Lebanon has a chance at unity and reconciliation
Ten years is a long gap to hold elections, but it's better late than never for Lebanon with its unique brand of politics. It proves democracy still has a chance in the tiny country, as it brings people together to choose leaders who will represent them in parliament and speak out on their behalf. Basic issues like jobs and better civic amenities still concern a majority of Lebanese who are tired of decades of civil war and conflict next door in Syria. In fact, the Syrian situation was one of the reasons polls were put off, the other being reform of electoral laws. Under the new voting system, the number of polling districts have been reduced and expatriate voting has been allowed for the first time to 128 seats. The development is expected to end repeated stalemates that have crippled the country.
The larger concern, however, is the political ascent of Hezbollah, hitherto a political kingmaker, into a major player that can influence any verdict in the tiny country. The group which gained popularity for its opposition to Israeli aggression in the early eighties, is now seeking greater political credibility. It has propped up parties and power structures, while playing to the sectarian gallery - the Shia voter base. It is a proxy of Iran, and is considered a terrorist outfit in many countries in the West and in the Gulf. Only recently, it fought alongside Iran and President Bashar Al Assad's troops in neighbouring Syria and swung the balance in favour of the government in Damascus. Lebanon's delicate power structure is split between different religious denominations. Parliamentary seats are shared between Christians and Muslims. Even the centres of power - the president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker - should come from different religious backgrounds. To Prime Minister Saad Hariri's credit, he's managed to maintain a semblance of unity in the country since 2016. He remains a popular figure, and has Saudi Arabia's support. He is counting on youth and women to vote across party and religious lines for the sake of national reconciliation. Lebanon has a chance at prosperity and stability if Hariri manages to convert that popularity into votes which will keep Hezbollah at bay.