madinati is running against the “Beirutis List,” an agglomeration of 24 candidates that represent every single party in power. Yes, every one of them. The Tashnag are there. The Hanshak are there. The FPM and LF, in their new found love in a hopeless place, are there. Berri and the Future Movement are also there.

The Future Movement, which had up until a month ago accused Hezbollah of being the party behind killing their founder and Saad’s father, is now in bed with those same people in Beirut, not that that would stop them from using Rafik Hariri’s memory in all kinds of vote sympathy mongering.

The FPM which was a few months ago calling the Future Movement “Lebanon’s ISIS” is now in bed with them as well. All for one single reason: to kill a movement for the people, by the people, asking for change.

The reason why it is of VITAL importance to give your vote for Beirut Madinati on Sunday is to say that the current situation as is will not be tolerated anymore. As the saying goes: voting for it “zayy ma hiye” will keep the situation “zay ma houwe.” Their electoral tactics are zayy ma hiye: intimidation, fear, hate and sectarianism. 

Voting for Beirut Madinati is not a vote for a simple municipal election. It is our chance as a country, through Beirutis, to vote against the establishment that has been screwing us for years. It is our chance to say enough is enough. It is our chance to challenge the entire political establishment that is united in trying to bring us down, again, and our chance to start reclaiming our country, starting with its capital.

If you’ve forgotten, let me tell remind you of the situation you’re living in:

– The city of Beirut currently has no water. It’s only May, and it’s still raining. I literally bought water yesterday to be able to shower. I see this becoming a worse pattern as summer rolls by.

– The city of Beirut is stinking of garbage. Its people are going to hospitals with all kinds of respiratory problems because of the smell. The pollution because of the garbage crisis will take years to resolve.

– Many of the youth of Beirut not only don’t live in Beirut anymore, but have left the country, as is the case with many Lebanese, for better opportunities. Hashtag My Dubai. Maybe we should just keep calling Dubai Madinati instead so el sheikh Saad ma yez3al?

– The city’s Centre, Nejmeh Square, is currently off access to its people and all Lebanese. Why? Because our parliament that is not even working is present there. Spoiler alert: foreigners are allowed to enter.

– You, as Beiruti and Lebanese, are always under the mercy of whichever politician you have the displeasure of encountering. If you’re on the road driving and you come by one of their convoys, they will run you over to move ahead. It is the way things are when entities feel they are always above reproach.

– You, as Beiruti and Lebanese, are worth nothing more than $100 on Election Day for your politicians.  They don’t care about planning for a better future for you and your children. They only care about you voting for them on Election Day.

– The situation is so comically sad that clubs in the country are being forced to close the day before each mohafaza votes, which happens to be on the day those places make the most money: on Saturday. The system doesn’t even know how to function without killing your livelihood.

– The political establishment has worked tirelessly to sell your land to the highest bidder, to ban you from going to the beach that is your public property, to wall off Raoucheh from its people to turn it into a construction site, to destroy your heritage.

– The political establishment has made your economy such a mess that your child is born with $15,000 in debt.

– The political establishment has made your reality in such a way that you and your children are limited by where you are born, the sect you are born into, who you know, and how much money you have.

– The political establishment has not been able to give you a president. It’s been two years. It has stolen your right to vote two times so far to keep itself in power. It has not managed to come up with a decent electoral law.

– The political establishment tried to KILL you in August when you protested against their trash. They were not even sorry.

– The political establishment funds its own wars, as was the case in Tripoli, and you’re the last of their concerns. It takes tax money out of you but gives you nothing in return but hell.

Do you want to keep the status quo as it is? Do you want to give the politicians that have been ruining your life a free pass for more years to come? Do you want them to keep running unchecked, aware that no matter how horrible they are, no matter how badly they treat you, no matter how little a bug they see you, no matter how many times you curse them over the years, they can count on you falling in line when it counts, on Election Day?

Say no to keeping the country braindead, and vote Beirut Madinati.

How Lebanon’s Politicians Are Threatened By The #‏طلعت_ريحتكم‬ Movement

Over the past month, the most energetic and momentum-ful youth movement this country has seen over the past of the past few years was born and they called themselves طلعت ريحتكم or YouStink.

That movement was born because a portion of the Lebanese society, one that has a functioning head above its shoulders and one that can see through the whole spectrum of our politicians’ bullshit, was sick of the status quo that’s forcing every single Lebanese today, except a select few, to live in utter misery, in a state of non-existent rights and… in their own garbage. You’ve all seen those pictures.

That non-political movement has its only purpose to challenge a system that has gone for so long unchallenged and to expose the corruption that is so well-rooted in all our politicians that they’d rather let the country sink in garbage than threaten their bottom line. And that is scaring our politicians shitless.

The Future Movement:

When the protests started, the FM accused them, via its TV station Future TV, of being nothing more than “workers of the resistance,” which is to say that this movement against the trash crisis of which the FM and its corruption were central players for years is nothing more than a product of the imagination of Hezbollah.

The FM thought that such rhetoric would suffice to resonate with its crowds. Perhaps it did with some. But when it didn’t, the FM’s minister tried to divert attention from the protest by arresting a protestor who was “threatening the Sunni legacy” in the country by fighting for his right by suing the Sunni orphanage for sexual abuse and painting it as a threat to that minister’s well being. Oh well.

