Why the United States Can’t Sit Out Lebanon’s Pivotal Elections
Lebanon’s upcoming elections are a rare opportunity for the United States to bolster democracy while also weakening Hizballah’s influence.
With all this in mind, the situation is quite complex, and there are no guarantees that significant change will happen quickly. In any case, the United States cannot afford to sit on the sidelines. Despite pressure from the international community to hold the elections on time, there is widespread concern among the Lebanese that even a small incident could be used to postpone the elections, despite assurances from the government that elections will be held on time. The fact that municipal elections have already been postponed has validated these fears, which has spurred a record 240,000 expatriate Lebanese to register to vote, with even more expatriates expected to travel from abroad to vote in their registered districts. These voting blocs could prove to be crucial swing votes. It is then even more important that the international community ensures that the elections go on as planned and remain free and transparent. While the United States has already made statements to that effect, it must continue exerting pressure. This can take the form of promoting the deployment of election monitors, sanctioning politicians and entities that try to hinder the elections, and even tying any foreign aid to the transparency of the elections. Even if the establishment parties are able to retain a majority, the financial crisis has diminished their ability to sustain their patronage networks over the long term, which could go a long way to crippling Hizballah’s support base and, by extension, contain further Iranian influence in the region.
Joe Boueiz is an independent analyst on Middle East Affairs. He is a graduate of the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs and the American University of Beirut.