On the 7th of June, why would I vote blank!


During Easter vacation in Syria, I was talking with friends of mine living in Lebanon about the forthcoming Lebanese elections in June. The main topic: which side to choose? 8th or 14th of March? After a while of pro and anti arguments for each political group and according to each of one political sensibility, we all finally took a side, even I.

Few weeks later, I am now having a different analysis of the situation regarding the Legislative election. Why? The answer is simple: I am disappointed from the political actors of the Cedar country. The following elements will show you why I arrived to this point and why I would vote blank on the 7th of June if I was Lebanese.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Election, which is a NGO specialized in electoral observation issues, has in the electoral framework revealed 133 infractions between the 24th April and the 7th of May[1]. The following articles were all violated:

– article 59, which forbids services, donations and assistance in kind and electoral money offered to electors,

– article 71, which prohibits the use of public services, ministry departments and public institutions, universities, schools, place of worship, to organise electoral meetings

– article 68, relative to the media coverage of the electoral campaign.[2]

The LADE points out several Lebanese groups, from all political tendencies, as well as independent candidates. These laws should normally provide a minimum of transparency and democracy for these elections. The frequent infractions cited in the report are the meetings hosted for electoral purposes in public places and place of worships. For example meetings hold for women supporting the Future Movement was organised in the Baslaba Mosquee in the Chouf; a reception took place in the Grand Serail during which the First Minister Fouad Siniora, as well as standing for Saida seat in Parliament, welcomed the guests for electoral objectives[3]. On the other side, a ceremony was organised under Nabih Berri patronage at the Hermel’s American University, during which the ex Minister Hussein Ali Abdallah declared that the opposition’s list would win the elections. Few pictures of the candidate Michel Aoun were displayed at the Fanar University. The list of the Baalbeck candidates for the elections was enounced in front the Temple of Bacchus in Baalbeck, knowing that this public monument is in line with the Tourism Ministry management[4].
The NGO also criticizes religious dignitaries who support a political party against another, which can influence the elector free will in conferring to the electoral campaign a sectarian characteristic. Candidates, deputies and current ministers use their political influence and the State ressources for purely electoral interests, which is against article 71. The early renting of vehicles in order to assure the transport of voters, plane tickets offered for free by candidates to voters living outside of the country are irregularities revealed by observers. Slanderous comments, incitation and exacerbation of sectarian feelings from few candidates also appear in the report.

Confessional and aggressive discourses that stir up hatred also did not end between both opposite groups. Recently, on a TV candid camera Walid Joumblatt gave way to his legendary contradictions, showing in public a moderate face, while having sectarian remarks towards his own supposed allied. He accused his Christian and Sunni allies to have wished to lead us to a conflict with the Shias while sitting and watching us kill each other[5]. He also declared “the elections will take place but they won’t change anything, Walid Joumblatt cannot form anymore a list in the Chouf because isolationist tendencies are back. A bad seed will stay bad” speaking about the Maronite sect[6]. The LADE condemned severely few medias institutions and internet sites for the diffusion of advertisements packaging libellous remarks, as well as exacerbating sectarian feelings[7].

Personal attacks between opponents became the norm and debates are not based on divergent programs but on personalities. Michel Aoun for example invited Nayla Tueni to quit the elections because of her lack of political experience due to her young age, as well as he attacked the State Minister Nassib Lahoud of being an ex Saika member, a pro Syrian Palestinian group[8]. Hundreds of other examples are possible and daily between the two camps. Why do they not argue on political arguments directly interesting citizens? Nayla Tueni is young, yes and why not? Should I remind Michel Aoun that the main strength of the Free Patriotic Movement is its youth, until today the young Lebanese of less than 30 years old make up to around 70% of their members[9]. Nassib Lahoud might have been a Saika member, and so what? Michel Aoun and some of his colleagues collaborated during the war with the Lebanese Forces, which is far more evil in my opinion, but this should not be an argument anymore. Look forward and speak about day to day needs of the society should be their first interest. This does not mean I forget the horrors of the war and forgive Samir Geagea or Walid Joumblatt for their crimes. I would have wished a Tribunal after the civil war which would have judged all these kind of criminals and would have dispensed justice for all the innocent victims of the war.

A very interesting initiative related to the issue of rights was launched by the Green Line association, which is normally devoted to environment. Far from booming or aggressive political declarations and accusations from both camps, the NGO is trying to bring back rationality in electoral debates in basing its campaign on the notion of access to rights[10]. In resume, the campaign, which will be launched soon, addresses itself directly to the citizen to encourage him to ask his candidate to whom he intends to vote for to assure him his basics rights, such as access to water, electricity, environment, quality of life, etc…[11]. The followings slogans will be posted on television “You want to bring change? Start with electricity or water! Or “It’s true you want to embody hope of change and equality, but where are my rights?”[12].

