BEIRUT: The key test of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Sunday is whether it can achieve peaceful compromise between the rival coalitions and prevent sparking renewed violence, a prominent non-governmental organization said on Thursday. Sunday’s elections pitting the March 14 coalition against the March 8 opposition will not resolve decades-old sectarian wounds, said International Crisis Group (ICG) in its report, “Lebanon’s Elections: Avoiding a New Cycle of Confrontation.” The organization sees a coalition government similar to the current arrangement as the only viable option for ensuring stability, but says the old political divisions will remain.
“That the parties agreed to shift their conflict from the streets to the ballot box is surely a good thing, but it should not be misinterpreted,” said Peter Harling, project director at ICG Lebanon. “The results will almost certainly be close and thus replicate the schism that divides the political arena into two irreconcilable camps.”
The report pointed to aggressive campaigning by both political camps which the ICG said “awaken” memories of Lebanon’s 1975-1990 Civil War. “Both camps are engaging in brinkmanship, seeking to intimidate opponents by implicitly warning of widespread instability should results be not to their liking,” ICG said.
ICG labeled the chances of a one-sided government as improbable and unwise, citing both Hizbullah’s ability to obstruct political decision making and the group’s keenness to avoid repeating Hamas’ experience in Gaza. “Regardless of post-electoral maneuvering, the best one can expect is avoiding a new violence confrontation, even as political paralysis and underlying conflicts persist,” the report noted.
Lebanon’s elections will also assess how the international community reacts to the election results, ICG added. “Central in this regard will be the attitude of foreign powers, whose local allies are quick to admit that Lebanon’s domestic conflict only can be resolved if they reach a deal,” said Robert Malley, ICG’s Middle East Director. “At a minimum, the coalitions’ respective external supporters ought to avoid past mistakes, recognize the legitimacy of electoral results and press their allies toward a peaceful compromise.”
The organization made several recommendations, including reiterating a plea for Lebanon’s divided camps and their respective allies to accept the election results and support power-sharing, and to re-launch the national dialogue agreed upon as part of the May 2008 Doha Accord.
ICG also called upon Lebanon’s foreign allies to deal with the future government based on its behavior rather than its composition, and to back civil society efforts to introduce systematic reform to the country.
ICG hoped the elections, which are the first to be conducted in the post-Syrian age, would set a precedent for future polls. Sunday’s elections “are an opportunity to lay the ground for changes, however modest and incremental, to a political system that no longer has the luxury of blaming the Syrian occupation for all its many shortcomings,” the report concluded.