The Lebanese public is being showered with the usual barrage of statements by politicians about the need to hold the next round of municipal elections on time. It’s a disappointing phenomenon to begin with: Hearing such anguished calls means that there are worries that the polls could easily be derailed, for the usual type of excuse, namely that the law, or some crucial amendments, won’t be ready in time.
The first round of post-war local elections took place in 1998, and after such a long interruption (more than three decades), the event functioned as a kind of dry run for politics at the local level.
When the next opportunity rolled around, in 2004, the refreshing results were a clear indication that the Lebanese voting public could enact change, as it supported a number of serious candidates who weren’t completely beholden to the national powers-that-be. Some big cities were naturally hampered by a political landscape that mirrored the divisiveness of our national politics. But in many smaller municipalities, a degree of accountability came into play and it was refreshing to see “new blood” brought in.
Unfortunately, the 2004 round was followed by a series of tragic and disappointing events, which can be summarized as: the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the polarization of Lebanese society into warring camps that took an approach of (our) good versus (their) evil.
Now, with a national unity government in place, the politicians who earlier mobilized the country around sloganeering and excommunicating the other side stand before a golden opportunity to right these political wrongs. By untying all of the municipal knots in time for a round of local elections in May, our political class can achieve a degree of redemption for all of the lost time and effort of recent years.
Holding local elections on time is an absolute necessity, as is ensuring that we have a sound law in place. The amendments that are on the table aren’t a case of rocket science – the central question is whether the people can be “trusted” to elect their own mayors and deputy mayors, instead of letting elected municipal council members do it themselves.
We need a municipal law in place for this round, and soon. Provided that they emerge from a level playing field, elected municipal officials can provide a much-needed layer of stability for our political system. Letting voters select the right people for the job will relieve some of the burden on our central authorities, and enhance the balance in our political system that we desperately need.
The Daily Star