On the socioeconomic situation of Lebanon, the population’s level of life, in particular of the poorest class, has decreased deeply these last years because of strong inflation which concerns beyond everything products of basic needs such as cloths, food products and energy[13]. The Customers union of Lebanon estimates the increase of prices of 43% since July 2006[14], where as the Public Debt has now reached of 47, 8 billions dollars end of March[15]. 69% of Lebanese employees have a monthly salary equal or inferior to 2000$, while only 6% of them earn more than 5000$[16]. These statistics do not seem to bother the candidates as none of them suggested any way to improve the daily life of their citizens. The 14th of March group, which is mainly responsible for this terrible context after years of ultra liberal economic policy, promises economic growth to tackle the issue, where as the 8th of March condemns the bad economic policy of their opponents during 20 years but with no explained and true alternative solution.

The issue of aggressions against candidates is also unacceptable in a country which proclaims itself a democracy and where freedom of expression is an inalterable right according to everyone. Records of attacks on candidates, desks and privates houses are important. The Shia political group the Lebanese Option, allied to the 14th of March, was the target of many aggressions. For example the leader Ahmad Al Assad and his followers were attacked twice by militia men, according to them Hezbollah and Amal members, during visits in localities of South Lebanon and once in the suburb of Beirut[17]. Free Patriotic movement personalities and representations were also victims’ of vandalism, such as the FPM desks in Zahle or in Mazboud attacked by armed men[18]. Ibrahim Kanaan and his convoy was even the target of shootings. The words of the French philosopher Voltaire should in these cases be reminded “I will struggle for you ideas to be expressed, even though I do not agree with it”[19].

The International NGO Human Rights Watch denounced the absence of any Human Rights issues in electoral discourses from political groups as well as candidates[20]. In a report the NGO pointed out few themes such as the missing from the civil war, discrimination against women, torture, the issue of foreign workers and discrimination against the Palestinian refugees[21]. “Political personalities have to go past simple slogans such as “justice, reform and equality” to explain how they intend to put in practice these objectives” declared Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW director in the Middle East[22]. The NGO appealed to the Minister of Domestic affair to publish the results of investigations from last August on torture and corruption allegations practiced inside Lebanese Prisons[23]. They also asked the Minister of Labour to implement a unit in charge of controlling the application of standard contract for foreign employees recently introduced to protect them of any abuses. For example Syrian workers in Lebanon, who according to different organisations amount around 300000 and work in their large majority in the building business, have no official status. Their salary is usually around 300 dollars per month, for works which most Lebanese refuse to consider[24]. Syrian workers have also been since the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005 victims of the political tensions between Lebanon and Syria. Numerous Syrians in Lebanon have been attacked, robed, beaten and even killed since these last four years[25]. Nadim Houry, main researcher at the Human Rights Watch in Beirut, said in relation to this subject “Syrian workers became the scapegoats because they are perceived as weak. In Lebanon, there is a problem of discrimination towards persons of inferior socioeconomic status. People despised poor population from rural regions; it’s a form of socioeconomic racism”[26]. The NGO also requested for the abolition of the restrictions against the Palestinian refugees, actually these latter have almost no civil rights including voting, home ownership, employment, secondary state education, health care, identification documents, marriage registration, and places to bury their deceased loved ones or equal protection of Lebanese laws[27].

The main theme in the world for now the past years has been the future of environment on our planet, but apparently not for Lebanese politicians and the government. The Minister of environment actually did not attend the last Global Environmental ministerial Forum organised in Nairobi Kenya[28]. On the opposite the Lebanese civil society was well represented at the meeting such as the NGO Indy Act directed by Wael Hmaidane[29]. How can environment be left out by political groups, knowing it’s the challenge of this new century and that in relation to Lebanon the cost of environmental damages is assessed up to 565 million dollars per year, which is equivalent to 3.4% of the GDP[30]?

Finally, we want to denounce the hereditary logic that rules Lebanese politics for now many decades, favoured by the omnipresent confessional and feudal system. Walid Joumblatt belongs to an old feudal family from the Druze Mountain; he inherited the leadership of the Socialist Progressist Party when his father, Kamal Joumblatt, died in 1977. Saad Hariri as well became the leader of the Future Movement after the assassination of his father Rafic Hariri. Sethrida Geagea, the wife of Samir Geagea the Lebanese Forces leader, is a deputy in Parliament. Michel Aoun is surrounded by his son in law, currently Minister of the Telecommunication. The Kataeb party is characterised by this phenomenon, the leader is Amin Gemayel son of the founder Pierre Gemayel. The first son of Amin Gemayel, Pierre, was the Ministry of Industry before his assassination and the second son of Amin, Sami, is standing for the next elections of June. Nadim Gemayel, the nephew of Amin and the son of Bachir Gemayel killed in 1982, is also standing for the elections. Last but not least, Nayla Tueni, the daughter of Gebran Tueni, assassinated in 2005, and granddaughter of Ghassan Tueni, entered politics at the age of 26 years old and is now standing for a seat in Parliament.

