This Monday, the Lebanese parliament formally appointed former general and civil war-era warlord Michel Aoun president of Lebanon. His appointment ended a stalemate between Lebanon’s major parties and politicians that had kept the post vacant for two and a half years. While it has mostly been presented in western media as the triumph of the Hezbollah and Iran backed Aoun over the Saudi backed Hariri, the election of Aoun says more about the heart of the Lebanese political system than it does about regional power struggles. Lebanon was founded in 1943 based on agreements between political and social elites hoping to protect their networks of power and privilege within their own communities. These agreements still define the logic of Lebanese politics today. The path of Michel Aoun, a man who bears significant personal responsibility for the death of hundreds, to the presidency highlights just how well this system still protects the interests of political elites and how poorly it works for the people of Lebanon. Continue reading “Lebanon’s New President is a Symbol of a System Designed to Fail”
This past week, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan held a general election to select a new parliament, four months after King Abdullah II dissolved the previous government by royal decree. The elections themselves were largely unremarkable. Turnout was underwhelming, with only 37% of registered voters casting ballots. The political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, participating in its first elections since 2007, failed to meet its target number of seats. This was despite the overturn of the electoral system instituted in 1989 to limit the Brotherhood’s influence. Overall, the make-up of the new parliament remains similar to those of the previous two decades, leading analysts to predict that “no radical changes” will occur.
What is remarkable in these elections is the sense of apathy by Jordanians about the latest iteration of the parliament and lack of faith that anything positive will come of it. 87% of those surveyed in June thought that the previous parliament did nothing of note. The massive drop from an already meager 56% turnout in 2013 indicates the widely held belief that its successor will be equally ineffectual. This apathy is a logical reaction to the failure of repeated parliaments to address the same recurring issues of economic hardship and political corruption that have plagued the kingdom for years. As with all of Jordan’s ills, tribal politics remain the go-to scapegoat for explaining the incompetence of the elected parliament. And while family and tribal loyalties do play a role, the major limits on Jordan’s stuttering and unconvincing democratic process have their origins elsewhere. Continue reading “Elections without Democracy in Jordan”