It took over two years for Lebanon to elect a president. While that fact alone could be considered rather hilarious, what happened during yesterday’s session, parliament’s 45th attempt of electing a president, stole headlines across Lebanon. While many expected the presidential elections yesterday to be swift and completed with a sense of urgency, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. It took over two hours for the 127 MPs to complete two rounds of voting, not withstanding all the repeated voting and counting due to several electoral violations that took place. And while standout moments during the session were indeed funny, they must also be further analyzed. After all, these are all symptoms of the greater social and political crisis in Lebanon.
A rare full house
For the first time in over two years, Lebanon had a parliament session with no absentees. This excludes former Tripoli MP Robert Fadel, CEO of the corporate ABC Group, who resigned last May. The parliament, which was elected back in 2009 and has since been extending its term since the summer of 2013, has been rather inefficient and ineffective to say the least. But why have so many MPs been missing from sessions over the past few years? There are two key reasons.
Many political blocs have been boycotting parliament sessions, depending on circumstances. For example, Hezbollah has boycotted several sessions, because there were not guarantees that their candidate, Michel Aoun, was going to be elected.
The second reason is the fact that many MPs simply do not reside in Lebanon. For example, Saad Hariri, currently MP and probably his way to becoming prime minister again ever since he endorsed President Aoun. After his last stint as prime minister, which ended in 2011, he left for Paris, and did not return to Lebanon until 2014. The most notable example from yesterday’s parliament session was MP Okab Sakr, who returned to Lebanon for the first time since 2012, after an audiotape leaked revealing he supported armed opposition groups in Syria, though he claims that he only provided them with blankets and milk. When approaching the ballot box to cast his vote, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri sarcastically said, “Come closer! We haven’t seen you in a while!”
Myriam Klink and other void presidential candidates
Two void candidates stole the spotlight during the elections: pop artist and social media celebrity Myriam Klink, and fictional character Zorba the Greek. The Myriam Klink vote was comical, though the reaction was rather sexist; the applause after MPs and the speaker of parliament made sexist comments is rather shameful. 125 out of the 127 MPs are men; therefore, 98% of the parliament is making decisions on behalf of the entire country whose female population is around 50%. Somehow, they still had the nerve of cracking sexist jokes.
Moreover, during the electoral session in parliament, an opposition candidate (deemed void), led by the right-wing Kataeb Party and MP Sami Gemmayel was formed, called ‘The Ongoing Cedar Revolution for the Sake of Lebanon” In reference to the mass protests in 2005 against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, Gemmayel and the Kataeb Party did what the old March 14 alliance did after politically hijacking the movement: he claimed ownership and gave it a nationalistic identity. The protests of the so-called Cedar Revolution had as many as one million people at one point, including political support from Michel Aoun prior to his return from Lebanon, before forming an alliance with Hezbollah and consequently the Assad regime in Syria.
And finally, the Zorba vote could be a reality check for many of us: just like the fictional novel, our so-called democracy is equally fictional.
Familiar nationalistic political culture
The strong president. General of the republic. Aoun is everyone’s father. These are the phrases associated with newly elected president Michel Aoun. This doesn’t deviate from the general political culture of Lebanon, where people cling on to ‘strong’ leaders, as well as the fact that our last three presidents are all former generals in the Lebanese army.
Parliament is still illegitimate
Last but not least, an illegitimate parliament voted for president, who will then, alongside Berri, appoint a prime minister, likely Saad Hariri, setting up Lebanon’s next cabinet. This means that all three branches of Lebanon’s government are technically illegitimate.
From humor to outrage to action
While all this is indeed laughable, it is more so horrifying and outrageous. Even though humor is a coping mechanism for ordinary citizens in such a corrupt country, to stop at the comedic side of all this would be an unintentional form of consent to the establishment. After all, the establishment does the same; just visit Walid Joumblatt’s Twitter timeline!
All of this is truly a cause for concern, and a reminder that the sectarian and feudal-like political culture and worship of political leaders requires a political opposition, not apolitical campaigns and NGO work. Despite the protest movement of 2015 dying out after those who identify as the movement’s leaders made some cringe-worthy decision, the establishment’s response to the people’s right to protest and demand their basic human and civil rights and its continuation of its corruption simply adds insult to injury for all the brave people who did their duty as concerned citizens and took to the streets.
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