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Letter from Lebanon
Letter from... by Bassem Chit, June 2009
What are the forces in this month's election and what are the prospects for the left? Bassem Chit reports
The elections in Lebanon have always been a peculiar affair involving electoral alliances between sectarian parties. But the elections on 7 June have international resonance. For the first time in Lebanon's history the opposition movement headed by Hizbollah could form the next government.
The main electoral battle is between the opposition March 8 Alliance and the loyalist March 14 Alliance. Hassan Nasrallah's Hizbollah and Michel Aoun's mainly Christian Free Patriotic Movement are leading the opposition camp, while Saad Hariri's Future Current and the Phalange Party are leading the loyalist camp.
Nasrallah expressed his wish to form a national unity government in the event of a victory. Hariri rejected the offer and said that if the opposition wins, his bloc will not take part in government.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, fearing its allies might be ousted, showed up unannounced in Beirut last month and made an implicit threat of aid reduction in case the opposition wins. Even the US's vice president Joe Biden came and pleaded for a vote against Hizbollah.
Within the opposition, Hizbollah is leading the battle for the support of the resistance, while Aoun, with great vivacity, is leading the battle against corruption with vague Barack Obama style promises of "change".
The March 14 Alliance, on the other hand, is having a hard time following up. They are mainly focusing on smearing the opposition as agents of Syria.
It is unquestionable that the mood is shifting against March 14. Since the 1990s the policies of Rafik Hariri and his son Saad have mainly focused on borrowing money and then selling the $40 billion accumulated debt to local banks with sky-high interest rates. As a result the state is going bankrupt, and is pushing privatisation.
Although the opposition reflects a real antagonism against the rule of the financial and banking bourgeoisie (represented by Hariri and his allies) it is far from being a real agent for change. It has been pushing for privatisation within the current national unity government.
The minister of labour, who is a leading member of Hizbollah's parliamentary bloc, has rejected the trade unions' demands to raise the monthly minimum wage from $200 to $600, offering only a mere $330.
The opposition represents the interests of small businesses (about 30 percent of the population), sections of the middle class, and the bourgeoisie who were harmed by Hariri's financial policies. They are quite likely to ignore working class demands.
The left in Lebanon has been slowly recovering from a series of defeats going back to the civil war. It also faced heavy repression during the Syrian occupation that followed. But it was able to re-emerge as an independent force in its support for the resistance during Israel's war on Lebanon in 2006 and with the stand it took against the invasion of Gaza.
Moreover we have seen a growing involvement of the left in the trade unions, accompanied by a revival in protests and strikes. This found its clearest expression in the elections for the leadership of the Communist Party in February. The left wing head of the militant teachers' union, Hanna Gharib, won, thereby reversing the previous leadership's flirtations with neoliberalism.
The victory shows that the left is beginning to regain its role in providing an alternative for ordinary people crushed by neoliberalism while maintaining a principled stand against imperialism.
The Communist Party, with the support of the rest of the left, is going into the elections calling for radical economic and political reforms. It is entering the electoral battle with five candidates in five districts. Although the sectarian electoral system is biased against the left, the elections are a good opportunity to widen support for our side.
The main task ahead is to defeat the US-backed March 14 Alliance, and at the same time to build a real independent organisation of the working class that is able to stand firm against the neoliberal policies the opposition and the loyalists are both committed to.
We want to build resistance to imperialism, war and neoliberalism.
Bassem Chit is a revolutionary socialist in Lebanon.
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