In conclusion, the different elements outlined in the text are the reasons why I am disappointed of both political camps. I changed my mind through these elections, but towards despite. Therefore, if I was a Lebanese citizen, I would vote blank to show my opposition towards the political class for their way of doing politics. The blank vote has a signification and a message which is the following: I want real change and no more lies! Because there is hope in this Lebanese society full of life, when I see the richness of its civil society the steps towards real progress and change are present. My heroes are not Aoun, Geagea, Hariri, Joumblatt or Nasrallah but unknowns who struggle everyday for Lebanon on the field such as Iqbal Doughan, active militants for women rights and developments, demonstrating very often for the right for Lebanese women to transmit nationality as well as they insist on the principle of equality and non discrimination between nationalities concerning notably the Palestinian refugees; Ali Darwiche member of Green Line association, who struggles to find solutions in relation to agriculture, environment and else; Zeina Dib from the NGO World Vision present in 11 Lebanese regions and notably the suburb of Beirut, who works to develop education and to foster communications between the different Lebanese sects[31]; and Sylvana Lakkis, president of the disabled association of Lebanon, who successfully organised with her friends a little demonstration on the road to the airport calling the politicians leaving for the Doha conference in May 2008 to not come back with any agreement. We could go on and on, the list is endless. This is the Lebanon I would like to see succeed on the 7th of June; unfortunately they are not standing for elections.

——————————————————————————–

[1] iloubnan.info ; BEYROUTH, Par Nada Akl, Campagne électorale : l’association LADE relève 133 infractions entre le 24 avril et le 7 mai
[2] Orient le Jour, 25/04/2009
[3] iloubnan.info ; BEYROUTH, Par Nada Akl, Campagne électorale : l’association LADE relève 133 infractions entre le 24 avril et le 7 mai
[4] iloubnan.info ; BEYROUTH, Par Nada Akl, Campagne électorale : l’association LADE relève 133 infractions entre le 24 avril et le 7 mai
[5] Orient le Jour, 21/04/2009
[6] Orient le Jour, 21/04/2009
[7] Orient le Jour, 25/04/2009
[8] Orient le Jour 17/03/2009
[9] Interview Tony Mkheiber, FPM member, September 2008
[10]Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[11] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[12] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[13]Fabrice Balanche, Le Liban : blocage local et bras de fer régional
[14] Fabrice Balanche, Le Liban : blocage local et bras de fer régional
[15] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[16] Orient le Jour, 11/03/2009
[17]Orient le Jour, 08/05/2009
[18] http://rplfrance.org/index.php?content=news.htm
[19]« Je ne suis pas d’accord avec ce que vous dites, mais je me battrai jusqu’au bout pour que vous puissiez le dire »
[20]Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[21] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[22] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[23] Orient le Jour, 14/05/2009
[24] LIBAN-SYRIE: La situation déplorable des travailleurs syriens, BEYROUTH, 14 avril 2009 (IRIN)
[25] LIBAN-SYRIE: La situation déplorable des travailleurs syriens, BEYROUTH, 14 avril 2009 (IRIN)
[26] LIBAN-SYRIE: La situation déplorable des travailleurs syriens, BEYROUTH, 14 avril 2009 (IRIN)
[27] By Franklin Lamb – Wavel Palestinian Refugee Camp, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
[28] Orient le Jour, Suzanne BAAKLINI | 13/03/2009
[29] Orient le Jour, Suzanne BAAKLINI | 13/03/2009
[30] Orient le Jour, Suzanne BAAKLINI | 13/03/2009
[31]Orient Le jour, 10/ 03/08 ; La banlieue sud, un concentré d’ONG actives surtout dans le domaine social
Le dossier réalisé par Clémentine LAVAIL

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Comments
One Response to “On the 7th of June, why would I vote blank!”
  1. Thank you for a well documented and very VERY interesting article.I’m a Lebanese, but I can’t vote you see, because I’m abroad. And when I’ll hve kids, I probably won’t be able to give them my lebanese citizenship, because I’m only a woman, and because they’re afraid that if they grant me the right, the whole confessional balance would be off. Do you think they have proposed something constructive regarding these issues? Nah, they’re just too busy pulling each other’s hair.

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