Renewed crisis – no alternative on offer
According to the official Lebanese election results, the parliamentary majority will go to the pro-government parties (the western-backed block, “14th March”) with 69 members of parliament elected. The opposition (led by Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic movement), which was expecting and expected to win a majority, got 57 members elected to parliament. Two independent candidates were elected, to make up the total of 128 MPs.
However, the mass support for the opposition was shown, with the total turn-out in these elections being 52.3% (an increase from 45% in 2005), and with the opposition getting a total vote of 815,000 across Lebanon, compared with 680,000 for the 14th March block. It was due to the division of constituencies under the outdated 1960 electoral law that this majority was not translated into members of parliament in the 2009 elections. Local elections next year could show different results.
Nevertheless, the results clearly show a polarisation in society. Votes representing 52% of the electoral population were divided in half between the two blocks (the pro-government bloc is Sunni dominated and the opposition is Shia-dominated with the support of a majority of Christians). The opposition, having been out of power since 2006 and with Hezbollah and Aoun’s supporters marginalised throughout the last two decades, has been building mass active support and been able to mobilise on the streets.
What is not in doubt is that this crisis for the government has been renewed for another 4 years with possible opposition protests set to develop if this bloc is not given 1/3 of the number of ministers. This would give it veto power, and as such, has been rejected by 14th March leadership who want to form a government on their own conditions. This conflict was the reason behind the opposition ministers pulling out of government in 2006, the mass protests throughout 2006-2007, and the clashes in May last year – all triggered by decisions made solely by the 14th March block, such as the steps towards the disarmament of Hezbollah or “reforms” such as cuts in the public sector to prepare the ground for privatisation.
With an opposition unable and unwilling to challenge and take on the government’s US and Saudi backed neo-liberal agenda, and not providing alternative politics to war and poverty, illusions among Sunni workers and the poor in the 14th March forces will remain. This Iran-backed elite is continuing to take the masses, who want to struggle against imperialism, for change and against corruption, essentially down the road of a Sunni-Shiite division.
Need for a working class political alternative
Working people in Lebanon can all agree on their opposition to daily grievances, such as low wages, high taxes, a starved out and crumbling public sector, the widening gap between rich and poor, high unemployment, security issues and interference by big powers. What is missing is a mass organisation of working people and the poor, basing itself on the masses and on a democratically developed fighting programme which could stand up to imperialism and capitalism – the two sides of the same coin. But now, with this renewed crisis, the opposition, like the western-backed 14th March block, will rely on the backing of Iran – another big power in the region, looking to serve its own big business interests, while leaning on one side of the demographic balance.
With a global economic downturn and a crisis on our doorstep, neither side will be able to constrain the masses from either community once they move into action. Already the price of gas has shot up and is going up steadily on a weekly basis, making it even harder for working people to get by on the same wages but with higher living costs. Official unemployment is nearly 30% and poverty rates are going up by the day. While the mainstream parties have all the time and money in their hands to campaign for and between elections, only taking up issues that are increasingly becoming secondary in the face of financial hardship, and only paying lip service to the issues affecting the working class, the masses will increasingly feel the urge and develop a sense of the need to self-organise for economic and social change, thus needing class politics and a working class alternative.
As the post-election mood has been one of great shock over the last couple of days, the results are becoming more digestible and open to interpretations. The only convincing interpretation for socialists is that the majority of the Lebanese working class is not being represented by the parliamentary majority, having not voted at all as a result of the political vacuum in Lebanese politics. Coming out of the post-election shock, opposition leaders are now accusing 14th March of fraud – something evident in Lebanese politics – with some even trying to reverse parts of the 14th March victory.
However, in general, there is satisfaction on both sides, since one has a parliamentary majority and the other a “peoples’ majority”. The great disappointment of course is that felt by the real majority, the “non-voters”, with worries felt across the whole of the working population about the formation of the new government, the effects of this, and around the economic policies that will come as a result. Also and most importantly, the Lebanese masses are watching the Iranian elections and looking at the stand of the US to try to predict the next events that are likely to unfold here and in the region as a result.