This week’s blog comes from GPG’s Associate Moataz Ghaddar, who has been supporting us on our project for Women’s Political Representation in Lebanon. A few days after major elections in the country, he analyses some major takeaways from the poll, and what it means for Lebanese women in Politics.
On the 15th of May, 2022, the Lebanese parliamentary elections took place, preceded by two rounds for the Lebanese Diaspora on the 6th and 8th of May.
In spite of a range of challenges, including lack of funding for the electoral process, a debate surrounding the establishment of Mega centres and of a 16th constituency – for voters abroad – and the Future Movement’s decision to boycott the elections, which was announced by the former Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri’s speech on 25 January, it did happen!
It is very much worth mentioning that these elections were perceived differently from the previous ones for many reasons:
Firstly, it was the first national election to happen after the 17 October 2020 protests, which led to the rise of a new political opposition and the formation of the “Forces of Change” party or the “Anti-Establishment Movements”.
Secondly, the elections took place at a time when Lebanon was still facing what the World Bank deemed one of the worst financial crises the world had witnessed since the mid-19th century with an inflation rate of 239.69% on January 2022, according to the Trading Economics.
Thirdly, they were the first elections after the devastating Beirut Port Blast that killed over 200 people and destroyed several neighbourhoods in the capital, with an estimated financial impact of $15 billion. Although this was the second time the Lebanese Diaspora cast their ballots outside of the country, it had a considerable influence on the results, as the number of registered Diaspora voters had tripled compared to 2018. These assumptions were backed by the fact that the majority of the Lebanese Diaspora who registered to vote are people who were pushed to leave the country after the deterioration of the socio-economic situation in Lebanon caused by the practices of the establishment parties. From 2018 to 2021, 195,433 Lebanese citizens left the country, either for travel or expatriation. The majority of the 225,277 who registered to vote were expected to cast their ballot against the establishment parties. The results confirmed the previous assumptions as 142,041 cast their ballots with a voter turnout of 63% – this was in fact higher than the voter turnout observed within the country, as expats need to actively register to vote whereas residents are automatically registered – giving one third of total ballots cast to “Forces of Change”. Unlike most Lebanese residents, the majority of expatriates do not benefit from clientele services, are not targeted by vote-buying, and do not suffer from intimidation and pressure to vote in a certain way – which was reported in many ballot centres in Lebanon on the 15th of May.
Despite the dark context and the uncertain atmosphere, there was a high candidacy turnout. The total number of registered voters, candidates (both men and women), and the number of electoral lists increased compared to the 2018’s parliamentary elections, although voter turnout – 49.1% – was lower compared to 2018’s 49.68%. We saw a total of 718 candidates and the formation of 103 electoral lists which is an increase compared to the 2018’s elections where there were only 597 candidates and 77 lists.
A good indicator of progress in women’s political engagement can be observed in the higher number of women candidates recorded. The 2022 elections opposed a total of 118 women candidates compared to 86 women candidates in 2018. However, women’s parliamentary representation is still considered low and only 8 out of the 118 women candidates made it to Parliament, which now has 6.25% women MPs (against 4.6% in 2018). This will not have a major impact on Lebanon’s rank in the Global Gender Gap Report, in which it ranked 132nd in 2021.
Since late 2018, Lebanon has enjoyed a huge surge of initiatives aiming to empower women in politics from both national and international NGOs. While these initiatives paid off with the increased number of women candidates in the 2022’s parliamentary elections, they were barely remarkable when it came to the number of women who won. Thus, women representation only scores at 6.25%, which is abysmally low, and the reasons behind this are as follows.
Running the 2022’s parliamentary elections wasn’t an easy or fair fight as more than 3600 “Flagrant Violations” (recorded by the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections) were observed on election day with violence in addition to the logistic issue, and numerous localised tensions were observed.
Additionally, both voters and polling staff demonstrated lack of knowledge on the electoral law on proportional representation, which has been described as complicated and was only applied for the 2nd time. This was clearly visible on election day, when the authorities’ civic education efforts were insufficient to adequately inform citizens about the elections and the voting procedure. Moreover, some of the candidates’ agents and delegates were present in high numbers controlling voter attendance and often displaying intrusive behaviours.
Legislative gaps in the legal framework were also observed, with poor measures to ensure campaign finance regulation, equal suffrage, and the good functioning of the Supervisory Commission for Elections (SCE), and with a legal voting age set at 21 years. Although the legal framework in place constitutes an overall adequate basis for holding democratic elections, a serious number of legislative gaps in various fields resulted in poor observance of the 25 recommendations of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Lebanon issued after the 2018’s parliamentary elections. Thus, the inadequate legal framework and poor oversight, including sanctioning mechanisms, allowed the proliferation of vote-buying practices affecting the outcome, as legal provisions in place for campaign finance do not generally guarantee transparency and accountability.
To the factors mentioned above, we need to add the fact that most of those initiatives aiming to empower women in the political sphere focused exclusively on women, with a negligible engagement of men. “We cannot fully empower women without the engagement of men”, Michael Kimmel said. Men need to realize that gender-equality is not a zero-sum game, but rather a win-win. I came to this realization while working with GPG.
As a part the international work and build up to the 2023 municipal elections, GPGF is currently working on a “Male and Female Allies” strand of our Lebanon project. It is a part of the “Winning with Women” work that aims to empower women in politics on the local level by bringing together a coalition of senior male and female allies to contribute to the debate about women’s political participation and representation at the local level. GPG’s work focuses on encouraging allyship between men and women and on activating the support of high-level male and female allies in public institutions, local networks, and the media.
Finally, I would like to state that despite the continued low representation of women in the Lebanese parliament, I still consider this election an achievement towards gender equality in Lebanon. Change is one of the hardest, toughest, and sometimes the scariest things to achieve in life on both the individual and social levels, and I believe that any step taken on the highway of change, regardless of its size, is an achievement.
In the 2022’s parliamentary elections, not only did I see 8 winners, but the 118 brave women claiming a chance to win as well. The decision to run in the elections and to challenge the gender norms that still persist in Lebanese society is bravery and courage enough by itself. To stand and compete in elections with legislative gaps in the electoral law and several violations is a true Victory!
Ironically, the good thing about the turbulent circumstances shaking the Lebanese context is that they are the most suitable weather for leaders to rise: leaders are born in storms and never in shiny weather.