The Stream

How are new politicians changing the conversation ahead of Lebanon’s election?

Civil society groups and independent politicians aim to win parliamentary seats as new proportional voting system is applied.

The vast majority of Lebanese under the age of 30 have never voted in parliamentary elections.

The startling fact is because Lebanon has not held a parliamentary election since June 2009. Now – nearly nine years later – thousands of Lebanese aged 21 and over are considering candidates in a May 6 ballot.

Lebanon’s current parliament has postponed elections and renewed its term on three occasions. Politicians said the extensions were due to security concerns amid the war in neighbouring Syria, a crippling domestic debt crisis, and disputes over electoral reform – an issue largely resolved with a new electoral law ratified in June 2017.

Under the new system seats will still be allotted 50/50 between various Christian and Muslim sects, a delicate balance in recognition of 18 religious confessions present in Lebanon, a country smaller than the US state of Connecticut. What’s new is that parliamentary seats will be won on a proportional basis, rather than under the previous ‘winner takes all’ principle. Voters in 15 electoral districts will be asked to vote for one of several lists of candidates, and then cast a separate vote for an individual candidate within that same list. The new law also allows Lebanese living abroad to vote for the first time since Lebanon became independent in 1943.

Proponents of the new law say it increases opportunities for independent candidates but critics remain unimpressed, pointing to lack of a quota for women’s representation in parliament, the failure to lower the voting age, and lax campaign finance regulations that hand the largest parties a distinct advantage.

Nonetheless, new political organisations and independent candidates alike are gearing up for the election. Civil society groups, independents and the new Sabaa party have formed an electoral alliance under the Kollona Watani (National Coalition) banner, and hope to present a serious challenge to long-established parties such as the Future Movement, Amal, and the Progressive Socialist Alliance.

The coalition argues that its strength is in its numbers and its diversity – 66 candidates drawn from all religious sects – and that it represents a move away from the dynastic character of traditional parties.

The Stream will ask some of these new voices about advancing alternative political ideas, as well as their hopes for dramatically changing Lebanon’s future.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Habib Battah @habib_b       
Investigative Journalist

Victoria El-Khoury Zwein @VZwein
Parliamentary Elections Candidate
Co-Founder, Sabaa Party

Nayla Geagea @NaylaGeagea
Member, LiBaladi Movement

Nadine Moussa @Nadine4Leb
Parliamentary Elections Candidate  

Read more:
Local tensions flare up before Lebanese elections – Reuters
Will the Lebanese vote in parlimentary elections? – Al Jazeera

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