I’ve written a piece about the electoral campaign for The National. To regular readers of this blog, there won’t be anything new, except maybe the by-line. I suppose that all of those aggrieved taxi drivers will finally have a way to track me down.
As Lebanon’s closely contested elections approach, it is clear that the era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics is over, Elias Muhanna writes.
In five weeks, Lebanon will hold its much-anticipated parliamentary elections. Squaring off are two political coalitions that have spent the better part of four years at each others’ throats. In one corner stands March 14, a pro-American group of Sunni, Christian and Druze parties that emerged from the crucible of the “Cedar Revolution” following the assassination of the billionaire prime minister Rafik Hariri in early 2005. Opposing it is a curious yet durable alliance known informally as March 8, which unites Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties (Hizbollah and Amal) with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a predominantly Christian but officially secularist party led by General Michel Aoun.
The country’s highways have been festooned with campaign advertisements for months. On a recent drive from Byblos to Beirut, I counted 89 billboards for the FPM alone, an average of one every quarter mile. The parties have gone all out – taking the campaign beyond print and TV to Facebook and Twitter – to energise their constituents by casting these elections as “fateful” and “epoch-making”. Lebanon’s very identity is at stake, they argue: its orientation and strategic alignment in a polarised region.Despite the hype, however, signs increasingly suggest that the actual outcome of the elections will be far less significant than the manoeuvring of the post-election period – when the cabinet will be assembled, a prime minister chosen and the veto powers of the opposition decided. The months after the election seem likely to bring the break-up of existing alliances, the creation of new ones and a redrawing of the Lebanese political map. This is a product both of changing regional dynamics as well as growing fractiousness among Lebanon’s political elite, who have begun to sacrifice coalition unity in favour of safeguarding their own parties’ parliamentary representation.
The campaign thus far has seen intense competition over seats between coalition allies, defections from one coalition to another, electoral horse-trading between political opponents, resignations, public spats, and an overall muddying of the once-pristine image of two monolithic parliamentary blocs that defined themselves as diametrically opposed in orientation and outlook. What seems certain is that the era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics in Lebanon is over – at least for the time being – having been replaced by the mundane triangulations of consociational compromise. Even as party leaders speak gravely of fateful elections and historic decisions facing the Lebanese electorate, the political furniture is being shuffled discreetly behind the scenes.