Khaled Abou Zahr
The upcoming municipal elections in Lebanon have been delayed to May due to a lack of material and resources, according to the caretaker Cabinet. Despite the situation getting much worse, it is similar to what happened in 2016, when speculation abounded as to whether the elections would take place. In the absence of a new president and a caretaker prime minister, many wonder if the same void is about to take place with municipalities and mukhtars. Regardless, the Lebanese expect little change from these elections. Cynicism and despair have already won all upcoming elections.
The Lebanese are well aware that no elections or new president, prime minister, mayor or mukhtar will change the course of their country. They do not expect change and are now relying on themselves more and more to continue with their daily lives. In this current system, there is nothing that allows them to build their lives or plan for any positive future. The reality is that Lebanon needs to build something new. Lebanon needs a new political system. A new constitution is what should be put to the vote as soon as possible. Not the replacement of one disappointing politician with yet another.
Despite being the most important, municipality elections are usually the most overlooked by voters all over the world. They impact citizens the most. They impact them and where they live directly. For Lebanon, the focus should be placed elsewhere. It should be on putting forward a new constitution, which should be the subject of a referendum – a vote to change the current political system. It is impossible to change the country and create a better future while keeping this broken and corrupted political system.
How could this work? How could Lebanon put forward a new political system? What should the political and security transition look like? And, more importantly, what could permit such a transformation? Moreover, what would this new constitution look like? I believe that answering these questions is exactly where we should start. It is about imagining a new state and writing a new constitution. So, Lebanon does not need massive crowds, protests and chants that dissipate and die as soon as the gatherings end. Lebanon needs to be reinvented and rebuilt. It needs hard work. Let us forget cynical politics for a second. Most Lebanese think they cannot change anything. This is not true. They cannot change anything in the current system, but they can put forward a new one. And this is a big difference. Today, good men and women will be crushed or corrupted if they enter the political arena. This is why they need to start by formulating a new one. This is the only way, even if it sounds ridiculous in the face of the current challenges of daily life. Putting forward a new constitution is the seed or road map that is needed to move forward. Let people visualize and dream again of what their country could be and how their lives would be. Bring back hope.
In order to achieve this, Lebanese from all sides should come together. Lawyers, scientists, writers, judges, economists, artists, entrepreneurs and, obviously, people from all confessions. They have the power to make this change. It should exclude any present or past public official or politician. This group should ask themselves, what is Lebanon? What does the country stand for? What is important to nurture and preserve? How do they insulate the country from being torn apart with each geopolitical shift? In short, how does Lebanon mature and take its fate into its own hands? I am convinced that, should a few good men and women take on this initiative, they will quickly come to the realization that a federal system is what will empower Lebanon. It is the only system that resembles the Lebanese. It is the only system that will allow for them to be “out of many, one.” Which is exactly what they are at their core.
Why is it that Lebanese get along everywhere else in the world but become cannibals in their own country? Why is it that brilliant successes are achieved in all fields by Lebanese everywhere but in Lebanon? Simply because, today, the Lebanese political system exacerbates the fear of the other and of losing out, as well as envy and greed. All this comes to an end with a federal system. In a federal system, the equivalent of municipal elections are the most important. If we compare with successful examples such as Switzerland, we see how diversity becomes power instead of being a drag on the country. People vote in their canton on what matters the most – education, healthcare and security – without impacting the others. In Germany, the Gemeinden (municipalities) have considerable autonomy and responsibility in terms of the administration of schools, hospitals, housing and construction, social welfare, public services and utilities, and cultural amenities. This is what Lebanon needs.
This should be done while guaranteeing, within the constitution, respect for human rights and the ironclad independence of the courts. Just as in other similar countries, a bicameral system could also be implemented and it should be discussed. Ultimately, Lebanon needs a fresh start that no election, whether municipal or parliamentary, would be able to achieve. Even if, tomorrow, by some miracle, Lebanon woke up to a new president and prime minister, the nightmare would continue. Change starts with a dream and its execution.