View from a ’72 Benz C250 series, issue no. 4
“Three quarters of the people who get into my cab think the elections will be called off for ‘security reasons’.”
I’m in a taxi, heading from Mar Mikhael to Hamra.
“Yes. What do you think?”
“Me?” I ask, even though there’s no one else in the cab. “I think they’re going to happen.”
“That’s what I say. What interest do any of the zu’ama have in delaying the elections? They’ve already agreed on the outcome.”
“How do you figure?”
“Come on,” he said, casting a pitying glance over his shoulder.
“You’re think the elections are going to be rigged?”
“No, they don’t need to be rigged. The results won’t matter because there’s going to be a national unity government one way or the other. Lebanon doesn’t function with winners and losers. Everybody needs a seat at the table. So it won’t make a difference, no matter who wins.”
“No difference between March 14th and March 8th, in your mind?”
“Of course not. They are both in favor of “freedom, sovereignty, and independence,” aren’t they?” He snorted sarcastically. “It’s a real win-win situation for the citizen, isn’t it? Four years of slogans. What do we have to show for it? Where are the public schools, the health care, the electricity? Freedom, sovereignty, and independence, my ass…”
We passed a large crowd of people waiting in line outside a building near the Central Bank. It was one of the several ID processing centers established by the Ministry of Interior in preparation for the upcoming elections. In an inspired move, Ziad Baroud — the young lawyer and civil society activist tapped by President Suleiman to head the ministry after the Doha Accord — issued a law that dispensed with the old voting cards that people used to use, and mandated that the only form of identification necessary to vote was the Lebanese national ID card. The purpose for this initiative was both to encourage younger citizens (who typically have IDs but no voting cards) to vote, and to encourage non-ID-holding citizens to apply and get their national IDs. Two birds, one stone.
Other novel initiatives include a website for checking on the status of one’s registration and an imaginative media campaign reminding people to vote. (See A Diamond In Sunlight here and here to get a gander at the ads).
The cabbie suddenly seemed panicked. “They’re going to extend the deadline, aren’t they?”
(He was referring to the March 10 voter registration deadline imposed by the Interior Ministry; hence the long lines outside the ID offices.)
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Baroud said that it would take no more than two days to process each ID. I’ve been waiting for ten days now!”
“Ten days, wow, that’s awful” I said, trying to sound sympathetic despite the fact that I’d had to wait for six months for my ID when I applied for it several years ago. Still, the cabbie had a point. If thousands of people are still waiting outside ID offices on Tuesday afternoon, what is the Ministry going to do? Turn them away? I can just imagine the political can of worms that this will open up.
I had a similar moment of panic myself last Thursday when I logged on to the much-lauded voter registration website to make sure that I was all set to vote. I was disheartened to discover both that: (a) my name was nowhere to be found; and (b) that other people’s names were publicly available for anyone to see. (I’m not sure why, but this strikes me as problematic). After a frantic call to the mukhtar in my district, and then a second one to the mayor, I was assured that I had nothing to worry about. June 7th, here I come!