White Ballot vs. 128 New Candidates

The debate is ongoing among political and social activists about the right strategy for the 2013 elections. We all agree that a strong campaign needs to be done to oppose the Octopus. But how to do this still has no consensus. I’ve made a comparison table to flesh out ideas. Some points are of course more important than others and one could find a way to turn losses into wins in different categories. But I needed to get the discussion rolling with some feedback from you guys. What do you think?

White Ballot 128 New Candidates
Wins on Principle
The White Ballot symbolizes a strong refusal of the political system and its ruling regime and the electoral law. It doesn’t have a religious confession and is the only constant voice across Lebanon. A campaign for new candidates could attempt to subvert the system but remains tied to religious and regional quotas and it acknowledges the electoral law.
Wins on Excitement
Many see the White Ballot as a defeatist attitude that doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s difficult to get people to campaign actively for a White Ballot. Nominating full lists against the Octopus is a lot more exciting because it is a more direct confrontation. People are more excited to campaign beforehand and on the day.
Wins on Cost
Zero nomination fees. Nomination fees alone cost $700,000.
Wins on Accuracy
White voters may make their choice for a number of sectarian / corruption reasons and would still be counted as opposition, which is inaccurate. Only people who fully support the platform would vote for new lists, so whatever number we win is the right number of our ideas’ strength in Lebanon.
Wins on Ease
Campaign pretty much runs itself. We could put more effort into it, but it is familiar and easy. Very difficult and doesn’t have a grassroots or party base to build on.
Wins on Breakthrough Possibility
Many voters reject the current status but feel obligated to vote for a certain person or more. Names (if a majoritarian electoral law) could break through lists of the Octopus and give people more options to take steps towards supporting new politics
Wins on Objectivity
White Ballot doesn’t have a personality behind it. Has difficult task of finding good candidates who are fully committed to the project, not to personal gains.
Wins on Mobilization
Most of the mobilization will be done close to Elections Day, doesn’t solicit too much work beforehand. Forces people to work harder, connect across regions and issues, and gives movement building a boost.
Wins on Experience Building
Doesn’t gain much on-the-ground experience. Gives the organizers hands-on experience with electoral campaigning and processes in Lebanon.
Tie on Posing a Threat Tie on Posing a Threat
If a large number of White Ballots is gained in every district, this discredits the politicians. Bothers them but doesn’t directly threaten their rule. If a large number of alternative votes is gained in every district, this could directly threaten the current system, but legitimizes the winners within a democratic system.
Win on New Participation
Doesn’t present new models of candidates or politicians. Allows for the emergence of new trends in political representation and participation such as women, youth, and workers.
Wins on Readiness
Ready to encompass all regions and communities. No prerequisites necessary. Needs to guarantee 128 (or large % of that at least) top notch candidates to be a viable project. Individual attempts will only affect certain communities and not contribute to the national project. Also, organizers still lack a lot of experience in this arena and it could affect the project negatively.
Wins on Support
Since people may want to support new candidates who have put themselves forth already, the White Ballot takes away from their votes. Will show support for those who have already, with a progressive electoral platform, announced their nomination.
Wins on Risk Management
Doesn’t face much risk, except if less than 10,000 white ballots are counted, which was the 2009 count. Risks strong demotivation and fallback if it fails to get traction for candidates (at least 1% of the voters).

Take Back Parliament: Tactical Brief

Happy New Year, folks.

It’s been 5 months since we launched the idea of Take Back Parliament and we have 5 months to go till the elections. So what have we been up to? Here’s a quick brief.

What is the plan?

We are going to nominate at least one new and independent candidate in every electoral district in Lebanon. And by independent, we mean 110% independent – no backdoor deals and no compromises. Many have asked us to nominate full lists — 128 candidates. We will do our best to reach that number with other independent campaigns. But if we can’t, we promise 26 at least in 2013.

What is the goal?

Our goal is to present a viable alternative to old-school, sectarian, corrupt politics in Lebanon. We want to vote for candidates that represent us, that we can hold accountable, and that we have chosen ourselves. And we want all the Lebanese voters to join us in ending the era of corruption and apathy and shifting to an era of democracy and political activism.

Are you out of your mind?

A little. But mostly, we’re just like you: eager to be part of something new, something fresh, and something hopeful. Our only other option is a depressing and frustrating elections season which takes us straight to emigration visas. So we’ve chosen to act and to encourage all of Lebanon to act with us. Most people think we don’t stand a chance because Lebanese people won’t change their voting patterns. We think that with the right energy and credibility, we will all be wonderfully surprised at how everyone gave their vote to a revolutionary project rather than to the same old politicians.

So do you actually think you’re going to win?

Yes we do. And with no money (except for registering candidates) and with no bribes and with no staff and with no media stations under our belt. We believe we’re going to win with the sheer energy and momentum of the people.

What if you don’t win?

If we don’t win, we would still have achieved something significant. Remember, we’re the underdogs, the idealists, the dreamers – which makes us the ones with nothing to lose.

OK, so how are you going to do this?

