Elections in Lebanon Show Democracy Is a Work in Progress in the Divided Country
Photo: Government of Lebanon
After years of delays that made the May 6th parliamentary elections the first in Lebanon in some nine years, the results came in and the elections are part of the history books. As an organization that for a decade has promoted democracy, civil society, and the rule of law, such elections are of keen interest to The Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD).
ARDD applauds the fact that there were a record number of women candidates, as a core mission of ARDD’s work is empowering women and promoting gender equality, activities that include helping to educate women about their rights and assisting them in asserting those same rights, helping to mobilize and engage women in public forums, and promoting general societal awareness about the challenges women face and as well as women’s rights. Running for elected office as parliamentarians and other political positions is one of the primary ways that women can make their voices heard and justly assert, exercise, and protect their rights as citizens, so the increase in female candidates is a significant step forward for Lebanon and such participation is something ARDD has encouraged for years.
As these female candidates and other women continue to engage in Lebanon’s political process as voters, candidates, civil society representatives, and office-holders, ARDD stands ready to increase its engagement with the women of Lebanon as part of an ambitious long-term regional expansion, thus far centered on Lebanon and Tunisia. In its initial phase, this expansion primarily focuses on engaging with both young men and young women on their terms, helping make them aware of how they can become more active agents of positive change in their communities as part of an effort to divert them away from extremism, falling under ARDD’s overall efforts directed towards combating and preventing violent extremism (C/PVE). ARDD strongly believes that fostering passion for participation and civil society within the rising generation is crucial because it is an effective way to overcome the obstacles of mass cynicism, hopelessness, and despair that are spreading among young people in the region and making it more difficult for necessary progress to occur.
Mounting problems in Lebanon helped lead to a loss of seats for the ruling party, and this demonstrates that Lebanon’s system provided a level of accountability in punishing current office-holders for not adequately addressing various problems.
Yet ARDD laments that the laudably robust effort of civil society groups to engage in the process fell far short of its potential. Despite the results, the passion and energy of civil society displayed in these elections can certainly be further built upon over time, and can therefore still be seen as a big step forward even as it leaves much room for improvement. And those these results could in part be explained by the major role traditional patronage systems played in the election and likely also by the more than 7,000 violations reported to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, meaning the degree to which the elections were free and fair is therefore in doubt. A month after the elections, the Lebanese Constitutional Council announced it had received complaints about the legality of the elections of 40 out of 128 MPs seated by the election, and that while all MPs should be considered valid as of now, the Council noted that a full investigation would proceed and that if violations were serious enough to have affected results, some MPs may be unseated. As an organization that has long supported free and fair elections as well as accountability, ARDD hopes that the investigation will be as full and fair as the Constitutional Council has indicated it will be so that all Lebanese can be confident in their electoral process, its results, and Lebanon’s parliament. And.
ARDD also hopes that the civil society organizations (CSOs) that were so energized during the election but did not see the results they hoped for will take that setback as further inspiration to engage with both people and political leaders, and that that political leaders will work constructively with them. Through inclusiveness and dialogue between government and civil society organizations (CSOs), the chances of positive change usually increase and citizens feel even more so than they are responsible stakeholders in the governance process.
Despite the challenges made clear by the shortcomings in Lebanon’s recent election, there were clearly reasons to celebrate significant steps forward that can lay the foundations for further progress in the future.