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Pierre Akiki

Lebanon's local elections: 'Coffee, shawarma and democracy'

Lebanon has an opportunity to bring about real change after six years without elections [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 May, 2016

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The Lebanese have an opportunity to bring about real change after six years without elections, but the corruption entrenched in the sectarian system is a formidable challenge, argues Pierre Akiki.
On Sunday, the first round of Lebanon's municipal elections will begin. These will be the first elections to be held in the country since 2010.

The intervening six years were enough for a new generation of voters to emerge.

There have also been transformations that influenced political awareness in the country: Beginning with the Arab Spring following the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, the conflict in neighbouring Syria - and not ending with Lebanon's garbage crisis, which became a symbol of the country's political diseases as well as a cause of physical ones.

The Lebanese have now an opportunity to bring about real change and usher in a new era in their country's history.

They can revive their country's democracy, which has been in stasis since the start of the civil war (1975-1990), and which has been paralysed since the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon in April 2005.

After 2010, because of the ensuing political crisis, several constitutional deadlines were ignored, most notably the general election in 2013, with MPs subsequently extending their own term.
The Lebanese have now an opportunity to bring about real change and usher in a new era in their country's history
However, this opportunity could be squandered because of the systemic corruption of the feudal-sectarian Lebanese system that has been in place since independence in 1943.

This corruption is so entrenched that change in Lebanon has come to mean replacing one form of corruption with another, as Lebanese religious communities came to fear one another thanks to the discourse of most politicians and parties intending to maintain their power.

In some areas, thus, the politicians in power have coalesced in electoral alliances, despite their open political disputes, to keep the outsiders out. This happened in Beirut, against popular new alliances from outside the traditional club.

In other words, traditional politicians in Lebanon, regardless of their position in power or in the opposition do not differ except over their shares in the Lebanese pie, without offering any plans or programmes to the voters.
Politicians in Lebanon do not differ except over their shares in the Lebanese pie, without offering any plans or programmes to the voters
There is no shortage of evidence.

In basic issues like electricity, billions of dollars have been thrown down the drain since 1992 - yet without any solutions being found or offered to the chronic power shortages across the country.

Water shortages, despite Lebanon having abundant amounts of the "blue gold", are similarly rife even during the rainy season.

The same could be said about other major services, from healthcare to education, wages, pensions and the like.

But perhaps the most pressing issue in Lebanon as of late has been the garbage crisis, ongoing in many ways.

The capital and surrounding areas' waste is now being treated in less-than-primitive ways, symbolising the approach of the political class to most matters: how to collectively make the most money and divide it between themselves, even in issues that have a direct impact on public health and safety.

The same political class, which includes individuals, dynasties, clans and parties, co-opt voters - not through manifestos but through bribery.

In some areas of Lebanon, votes can fetch a price as high as $500 each. In other areas, a shawarma sandwich or even a coffee could be enough to secure a vote.
In some areas of Lebanon, votes can be bought as high as $500 each. In other areas, a shawarma sandwich or even a coffee could be enough to secure a vote
Less farcically, intimidation and threats, or even physical assault, could be used with voters.

In most parts of Lebanon, elections do not amount to elections. They are a dictatorial attempt in the name of democracy to sustain corruption. 

And this can only be stopped if the people decide to act.

Pierre Akiki is a Lebanese journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @pierreakiki

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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