Municipal elections: what’s awaiting us?
Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/12/2009
The coming municipal elections haven’t been scheduled yet, but they are supposed to take place sometime between the spring and summer of 2010. The Akhbar newspaper (arguably the most interesting read in the Lebanese press) has an interesting take on it: The Governors of community say no to municipal elections (in Arabic). Now that’s what I call a title. I could write a pages one of the specific expression it created – Governors of Community (حكام الطوائف) – which sums up perfectly the political dynamics in Lebanon. But instead of that I’ll stick to something rather simple: summing up the content of the article, analytically.
In a nutshell, the article deals with three issues: time, will and interests.
Time: now that’s a complicated issue. The law provides there should be new elections this year. Only no specific date has been chosen. We know that it should take place sometime between the coming spring and summer. But there’s one slight problem. The law isn’t very good and it should definitely be improved. But is it the time for such a change? Isn’t it too late? The Minister of the Interior Ziyad Baroud thinks not. He argues that politicians would only look into this law ahead of the elections to try to see if they can tilt it their way. So he believes that this is the best time for reform. He also is convinced that he is the best suited person to go ahead with this reform; he has worked extensively on that issue after all (here‘s a report he did in French). Lastly, as the article clearly states, Ziad Baroud doesn’t believe postponing the municipal elections even for a couple of months is a good idea. He seems to be afraid politicians who have a vested interest in the status quo would try to renew the mandate of the municipal councils for another term.
Will: The article shows that there are conflicting interests at play, and that grossly, there are three categories of actors:
- The Minister of Interior who wants to go ahead with the elections so as to push for a reform of the electoral law.
- The Quadripartite oligarchy (Mustaqbal, Amal, Ishtiraki-PSP, Hezbollah) that would rather not have elections because it could upset the relationships between its pillars (Hezbollah vs Amal in the South, Musataqbal vs Ishtiraki in the Chouf, Mustaqbal vs. “Independents” sunni notables in the cities). It could also upset the relations between one pillar and a junior partner that isn’t part of the oligarchy yet (Ishtiraki-PSP vs Lebanese Forces & Kataeb; Amal vs Free Patriotic Movement).
- The junior partners (the Gemayels’ Kataeb, Frangieh’s Marada, Geagea’s Lebanese Forces, Arslan’s Democratic Party, Aoun’s Tayyar-Free Patriotic Movement…) who want to partake in these elections because they have all to win and nothing to loose to either confirm their political weight or conquer new territory.
Interests: Now that’s where it gets tricky. The article is quite good at showing how difficult it is for the political parties to deal with “local issues”, mostly family issues, competition between local figures on an ego trip. Ghassan Saoud, the journalist who wrote the article is very good at analysing these issues: he does his homework, sees who is doing what and how people are interacting. He did a good job a couple of days ago when he analysed the problems the Free Patriotic Movement is having in student councils, trade unions and professional organisations (you can read about it here, in Arabic). But he always misses (or underplays) the structural dimension when he does that. In this case, he doesn’t explain why these “personal” considerations are so important in local elections. He doesn’t say why there aren’t any other issues that come into play. The reason is pretty simple. In a majority of localities, most of the people registered on the electoral rolls do not reside there (it can go up to 90%). And in many localities, especially cities and suburban areas, most residents are not registered on the electoral rolls of the municipality! So the local issues are not relevant. These elections are not about local services, they’re about personal services that the municipal council can provide to people who are scattered everywhere. This is why local figures have to have links with national figures who can provide these services for them. Local elections are meant to give a territoria dimension to these national figures, but also to integrate new members to their patronage network. This central element unfortunately is hardly ever mentioned. And when it is, no one takes the time to look into the structural reason behind it. It’s not about culture, it’s about a simple legal provision. If only residents were allowed to vote in municipal elections, the picture would be very different and local issues will take precedents.
Some links of interest: