Democracy held hostage, and the Lebanese are (and have been) paying the ransom

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Lebanon gets an overdue vote in a few hours (Photo courtesy of The Daily Star, 2018)

Nine years the Lebanese have waited for their parliamentary elections, and, in just a few hours, their wait will come to an end. Lebanon will finally get its long overdue vote, and everyone will live happily ever after.

Everyone except We the People, that is.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly democracy was kidnapped and held hostage in the capital – formerly known as the Paris of the Middle East, positioning our freedom and right to choose as fictional characters in a utopian tale.

Admittedly, the easiest scapegoats here are the politicians; and they make it so easy. You can call them crooks, shady, corrupt, liars, thieves, and you would be right. At least referring to the vast majority.

But, we are a democracy (on paper anyway, in a constitution that desperately needs dusting), and politicians didn’t just waltz into parliament. They knocked and came in, at the will of the people; they were elected. Rightfully or not is a whole other story, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

What plenty of us would agree on is that, We the People, are both the victims and the culprits in this situation.

We did this. We made our bed, this particular bed, repeatedly, and now we get to lay in it. Again. With dirty, unchanged sheets.

We could give the people the benefit of the doubt for a split second and blame their bad memory on the nine years (instead of the standard four, given that our parliament extended its own term) that have elapsed since we last casted ‘our’ vote. But the split second will quickly run out, and we’ll realize that the elections we’ll have on Sunday are but a déjà vu of Lebanon’s feudal days, which weren’t our history’s proudest.

The reason? Because Lebanese people have a chronic condition, that spreads both vertically and horizontally; in other words, children inherit it from their parents, but it’s also highly contagious, spreads like the plague, and targets everyone who had escaped genetics. It’s called Canonizing Politicians. Symptoms include: loving thy political leader with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And thou shall have no other leaders before their leader.

The leaders know this, but they also know the antidote: people need to put food on the table, to have jobs to raise their kids with dignity, to fill their tanks to get to work, and decent streets to preserve whatever cars survived this country’s terrible, terrible roads, just to mention a few. Our so-called representatives spend their time and resources, not on coming up with a strategic plan to move the country forward, God forbid. Instead, they identify opponents and swingers, gather intelligence on their weaknesses and needs, so that they can offer the voters something they can’t refuse. The rest of their time is spent on what they think is campaigning; they spend millions and millions first to get listed on a ballot, and then for marketing and PR efforts. While Lebanon’s debt grows deeper and deeper, the political ‘elite’ (elite as in those who can afford to run, not those who necessarily have the skills or experience to be public servants) are paying $6,000 for one minute of airtime and up to $240,000 to be hosted on a talk show. Perhaps this sounds like peanuts for those of us used to working or doing PR in western markets, but it’s ludicrous for Lebanon, especially when this ‘investment’ will all be stolen back from the government, from We the People, as soon as they get comfortable in the seat.

Will money and corruption skew the results tomorrow? Will this election be, in the words of none other than Donald J. Trump, ‘rigged?’ Hard to say. The moment you’re in that shady room, casting the only tangible proof you have that you live in a democracy, not even your left hand knows what your right hand dropped in that box, let alone the generous folks of the election-compromising cartels.

There will be different types of voters tomorrow: the unethical ‘loyals,’ who were offered bribes by competing candidates, accepted all bribes, and will end up voting for whomever they were going to vote for in the first place (loyal, I tell you); appreciators of relativity who decided that they’re going to take the ‘ethical’ route and only accepted the bribe of the highest bidder, for whom they will also vote, irrespective of whether or not he/she are the right man/woman for the job; and, of course, plenty of ethical loyals who hold their principles near and dear, who have not accepted any bribes, and who will vote for their all-time favorite candidate, ‘for free;’ that’s how fans and foes of the ethical loyals describe the generous act. No where in the world would this be appropriate election lingo. Not democratic ones, anyway.

So, essentially, we don’t know whether outcomes will be skewed as a result of these blasphemous acts, and if so, by how much. Mathematically speaking, if the candidate who ends up paying the highest price happens to also be the candidate of choice of a voter (which doesn’t make this any more ethical, legal, or democratic), in every case (which is highly unlikely), then the outcome of the elections will be the same with or without these ‘incentives.’ But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these conditions can only be achieved in a controlled lab experiment, which is not the case, and, therefore, the elections we waited nearly a decade to hold will most definitely be, well, rigged.

One could argue that the people can’t be blamed in this scenario, that the bribers are at fault because they tempted voters like Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Possibly. After all, in a battle of values, where does feeding one’s children fall?

In a country where politicians keep getting richer, the middle class getting poorer, and the poor starve to death, it may seem like the only thing the poor can offer the rich politician is their vote. Right?

Wrong.

We the People are selling ourselves too short.

We the People have lost the long-awaited elections the moment the ballots were announced and we realized that the whole thing is a scam. That we were set up. That we’re electing the same families we elected every chance we got since 1992. That we’re feeding a feudal system that supposedly ceased to exist nearly two centuries ago. Yet, we happily and brainwashed-ly went with it.

So what is the point? What is the point of rising and revolting and burning tires to demand an election (that is already our right, by the way), and be ‘granted’ a used, beat-up toy that we tried and tested and have been bored with and sick of for decades. What is the point when we have to listen to the same crooks, who have literally ‘moved in’ parliament in the early 90s, and haven’t left their seats since but during campaigns so that they can make the same promises over and over and whisper sweet nothings in your ear, bribe you or not to believe them, win your votes, go back to their seats, starve you, exile your children to find a respectable and dignified life anywhere but here. Repeat.

My favorite part, you ask? Oh, it’s good.

A handful of people woke up and thought, wait a minute. We’ve been presented with no real agendas or plans from anyone. They’ve been fighting and arguing, but not actually debating (not on issues that matter to the people in any case). So they asked, and boy did they receive. Our politicians, top notch experts at nothing the way they are at cheating, figured why not cheat the elections, from an optics perspective at least, from the west. Yeah, the west knows how to campaign. Let’s recycle a slogan or two. We shall promise them Women’s rights this year. The ladies seem to rah rah to that, and it’s not like we actually need to do anything. With all due respect to women and our rights, gentlemen, I think we’ll pass. I speak on behalf of all of us when I say, for the love of God, stop flying before you’ve crawled. How about we start with the basics and you don’t hijack our basic human rights; once you master this I-thought-was-a-simple-task, we can then advance to the next level, one that we undoubtedly and desperately ache for.

Allow me to congratulate you, my fellow citizens, on getting your beloved election, a race among the rich. A vote you sell for a few liras today, but one you’ve been paying millions for for decades, and will continue to for decades to come.

I pray I’m wrong.

God bless Lebanon, enlighten its citizens to do the right thing, and give those sad excuses of public servants another game to fiddle with, so they let us live in peace.

Is this too much to ask?

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Thoughts & Abouts

I used to have many interests. Too many, in fact. Some stuck around, others faded away. But writing, writing seems to be here to stay. One day, I'll write a book. For now, my Thoughts & Abouts will have to do.

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