Lebanon, often described as the Paris or Switzerland of the Middle East, and still considered safer and more stable than most Arab surrounding countries, is constantly under threat of falling apart due to its political instability and corrupt politicians. Although many Lebanese have lost their faith in their political leaders, it seems that the politicians themselves are eager to go through with the parliamentary elections. The only plausible explanation is that the politicians are confident that their supporters will eventually give them their votes, perhaps for lack of better alternatives.
According to the World Happiness Report 2017, Lebanon was placed at number 88 out of 155 countries. Lebanon is considered a happy enough place based on the six criteria used by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an independent UN initiative. The rankings are based on income, life expectancy, generosity, along with how people rate their social support network, personal freedom and freedom from government corruption. Some might wonder how Lebanon did not occupy the top position in this hierarchy. With a booming nightlife, a multireligious and diverse population, and a sixty minutes drive from clear blue seashores to snowy mountain tops, Lebanon is a “fountain of happiness” as put by the Daily Star. Yet, the reasons for this rather dismal classification are not hard to find, for alongside the factors that contribute to happiness, there is increasing dissatisfaction by the Lebanese with their government and politicians. Lebanon, often described as the Paris or Switzerland of the Middle East, and still considered safer and more stable than most Arab surrounding countries, is constantly under threat of falling apart due to its political instability and corrupt politicians. Although many Lebanese have lost their faith in their political leaders, it seems that the politicians themselves are eager to go through with the parliamentary elections. The only plausible explanation is that the politicians are confident that their supporters will eventually give them their votes, perhaps for lack of better alternatives.
Hardly any Lebanese does not consider these politicians to be at the root of most of the country’s problems, from electricity shortage and water pollution to inadequate infrastructure and poor internet connection. More recently, the problem of waste disposal surfaced in an ugly manner. The lack of action by authorities to adopt clean and internationally approved methods of waste management poses serious health risks and is thus a violation of the citizens’ human rights according to Human Rights Watch’s first report to ever be conducted on this topic in any country. But even more annoying to the Lebanese is the perennial problem of electricity for despite the national electricity company’s (Electricite Du Liban EdL) failure to supply enough power since the 1990’s, the politicians could not agree on a plan that puts an end to this farce either through privatization or a total rehabilitation plan. The government continues to finance more than 90% of EdL’s purchases of fuel at a fat annual bill of $1.8 billion. Some even argue that about half of the Lebanese national debt of about seventy billion U.S. dollars since the early nineties is traceable to the mismanagement of electricity and corrupt deals approved by successive governments. The effect of power shortage is not only felt at the levels of industry and investment, but also undoubtedly contributes to a bitter feeling among the Lebanese and can only affect negatively this index of “happiness”.
The political problems and threats to security that Lebanon faces are enormous and suffice it that its next door neighbor, Syria, has been suffering from a fierce war raging since 2011, with deep repercussions on the area in general and its already unstable neighbor, Lebanon. Yet, it is striking that Lebanon has so far shown a great deal of resilience in this crisis for in spite of suffering from internal security troubles, it was able to a great extent to preserve itself against border infiltrations and terrorist threats. Although the political divide in the country is extremely sharp, a semblance of national unity has been maintained and the various parties have eventually found ways to coexist and manage their differences, albeit without attending to the root causes that divide the Lebanese.
The election of a new president and the formation of a government of national unity in which almost all political parties are represented is a case in point. The huge differences between the groups that make up the government are no secret; yet, there is a minimum common ground that compels all parties to work together. How long this arrangement shall continue is not very clear and may be anybody’s guess. What is clear, however, is that the upcoming elections scheduled for May 6, 2018 will be a major test of the Lebanese newly found resilience.
