Lebanese hope for change in first vote after trash crisis

7 May 2016 | 14:08

Source: Associated Press

  • By PHILIP ISSA
  • Source: Associated Press
  • Last update: 7 May 2016 | 14:08

Beirut Madinati candidates and activists gesture after announcing their list of candidates for the municipality elections in Beirut, Lebanon, April 22, 2016. (Reuters Photo)

BEIRUT: Lebanon's capital on Sunday will hold its first elections since a months-long trash crisis left mountains of garbage festering in the streets, with an outsider group of candidates challenging a political establishment 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 election 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.

Madinati hopes to channel the energy of the "You Stink" protest movement, which emerged in response to the trash crisis and went on to challenge the political class that has governed Lebanon since the end of its 1975-1990 civil war.

The leaders behind the "You Stink" movement, which brought thousands of protesters into the streets at the height of the trash crisis, 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 religious sects. That has led to widespread patronage and corruption, and more recently to the breakdown of public services.

The trash crisis began last summer when the government closed the city's main landfill without agreeing on a replacement. For eight months trash piled up across the city. An agreement was reached in March to open a new disposal facility, 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.

"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 dominated by lifelong politicians.

"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."

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