By Ghassan Karam Special to Yalibnan
Many of my fellow Lebanese are proud of the fact that Lebanon is finally, after a 35 year hiatus holding its third municipal elections, arguably the most important exercise in democratic rule. But should they? It is an incontrovertible fact that although democracy is not the same as free and fair elections that there can be no democracy without the universal right to suffrage. Yes we should be glad that we are holding elections at the most basic level of society so that different cities, towns and villages will get to determine who is to run their day to day affairs and how to help improve the quality of life for these constituents.
The paradoxical thing however, is that as soon as we determined to hold these elections the major political bosses started their efforts to short circuit the democratic system and attempted to arrange for deals behind smoke filled rooms that result in coalitions and candidates whose choice is designed to achieve one goal only: rob from the citizens their right to vote. If the vote is sacred, and it is, then why do these feudal political lords wish to take away from us the chance to have our say? The answer is very clear; they do not want to diminish their total control over the political system. If we are given the chance to form our own lists of candidates then we would realize that we do not need them to run our lives.
Even in the places that are “allowed” to hold electoral contests the mistrust in the ability of the average citizen to behave responsibly during the elections is actually demeaning. A country of only 4.5 million people cannot hold municipal elections without the need to spread the process over a month and without the need to bring most aspects of civilian life to a standstill during the time set for elections. What is so dangerous about having restaurants and bars doing their regular business when some citizens are casting their votes in favour of one candidate or another? Why shouldn’t I be able to cast my vote either on my way to work or on my way back from my job? The whole exercise should not take more than 10-15 minutes.
I am at a loss why is it that we cannot hold these elections all across the country on the same day without having the army and the ISF forces deploy all their armoured vehicles and most of their cache of weapons. Who are these security forces protecting, or are they just their in order to intimidate and make us think that we cannot be trusted to cast a vote without the protection of big brother. Maybe someone should remind the authorities that the UK, a country of 61 million citizens declared on April 6, 2010 that a general election is to be held in exactly one month, May 6, 2010 without the need for any disruption of any kind to civilian life and without emptying the barracks of all soldiers in order to set up check points around polling places.
I am afraid that these municipal elections, like all other elections in Lebanon are a farce. They are an exercise in futility that was designed by the feudal lords, who wrote the rules of engagement, proceeded to prevent the average citizen from having the right to choose through their deals in smoke filled rooms and when no agreement was possible decided to treat us as if we were irresponsible immature children who cannot be trusted to cast a democratic vote for local officials. The message is that we should be grateful that sham elections are being held.
Democracy cannot thrive if the citizens do not take their awesome responsibility seriously. Elections are a crucial part of what democratic rule is all about. But democracy cannot work unless we ; the citizens; have the courage to act responsibly and to cast our votes for our genuine representatives and not subservients of political bosses, the feudal lords determined to keep us from having a say in how we are to be governed.