The Lebanese political topography is changing. Independents, long marginalized, are being provided with a meaningful organization to support. The first instance of this phenomenon, Beirut Madinati, was quickly dismissed as an unsustainable occurrence by major parties and supporters alike. But there can be no denying that the mere existence of BM candidates prompted traditional parties to change their long-standing approach to municipal elections by both coalescing and presenting a comprehensive electoral program. Even diehard partisans cannot deny the benefits that an independent party can have on local politics by means of diminishing the stagnation and refreshing the parties’ commitment to the opinions of their followers.
Recently, independent candidates won the internal elections of the Lebanese order of engineers, despite the expectations of partisans and independents alike. Jad Tabet of Naqabati won over the traditional parties’ candidate Paul Najm by 21 votes. This is not merely an occasion to celebrate the achievements of a well-organized, well-meaning independent movement that appeals to the ideas of the electorate, nor is it the time to applaud the loss of traditional parties. This phenomenon must be viewed as a time of environmental change. Mainstream parties long set in their ways must adapt to this changing political environment or they will see their influence dwindle and their seats systematically taken over by newcomers.
The electorate is becoming more aware. Increased availability of information, coupled with worsening circumstances that compel voters to understand the reasons for their disenfranchisement have created a generation of citizens who are less swayed by identity politics and more mindful of issues. This multifarious section of the population is not merely satisfied with casting their votes based on the community within which they were born, they want to vote for equity and good governance.
If traditional parties insist on selling the same old product that has fallen out of fashion, they will find the free marketplace of ideas crowded with competitors better adapted for the taste of the consumer and better equipped to succeed. It is incumbent upon partisans who truly believe in the righteousness of the party they support to demand better, more contemporary representation from that party to compel them to change for the sake of keeping their support. The recent appearance of many independents in the political sphere must not be viewed by partisan voters as a threat to the parties who they believe secure and preserve their interests. Instead, it should be perceived as a call to improve those parties, to make them better able to truly pursue those interests. It is a reformative act and the old Lebanese political parties are in desperate need of reform.
A supporter of any traditional Lebanese political party deserves the ability to disagree with a major policy that their party endorses without this disagreement being in direct conflict with their religious and community related identity. This makes parties more representative of the will of their supporters, which after all is the original point of a party, no?
This recent victory for independents is relatively minor when viewed in comparison to parliamentary elections, but it is indicative of a positive trend. A trend not only beneficial for those who feel unrepresented by the current national institutions but also to those who do. It is my sincere hope that an ideological consensus may be reached on this point at least.