In the run-up to Lebanon's general elections on May 15, opposition parties have reported threats, intimidation and political-economic obstacles preventing them from carrying out their election campaign.
Welcome to The New Arab’s coverage of Lebanon’s General Election 2022 held on May 15, 2022. Follow live updates, results, analyses, and opinion in our special hub here.
As the final list of candidates for the upcoming general elections in Lebanon closed, as many as 718 candidates registered on an electoral list, representing a 23% increase compared to the last parliamentary elections in 2018.
Among them, 25-year-old Verene Al Amil is one of the youngest independent candidates on a voter list who wants to challenge the status quo. "I am running for office because I believe that change is possible in the country," she told The New Arab.
However, there are still many obstacles to her election campaign. The young candidate is the victim of hate speech on social networks that aim to discredit her not only for her age but also because she is a woman who does not align with the agenda of the traditional parties.
"On social media, I receive a lot of hateful messages that target my profile. In the mindset of many people, politics in Lebanon must be embodied by a man who uses wastas [cronyism] and has money to come to power,” she said.
"When a family has been present in politics for three or four centuries and has passed on power for several generations, it has a considerable advantage over new entrants from different new and reforming political groups that do not have the same network of contacts and financial power"
In its latest report on freedom of expression in the 2022 election campaign, the Samir Kassir Foundation concluded that techniques of harassment and threats to intimidate opposition candidates were used systemically by opposition parties.
“The traditional parties try to improve their image by presenting personalities who, on the face of it, have not been involved in past misdeeds," said Karim Emile Bitar, political scientist, and director of the Institute of Political Science at the University of St. Joseph (USJ) in Beirut to The New Arab.
On April 16, members and supporters who wanted to announce the independent list "Together for Change" in the southern Lebanese town of Sarafand were assaulted with guns and knives.
If not physical attacks, violations of the electoral law can be characterised by the destruction of campaign materials. This is what the independent candidate Paula Yacoubian experienced with several of her campaign billboards that have been vandalised.
"Intimidation is sometimes very violent and can go as far as physically attacking candidates"
As a result of all these practices to reduce the influence of the opposition, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) reported an increase in violations of the Electoral Law No. 2017/44.
For Bitar, the feudal, clientelist, and communal system is at the origin of all these dynamics that prevent the opposition from reaching power. “Today, we have the remnants of feudalism with a patrimonial conception of power where the traditional parties consider that a parliamentary seat is part of their family heritage and that it is quite natural that the son succeeds the father," he told The New Arab.
“When a family has been present in politics for three or four centuries and has passed on power for several generations, it has a considerable advantage over new entrants from different new and reforming political groups that do not have the same network of contacts and financial power,” he added.
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According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the multidimensional poverty rate in Lebanon doubled from 42% in 2019 to 82% of the total population and concerns around four million people.
That is why, many experts fear that the traditional parties would take advantage of the economic situation to buy votes at the expense of the opposition parties, which would be marginalised.
As a result, many Lebanese have concluded that the parliamentary elections, as important as they are, will not change the balance and that it will be necessary to fight on several fronts simultaneously.
For Al Amil, it is therefore important to put pressure on the establishment at all levels of society.
“If we do not pay attention to politics, to what is happening in the country, if we do not do our duty as citizens, the warlords will continue to maintain the culture of impunity and do what they want without any control,” she said.
“It is important that we mobilise and participate in the elections. Parliament is not an end, but a means and we must continue to mobilise at the level of the unions, but also in the streets,” she added.
Clément Gibon is a freelance journalist based in Lebanon.