“Politics and Election Nonsense”

Note: This is the first in a series of five thematic Lebanon-related posts, based on a conversation between the author and a Lebanese citizen who preferred to remain anonymous.  

What’s the best – or laziest – way to reconnect with a subject that you haven’t dealt with in a long time? Talk to someone who does. That’s exactly what I did, as I thought of the best way to write my first post after what turned out to be an unintended and unannounced break from the blog.[1]

I sat down with a very good friend of mine for a concise overview of Lebanon’s political and latest news while I had been virtually gone, and perhaps for a little dose of inspiration while I was at it. My dear friend – who prefers to remain anonymous – provided me with both some reason to hope and more reason to want to run away from this schizophrenic republic and never look back. Our long conversation turned out to be fun and enlightening, all the more so due to this person’s signature sarcasm and humor. I decided to reproduce the conversation almost in its entirety on the blog. I managed to dissect our talk into five main topics – politics, the economy, society, environment and faith – all of which will be posted throughout the coming weeks. Enjoy.

***

Eye on the East (EOTE): So tell me, what’s been going on other than politics and election nonsense? What do you think people want to read and talk about these days?

Lebanese Citizen (LC): Politics and election nonsense.

EOTE: You don’t seem to have heard my question.

LC: Yes I did, and I answered them both. What’s been going on other than politics and election nonsense? Nothing. And what do I think people want to read and talk about these days? Election nonsense. Me and most of the people I enjoy being with cannot get enough of mocking the ridiculous electoral slogans posted by some candidates that I wouldn’t even trust with making my coffee. The daily market value of preferential votes, the tactics being used to buy people’s votes without directly giving them cash and that sort of thing is just pure entertainment that I will miss when the elections are over. I think the best are the outrageous alliances candidates are getting themselves into to get elected. As the Americans would say, you just can’t make this stuff up.

EOTE: But I don’t want to talk about all that.

LC: Then change your question.

EOTE: Not now.

LC: Well then, we’ll have to talk about politics and election nonsense.

EOTE: Ok. Ok. What’s going to happen on May 6?

LC: Elections will take place and turnout will be relatively low because most people still don’t really believe in the value and credibility of the process. People will go to their regular polling stations and it will be chaotic as usual. Many ballots will be invalidated either because people still don’t understand how to vote, or because they refuse to be hostages to a law that forces them to vote for an entire list without being able to pick and choose. Lebanon isn’t ready for such an electoral system, based on parties and programs, because there are no real political parties (with some very rare exceptions) and there certainly are no programs whatsoever, only candidate demagoguery to get elected. This electoral system isn’t made for Lebanon and its rotten sectarian, unethical, nepotistic and corrupt political system.

EOTE: Wow, you’ve made me so hopeful and excited now. I can’t wait for May 6.

LC: Me either, because the weather forecast says it will be a gorgeous Sunday and in case I don’t change my mind, I plan to be on the beach, enjoying the garbage floating on the water and drinking beer.

EOTE: But really, come on now. No flicker of hope, no light at the end of the tunnel? Nothing?

LC: Listen, the fact that parliamentary elections are even taking place after three unconstitutional extensions since 2013 is a good thing. The fact that so-called civil society or at least new faces are running for parliament and some have a good chance of getting elected is also a very good thing. And yes, change has to start somewhere. But then what, the political system is the same, more than half if not more of those who’ll get elected are either the same faces, have inherited their seat in parliament or have literally paid their way to parliament. Is this the change we want or the way we really expect change will come?

This “consensual democracy” of ours, which the Lebanese keep talking and boasting about, framing it as a wonderful local invention and unique quality that has enabled the country’s pluralistic society to survive is, if I can put it in a nice way, a piece of shit. How can you ensure accountability, quality political performance, genuine and healthy competition in a political system where no party or leader ever loses. In fact, consensual democracy is perhaps the one single notion that stands in the way of Lebanon’s genuine political development, of building a secular political system, truly representative, democratic and pluralistic in its ideas and visions, not in the ways its components worship whichever god they believe in.

Politics is a dirty game and in Lebanon it’s even dirtier, as measured on the Richter scale no less. It is made for those who have inherited a place in the game and will never give it up. It is made for those who have the means to buy themselves into the game. And it is made for those whose presence is imposed onto the game because nobody dares kick them out. And when you add religion and confessions to figure out who’s in and who’s out and about, it becomes an even deadlier mix and dirtier game. There’s always a place for new faces, but for the time being, those new faces are either being swallowed by the traditional players, face such an uphill battle that they give up or at least don’t have the proper political support to change the status quo if they breakthrough the barrier imposed by traditional politicians. It can’t stay this way forever, but for the time being, that’s how I see things will remain.

You’re going to ask me what about everyday life, people who just want a job, a decent education for their children and reliable medical coverage for their families. Many candidates are promising this and more, but I don’t think anybody believes them. But people will still vote for these liars who promise much more than they can deliver, because people also want to express themselves, to make a point to whoever they consider “the other,” or perhaps for the sense of pride such or such candidate provides the voter with. Citizens may as well vote in a way that makes them temporarily feel good, after which they will go back to complaining and whining until the next election.

I do have to say that for the first time, it feels like the traditional political class feels a bit threatened, feels like a couple hundred people do not believe them anymore, as compared to the last elections. That’s why we see candidates and leaders taking off their jackets more, holding more political rallies to present themselves as being closer to their supporters, rolling up their sleeves a bit more, cracking up jokes and pretending to listen to what the people are trying to tell them. If you consider this a bit of progress, then yes, maybe it is. But it isn’t even close to anything that will make politicians and the government accountable and truly frightened by the power of the electorate to initiate genuine change to the political system.

Bottom line, and as schizophrenic as it sounds – because Lebanon makes you schizophrenic –  deep down, I don’t think anything will change any time soon but I still have some hope. Modest hope that the pothole on my way home will be fixed before 2030, that is. I’m convinced that things will change, but not in a way that either you or I can currently envision. Fixing this republic will take much more than elections, new faces, new laws and awareness campaigns. I mean if the garbage crisis or the economic situation wasn’t able to induce real change or a revolution, elections won’t either.

EOTE: Wait, you can’t start talking about garbage or the economy now. I need to get a glass of wine before we continue or make sure a war hasn’t started in the Middle East just yet, whichever comes first.

[1] As you may have noticed, and as already announced on Eye on the East’s social media channels (Facebook and Twitter), the blog has been transformed and revitalized after and unintended and unannounced break. If you’re interested in the background to this transformation and brief history of the blog, please visit our newly added Home page and read About The Blog here.

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