Michel Aoun:

In between his quest to reclaim Christian rights and to get himself to presidency and his son in law as army commander, Michel Aoun was also very upset that his very, very failed protests were, well, an utter failure and had security personnel oppose them.

To make a point, or lack thereof, he asked in a press conference the armed forces to go and cut roads and whatnot to the YouStink protesters.

The Kataeb:

Some Kataeb MPs, plenty as they are, considered the protesters in the YouStink movement to be “ridiculous,” or to use the arabic word for it “سافهين.” I guess so says the party that voted for the grandson of their founder to be their head after having his father be the head for so many years?

Hezbollah:

Hezbollah’s minister Hussein El Hajj Hassan asked Lebanese media to decrease and stop covering the YouStink protests. I guess Hezbollah’s reps think that protests against the government and establishment of which they are part, highlighting their grave shortcomings are a big no-no. Tell that to the FM please.

March 14’s General Directorate:

In their meeting, they accused the movement of being part of Hezbollah’s brigade, which is why I suppose anyone would want to oppose this government or the Lebanese establishment as it stands. The meeting also asked the government to hold its own in the face of such protesters.

And On 19/8/2015:

The following are a few pictures of what’s happening right now in Riad el Solh square, against the protesters of the YouStink movement:

When they went down to Riad el Solh today, the protesters of the YouStink movement found themselves faced with a full on onslaught by the Lebanese armed forces who hosed them with water, prevented them from protesting as the cabinet convened to discuss the garbage crisis.

The government failed, yet again, to find a solution today and postponed the problem, again, to a subsequent date. It must be so hard for our politicians to find a solution where they all get money from the handling of Beirut’s garbage. Hashtag: the tough life of a Lebanese politician who’s never satisfied financially.

So naturally, our government failing was met with wide arrests in the ranks of the protesters. Director Lucien Bou Rjeili, who recently did more work than the entirety of our political establishment in the Bab el Tebbeneh-Jabal Mosehn issue by coming up with a play bringing people from both regions together for the first time (link), was arrested.

Activist Assaad Thebian was also arrested; Imad Bazzi, known for his blog Trella.org, was injured and transferred to a nearby hospital. Activists Waref Sleiman and Hassan Shamas were also arrested.

The protesters were then threatened by our those armed forces to be arrested and referred to military court for further management, because this is how we function in Lebanon: people protesting for their fundamental civil liberties get a military trial. And we pretend we’re a democracy.

Not only have our politicians failed in the simplest form of governance and that is sorting our garbage, but they’ve also failed in maintaining a country with the minimum amount of liberties of being able to speak, of not feeling threatened to oppose, of not being beaten up and hosed down when we speak up.

How different is this government from those of the Syrian occupation period when protesters were arrested and threatened for simply protesting? It’s not.

Today, the heroes of Lebanon are those protestors in Riyad el Solh. To the country’s politicians, the most fitting thing to say is this:

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Borderline Sectarianism

It seems that, as I’m posting this, the figure who’s going to become our next Prime Minister is being formulated. The choice is not one that represents the majority of the sect from which the prime minister is usually chosen. This has given rise to this post.

After the 2009 parliamentary elections, which produced a clear majority for the March 14 movement, this majority chose to go by the choice of the sect from which Speaker of the House is chosen and they voted for Berri. He returned, once again, as Speaker – even though he had a big hand in the political deadlock that preceded those elections. I personally would have preferred a more moderate Shiite figure to take that position. But you have to respect the choice most Shiites in the country have taken and Berri represents that.

Onwards with the PM choice for that year. It was clear Saad Hariri would be chosen and that happened. What was Hariri faced with? months of another deadlock by the opposition, just because they wanted a share in the government that does not conform with the results of the elections. And another figure wanted his son-in-law who lost in my own district to become minister again, having previously agreed that losers in the parliamentary race are not allowed to seek a minister position.  In all decent democratic societies, the opposition is rarely given the opportunity to basically stop democratic rule. It just waits its turn till the next election cycle, hoping those in power messed up enough to let the voters have another opinion.

But of course, nothing in Lebanon works as it should. And after months of rope-tugging, a government was formed.

Flash-forward a year later… this government has collapsed. And now the opposition, represented by Hezbollah (the definite master-head), FPM, Amal Movement and the newly joined Jumblat, want to force upon the Sunnis of the country one of three possible Prime Ministers: Omar Karami, Mohammad Safadi and Najib Mikati.

The question is this: what gives the Shiites the right to choose the highest political Sunni figure when there’s a clear choice for the sect at hand? didn’t they overwhelmingly choose the Future Movement as their representatives in parliament?

For the record, Omar Karami actually ran for parliament in his district of Tripoli – an overwhelmingly Sunni city. He lost. By a huge margin. If that’s not a clear enough choice, then what is?

I guess you can’t expect the opposition to give you the courtesy of a choice when they don’t even believe that you are entitled to one. They are taking power by force and there’s nothing we can do about that. We like our country too much to let it go on a path of destruction we all know they are capable of doing.

To end this… Hasan Nasrallah referenced, in his conference today, the constitution to justify overthrowing Saad Hariri’s government. He then referenced his sect’s rights in choosing Berri as speaker of the house. That’s duality right there. Would people see it? No. His supporters will just keep on chanting… and the country will be screwed more and more and more.