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A Roadmap Toward Fair and Competitive Elections in Lebanon

Georgia Dagher,
Sami Atallah,
Wassim Maktabi,
Zeina Helou

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The 2022 Lebanese parliamentary elections were held in the midst of the most severe economic crisis in the country’s modern history. The political environment has drastically changed since the last parliamentary elections of 2018, during which Lebanese voters renewed the mandate of the same political class. This was despite the adoption of a proportional representation electoral system, and the fact that a record number of independent, anti-establishment candidates ran for seats.

However, the mass protests that erupted in October 2019 showed wide public discontent toward the political elites and leading political parties, whose policies have driven the country into its most severe economic and financial crisis. Following the sharp devaluation of the Lebanese pound, Lebanon is facing record-high inflation, unemployment, and poverty rates, with living standards further deteriorating. All of these could have been attenuated had the state implemented much needed reforms. Furthermore, the Beirut blast on August 4, 2020, which destroyed one-third of the capital, further highlighted the negligence of the political class.

The May 2022 parliamentary elections were the first opportunity to gauge citizens’ electoral support for, or their discontent toward, the leading political parties. The votes showed a shift in public opinion and political behavior. Thirtyfour anti-establishment electoral lists ran compared to 18 in the previous elections, they obtained 13% of the national vote (compared to 3% in 2018), and 13 of their candidates made it to parliament. Still, most of the parliament remains controlled by the same traditional political parties. Among the leading political parties, the Lebanese Forces made the largest gains compared to the 2018 elections, securing 18 seats with 11% of the national vote (compared to 15 seats and 8% of the votes in 2018) and thus becoming the largest parliamentary bloc.

The Free Patriotic Movement came in second with 17 parliamentary seats, despite obtaining 7% of the votes (compared to 10% in 2018). Amal experienced large losses and obtained 14 seats, a drop from 17 in 2018, with 10% of the votes (12% in 2018), while Hezbollah retained its 13 parliamentary seats with the highest share of the national vote (19%, compared to 17% in 2018). The Progressive Socialist Party retained its eight seats with 4% of the votes, and members of the Future Movement—which did not run as a party—won three seats with 4% of the votes.

Although anti-establishment candidates made a breakthrough, the electoral race was far from competitive. The environment under which elections generally take place in Lebanon favors incumbents: Political parties have periodically changed the electoral law to their advantage and have resorted to vote buying, sectarian discourse, and fearmongering to mobilize their constituencies. Against this background, TPI found it imperative to examine the behavior of ruling parties and political candidates in the run-up to the 2022 elections to assess the extent to which they would foster an electoral environment that is fair and transparent.

To this end, TPI led a project that aimed to document, analyze, and recommend policy changes to enhance participation and representation through the study of five key pillars: The first is to assess the fairness of the electoral law and proportional representation electoral system; the second, the adherence of political parties to democratic practices in their electoral strategies; the third, the commitment of the state, including the government, parliament, and central bank, to prioritize much needed reforms rather than adopt clientelist and populist policies that may skew voters’ decisions; the fourth, the willingness of the media to provide an equal platform to all political candidates; and the fifth, the ability of the supervisory electoral commission to uphold a fair electoral process.

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