According to the Daily Star, these elections “promise to be fiercely contested as rival political factions and blocs struggle to forge electoral alliances aimed at securing enough parliamentary seats in the 128- member legislature”. Under the new proportional electoral law agreed on last June, it is unlikely that any of the top political leaders will not have a share in the new parliament. But it is the balance of power and the size of representation of several parties that are likely to change. According to Rabih Haber, CEO of Statistics Lebanon, “proportionality corrects this representation of parties” and hence a number of parties that have been long absent from the scene under the previous electoral law may grasp a few seats in various areas of the country.
But the most essential question concerning the upcoming elections – and obviously the real challenge to Lebanon’s resilience– is whether the political balance in Lebanon will change and, if so, how drastically. Most analysts predict that the Shi’ite alliance of Hizbollah and Amal movement will benefit much more than any other group from the new electoral system and are less likely to lose parliamentary seats due to what rival, but weaker lists could score. Although there are a fixed number of seats for each sect, and since there is a threshold required for each electoral list to secure out of the total number of voters in a given electoral constituency or is otherwise eliminated, the chances of success in this is far higher for the Hizbollah-Amal coalition. This is because the representation of other sects nowhere exceeds 70%, whereas the Shiite coalition is thought to be as high as 85%. Accordingly, this coalition is much more likely than other sects to achieve the minimum percentage required and thus have, for example, some of their Sunni allies beat the Sunnis supported by their mainstream party. Given that the Shi’ite bloc will have allies in the new parliament, such as the Free Patriotic Movement, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and some other allied groups that would gain representation on the basis of their proportional scores, there is the serious possibility that these parties will have a clear majority in parliament. The internal and regional implications of such a scenario are enormous. Some argue that the 14th of March won the last two elections but were prevented by their opponents of the 8th of March group to exercise power in any meaningful manner, mainly due to the fact that the armed group Hizbollah always proved to have the upper hand by intimidating its opponent. Accordingly, it is argued that if Hizbollah and its allies score a majority in the next parliament, they will then have a free hand and will invest it heavily in implementing their agenda for Lebanon and the region.
Will Lebanon, in such a scenario be able to maintain its stability given that the Arab countries opposed to Iran will most probably not sit idle and also given that the United States and Israel are vehemently opposed to the Iranian regional agenda? This would be a very arduous situation for Lebanon, but we should give enough credit to the Lebanese and trust that they may eventually be able to reconcile their differences as they have done so many times in the past. The fact that the Lebanese are so creative in finding solutions to their ever growing problems is perhaps the best indicator to measure their “happiness” despite the formidable obstacles that they have to overcome.
1- Dakroub, H. (2018) ‘Rooted parties face tough election Challenge’. Available at http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2018/Feb-19/438470-rooted-parties-face-tough-election-challenge.ashx
2- Hussami, K. (2018) ‘Pollster sees boost for small groups in May Elections’. Available at http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2018/Feb-06/437025-pollster-sees-boost-for-small-groups-in-may-elections.ashx
3- T.K. Maloy. (2017) ‘World Happiness: Lebanon finds itself happier than last year’. Source: Annahar. Available at https://en.annahar.com/article/557025-world-happiness-lebanon-finds-itself-happier-than-last-year
4- ‘Lebanon gets tough on the press ahead of elections’. Source: Associated Press. Date added: 21 February 2018. Available at https://en.annahar.com/article/763818-russia-vetoes-un-resolution-citing-iran-sanctions-violation
5- ‘Lebanon: Waste Crisis Posing Health Risks: End Open Burning; Create Long-Term Waste Management Plan’. Human Rights Watch. Date added: 1 December 2017. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/01/lebanon-waste-crisis-posing-health-risks
6- As if you are inhaling your death: the health risks of burning waste in Lebanon. Human Rights Watch. Date added: 1 December 2017. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/12/01/if-youre-inhaling-your-death/health-risks-burning-waste-lebanon
 Each electoral district is designated a certain number of seats. The law also stipulates how many of these seats go to which confession. In assembling a list, each party ideally compiles a complete list in accordance with the overall number and the confessional distribution, in order not to lose any votes to other lists.