Electioneering in Lebanon

File - President Michel Sleiman speaks during an interview with The Daily Star at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Lebanon, Wednesday, March 14, 2012. (The Daily Star/Grace Kassab)

Preparations for Lebanon’s presidential election are in full swing, but to call the process a “campaign” would be very misleading.

Every day, there are statements, meetings and other items that some consider pertinent to electing a successor to President Michel Sleiman. One of the chief indications of dysfunction is that the loudest calls are focused on the need to hold the election “on time,” in line with deadlines set down by the Constitution – the fact that missing the deadlines remains a possibility shows how fragile the entire process is.

Otherwise, the public hears repeatedly about how the next president should exhibit certain “characteristics” or “personal traits.”

This can be translated as follows: Half a dozen or so national power-brokers are busy figuring out how to engineer an agreement on a certain figure, in order to spare the country the painful burden of actually seeing MPs vote, and take responsibility for their choice.

While everyone knows that this is how the president is usually – but not always – chosen in Lebanon, very few politicians bother to address the wider public when it comes to policy or programs. Most candidates are content to talk about vague slogans, which might signal certain things to their hard-core followers, but offer little to the average Lebanese.

The political class appears to be content with conducting this type of popularity contest, while people who are looking for something tangible and relevant to their lives are bound to be disappointed. For now, people are hearing the following: Candidate A is viable because group B likes him. And politicians wonder why more and more people continue to tune them out, and get on with the business of securing a second passport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 31, 2014, on page 7.




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