BY: JOEY GEADAH
Lebanon had been branded and positioned by an entrenched aura as a haven and custodian of democracy and freedom of speech across the MENA region. Arguably, it is becoming a paradox, since the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality as democracy in Lebanon is in shackles. The country is yet to witness a parliamentary election since 2009 under the garb of security and political “instabilities,” which fallaciously entailed the political class to renew their reign for two consecutive terms, until May 2018.
First and foremost, sectarian, confessional and clientelistic paradigms outline the Lebanese public discourse. These interlinked notions heavily defied the creation of a healthy political communication structure as a result of the nonexistence of a clear national vision, an objective political agenda and most importantly the absence of authentic and candid content. Consequently, the concept of Sectarian Consociationalism was cemented as the modus operandi of the nation, pursued by the political echelon, which is constituted of religious figures, feudalistic leaders and eminent businessmen with political affiliations. Traditionally, these actors have shaped the domestic political life that eventually influenced the public affairs and simultaneously curbed the emergence of a trustworthy and effective political communication scheme, rendering a polarized sense of national belonging among the citizens.
In Lebanon, the election period acts as the main occasion where direct political communication between officials and citizens mostly upsurge. The last election back in 2009, was held based on a majoritarian law known in Lebanon as the “1960’s law.” According to this law, an overall trivial advantage would award the succeeding electoral list, the entirety of the seats, regardless of the achieved winning percentage. This advantage was explicitly witnessed in the 2016 Municipality elections, where some civil society agents seized around 45 percent of total votes in some districts but weren’t able to gain any municipal seats. Polarization has proliferated into the two major political camps in Lebanon, and divisions took place among allies themselves, shuffling all alliances’ cards and theircorresponding political considerations. Ironic coalitions and contradictory campaigning depicted this division.
With time, the Lebanese general public showed amomentous sense of disengagement towards the communal life, as they have perceived their societal and political rights to be irrelevant, particularly concerning the insignificance of their voting and electoral practices. This sense is boosted by the skewed system which offers no practical tools to hold politicians accountable. Nevertheless, the public will is on the rise as citizens are beginning to demonstrate their resentment towards the government’s nonchalant approach to economic impasses, social predicaments, and political labyrinths.
Last summer, a new law was passed and ratified based on a Proportional Representation with a Preferential Vote given to one candidate from the same chosen list. Consequently, there is an anticipation of undermining the exclusivity of the upcoming parliamentary representation, which will promote a healthier and factual civic participation. Despite having a new electoral law, the basis of distributing the parliamentary seats is still based upon confessional, religious and sectarian principles.
According to the Fragile States Index 2017 conducted by the “Fund For Peace,” Lebanon ranks 43rd globally with a “High Warning” status. Factionalized elites, state legitimacy, and public services are some among the various parameters, extensively observed; the vast majority of the factors are alarming and require instant solutions. The dimensions above tackle intertwined indicators. To name a few, the credibility of electoral processes and their absence, legitimacy of the ruling class, level of confidence in state institutions and the presence of their basic services such as education, health, water and sanitation, electricity and power, internet and connectivity. In parallel, the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, which was recently issued in February 2018 by Transparency International, ranked Lebanon the 143rd out of 180 countries with a score of 28/100.
Meanwhile, several international conferences will be convened throughout this year to support the Lebanese government across different domains, with prerequisites hovering in the horizon. Just recently, Lebanon showed glimpses of hope by ratifying the national budget for the first time since 2005, and passing a law pertaining to the access to information. Nonetheless, there is a long road to combating corruption by endorsing stern reforms to promote appropriate governance.
The long-awaited Lebanese parliamentary elections, taking place in May 2018, should be a breakthrough to redeem the democratic life in the country, which have been impeded by the traditional political class via controlling the overall narrative for sheer personal agendas and political opportunism.
Righteous governance is the absolute purpose that the country should attain to avoid turning into a failing state. Initially, be it mass media or digital and social media, a secular political communications strategy, unquestionably, would be the defibrillator that rescues Lebanon.
In simplified terms and without expounding the exhaustive technical apparatus, the strategy must consist of clearly stated national objectives, in parallel with nationwide thematic topics to be conveyed via a comprehensive and resourceful content.
Next would be identifying the exact target audience, which is fundamental as this will inform what tone of voice to pursue, in order to broaden civic engagement and outreach.
Executing such initiative requires national ownership. Hence recognizing the qualified experts such as professionals, practitioners, and academicians to spearhead this awareness endeavor that encompasses communications and media, advocacy plans, policy briefs and both public and international affairs.
Subsequently, classifying the communications channels through which the dissemination of messages will occur is central; via a framework of reciprocal dialogue among politicians and citizens. These messages will galvanize voters to practice their democratic right, seeking transparency and accountability.
The concluding pillar is to set up an M&E (Monitoring & Evaluation) matrix which assesses the outcome of the full-fledged strategy and measures its success rate in terms ofthe extent of reach, efficacy, and commitment of implementation.
A national communication vision that fosters trust, integrity, democracy, meritocracy and human rights, would accomplish the utmost principle- to create a sustainable state-of-affairs model; taking into account societal, economic, cultural, environmental, public health and definitely political dynamics. Ideally, the proposed public discourse would transcend the customary governing formalities, to become the nation’s conscience.
Joey Geadah is a Communications & International Affairs Advisor to various Top Tier Think Tanks, Advertising Agencies, NGOs & Investment Firms; leading & managing 100+ communication strategies, campaigns & content advisory projects across the MENA region, Italy & the US. With a wide media outreach alongside an extensive portfolio of publications & campaigns to date, prominent foundations approach him to represent Lebanon as a Thought Leader & Keynote Speaker in international forums & workshops regarding: Media & Communications topics, Civic Engagement & Outreach, Democracy, Social Development Goals, Economic Growth & Youth Empowerment. He is holder of an MA in International Affairs from the Lebanese American University (LAU).
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