Beirut on Sunday will hold its first elections since a months-long trash crisis drowned the Lebanese capital in mountains of garbage, with an outsider group of candidates challenging the political leaders who are widely seen as corrupt and incompetent.
Beirut Madinati, Arabic for “Beirut, My City,” has vowed to clean up the city’s streets — and its politics.
“We will go to the polls and throw out the corrupt politicians,” declared list leader Ibrahim Mneihmneh, a 40-year-old architect, at a recent rally attended by hundreds of people. “We will no longer whine about the trash, traffic, or corruption.”
Polling stations for the municipal elections will be open on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (0400 GMT to 1600 GMT). Results are expected as early as Monday.
Polls will also be held on Sunday in the eastern Bekaa Valley.
The elections for the remaining governorates are scheduled for May 15, 22 and 29.
Madinati hopes to channel the energy of the “You Stink” protest movement, which emerged in response to the trash crisis, which erupted in July last year, and went on to challenge the political class that has governed Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war.
The leaders behind “You Stink” activists, who brought thousands of protesters into the streets at the height of the trash crisis last summer, have not formally endorsed Madinati but have attended its rallies.
Since the end of the war, Lebanon has been governed by a power-sharing arrangement among political blocs — many led by former warlords — that represent its various confessions. That has led to widespread patronage and corruption, and more recently to the breakdown of public services, mainly as a result of the presidential vacuum.
The trash crisis began when the government closed in July 2015 the country’s main landfill without agreeing on a replacement. For eight months trash piled up across Beirut and the heavily populated Mount Lebanon.
An agreement was reached among the different factions in March to open new disposal facilities near Beirut, but critics cast it as simply another backroom deal that failed to address the root of the problem.
And the stench grew even worse in April, as excavators dismantled the piles of garbage to carry it out of the city and the valleys and makeshift dumps in Mount Lebanon.
“When you talk about Beirut, you say she’s a beautiful woman,” said the well-known Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, who is a candidate on the Madinati list. “Unfortunately, this is not what I’m seeing now.”
The Madinati list is made up of independent technocrats who have reached out to voters through town hall-style meetings, rallies and fundraisers. But many wonder if they can succeed in a system in which politicians hold their grip on power.
“It’s like in the village,” said Mohammad Hamza, a Beirut barber. “The outsiders win the elections, and for the next six years nothing gets done, because the political bosses block everything.”