Will the 2016 municipal elections be Lebanon’s real shot at democracy?

A Lebanese man casts his vote in the last municipal elections in 2012. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon

A Lebanese man casts his vote in the last municipal elections in 2012. Credit: The Daily Star Lebanon

Lebanon has no president, no parliamentary elections and a nine-month-old garbage crisis. Corruption runs both up and down the ladder in this country and change seems farfetched, yet there has been a big fuss about upcoming municipal elections. Perhaps citizens see a glimmer of hope.

A recent article featured in The Daily Star Lebanon pinpointed citizens’ mixed feelings about the upcoming elections. Some are optimistic, hoping that these elections might bring in new faces and help pave the way for gender-equal representation in municipalities. Others believe that it’s mostly a formality; everyone knows who will be elected in their municipality so it seems futile to try to change the status quo.

Municipal elections normally feature the same political parties that run for parliamentary elections, meaning that existing government corruption will likely preside over the municipalities and it’s rare to see fresh faces. With partisan loyalties and sectarianism deeply rooted in Lebanon, new candidates running based on merit and qualifications face a tough battle.

These elections are often viewed as a show of power between the families of a particular town. Because families tend to be quite large in Lebanon, almost every town has one or two families that make up the majority of the inhabitants.

These families are expected to have representatives on the municipal board while smaller families are not. That, in addition to each family having their own political allegiances, makes running independently more complicated. If a more qualified individual were to run for municipal elections, their lack of political affiliation would make them seem less credible.

Since political connections are central to getting things done in Lebanon, if a candidate is independent, they are thought to have little impact in their society.

Despite it all, two new groups in Beirut are trying to break through the barriers and challenge political leaders. “Beirut Madinati” (Beirut My City) and “Citizens Within a State” both feature members whose goal is to abolish existing political traditions and reform Lebanon’s corrupt public sector.

Normally, groups running for municipal elections don’t disclose their agenda because no one bothers to ask. Beirut Madinati has pinpointed the issues it hopes to tackle if elected, mainly comprising of traffic congestion, affordable quality housing, and public spaces for the city residents.

While some municipalities put in an effort to help inhabitants, their actions aren’t enough to create sustainable change. Developmental projects conveniently occur just a few months before the municipal elections are planned to go ahead, giving the impression of tangible change. Unfortunately, sectarian disputes over the elections are distracting citizens from the real issues facing the country, like a solution to the garbage crisis and a basic infrastructure.

Still, some people have realized that Lebanon’s political leaders, who have been in office for some 30 years now, have done nothing to advance our country. The most recent garbage crisis and surge of demonstrations are proof that the citizens of Lebanon are finally stepping up and taking charge of their country’s destiny.

Related: Garbage crisis thrusts corruption into limelight, drives Lebanon to edge

Hopefully, this momentum won’t be lost and citizens will start implementing it on a local level: their own municipalities.

Perhaps Lebanese citizens have had enough of empty promises and blind political allegiance. Maybe 2016 will be the year that Lebanon gets it real shot at democracy.

Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV