BEIRUT: In November 2016, 39-year old French politician and former investment banker Emmanuel Macron declared that he would run for president under the banner of En Marche!, a centrist movement he founded earlier that year.
Although he never held elected office, the new entrant to politics has gone from rank outsider to possibly the next president of France after presenting himself as an anti-establishment candidate.
Is the rise of an outsider candidate a possibility in local politics – a Lebanese Emanuel Macron who can challenge traditional political parties?
Probably not, at least for now, given Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system, discriminatory electoral law, and deep-rooted culture of sectarianism. Yet, Macron’s success holds three key lessons for civil society candidates.
First, Macron portrayed himself as an alternative to the traditional right and left parties that have disappointed a significant segment of French society. This segment of “partyless” citizens has represented the main target audience of his campaign and has propelled his emergence as the most likely candidate to become president. As an independent who promises change, Macron has succeeded in rallying support from across the political spectrum.
Second, French youth, much like their Lebanese counterpart, have long felt excluded and ignored by the French political establishment. Macron, the youngest candidate by 10 years, convinced a significant percentage of them that change is possible.
Third, Emanuel Macron outlined a clear and realistic plan for France. He wants the country to remain at the heart of Europe and to step collaboration with its neighbors as part of a wider EU integration strategy. On the domestic front, he plans to reduce payroll taxes to boost employment but wouldn’t raise the retirement age or cut pensions. Also is a proposal for corporate tax cuts to stimulate the economy along with a plan for large-scale infrastructural spending.
Simply put, Macron has appealed to a France disappointed in its traditional left and right parties, youth who have felt marginalized and yearning for change, and an electorate seeking a well-defined agenda.
Like the French, a majority of Lebanese seemed to share this disappointment with traditional political parties and are longing for change and reform as demonstrated by the relative success of Beirut Madinati in recent municipal elections. While this emerging civil society group has failed to win the elections, it has, for the first time in years, threatened to topple a broad coalition of political parties that despite their stark rivalries have come together to protect their interests.
Nevertheless, the prospects remain dim for a major change either in the entrenched political structure of Lebanon, or in the sudden rise of a young, anti-establishmentarian candidate.
While the same basis exist for change in Lebanon as in France - in the end the simple act of voting outside of traditional lines is seemingly an impossible one for the mass of the local electorate whose national capital was once considered the "Paris" of the Middle East
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