We’re using grassroots mobilizing tools to get people excited. We’re knocking door to door, talking to people on the street, and hosting house meetings all over Lebanon. There’s around 150 of us actively working on the ground. We need your help to become 1000.

How are other parties responding to you?

We haven’t done any media appearances yet (waiting to officially launch) and already we’ve been approached by a lot of political parties in hopes of alliances or agreements or funding opportunities. We’ve declined them all.

But who are your candidates?

We don’t know yet. Our focus so far is 100% on building the electoral platform – which is a plan for 40 socio-economic issues in Lebanon. We’ve talked to experts and NGOs and voted on everything from healthcare to taxation, women’s rights to public transportation, national security to fighting corruption. Our platform will be launched in a big event towards the beginning of February. We’ll let you know so you can attend.

Once we have our agenda in place, we will open a public call to nominate candidates. And we need your input to suggest people you think fit our standards: new, secular, ready to pledge to the highest levels of accountability.

I love it — how can I support?

There are many things you can do. We’re counting on you. Please help us out by:

– Volunteering with our campaign. You can join one of many active committees that meet weekly: communications, recruitment, networking, field teams, expats, platform, legal, tech, and many more. If you’d like to join a committee, email me on n.moawad@gmail.com and we’ll set a time to meet and talk some more.

– Telling your friends. We’re completely dependent on word-of-mouth. Forward this post to friends of yours who might be interested. Get them to sign up here. Share our Facebook page with your online friends.

– Host a House Meeting. If you’re excited and want to get your friends on board our project as well, you can host a House Meeting where you invite 10-15 of your acquaintances and a couple of people from Take Back Parliament so we can share our story with you. Contact me if you’re interested.

– Simply getting in touch. Let me know your thoughts and opinions. Maybe you have a great idea to help us out. Maybe you can come in and lead a whole team. Maybe you know a great candidate. Maybe you can put us in touch with someone who can help.

Maybe this campaign’s been waiting just for you!

Debate: What have we got to lose?

In the past week, I had at least 3 discussions with different people who believe we have too much to lose if we run new candidates in this elections (5 months from now) when we’re not yet ready.

According to my debaters, the secularist / social justice movement will not be able to achieve any good results in the elections because the opponent (all the other parties) is too strong and will crush us. “A few hundred votes in all of Lebanon” is the loss (and jorsa) that they predict for any new, independent lists. This, they believe will lead to:

  • A blow to the morale of anyone dreaming of challenging the system
  • A validation of the current system (it will show just how powerful they are)
  • Discouragement of any future attempts
  • Mockery / roasting of reputations of everyone who worked on new campaigns so that they lose public credibility and won’t be able to do any similar work in the future
  • And finally, we’re just not ready now, we don’t have mass support, so we should wait till 2017

These are all valid points, but I disagree with them because I believe we have the agency to make sure our morale stays high, we are not discouraged, and we don’t allow the Octopus to break us. Also, they are based on the premis that the independent campaigns will lose. And so it depends on how we define loss. To win a seat against the Octopus will indeed be nothing short of a miraculous act. We all know this. So while that is the dream we will work very hard to achieve, it isn’t the smart goal. The smart goal is to use this election season as a jumpstart to real democratic transformation in Lebanon. It might not show big results now, but it will catapult us into bigger movements for change post-election and in the long run. And we all know Lebanon needs long-term planning for change.

We do not come from a void – the campaigns didn’t just spring up today. We are rooted in all the social justice movements of the past 10 years, political, reformist, student, women, workers, etc. These movements have been small and frail and constantly crushed. But we want to bring them back together and give them a boost via the elections. At the end of the day, it’s the electoral law that is our biggest obstacle and the electoral law can only be changed with a revolution on the streets.

I, for one, believe, we have absolutely nothing to lose. Nothing. Zero. Our backs are against the wall. We’re like the underdog in those cheesy sports movies that doesn’t stand a chance and, therefore, fights like there’s nothing to lose. And there isn’t. On the contrary,  we stand to gain so much:

  • Doing something. Our other option is to do nothing (Octopus will still win), to sit and watch the elections and fight the urge to get depressed and get up and emigrate already.
  • Mobilizing the masses. People get interested during elections season (and the Lebanese only move when there’s urgency) and it’s too golden an opportunity to waste without doing anything. It is a prime time to be working with people to join our movement(s).
  • Building experience. We’re all very young and if we believe we have a much better chance of winning in 2017 if we work hard for 4 years, then we shouldn’t waste the opportunity of learning the ins and outs of elections today. The core team of organizers needs massive experience and this is our chance to get it.
  • Shifting public discourse. If we leave the space empty of any strong voices against the corruption of the Octopus, we give it to them easy. When we talk to people about a new way of practicing democracy, we are contributing to a shift in public discourse. It may be small, but it can only grow bigger.
  • Responding to public needs. Everybody agrees we need an alternative to old Lebanese politics. Everyone. The challenge is if we can create a viable alternative that’s right and not lacking, and if we can convince people to vote for the alternative that they themselves want! We all know the deal. People vote for the zo3ama and then nag about them the next day. But people have been demanding change for years. And it’s our duty to offer it – as an option – for anyone who wants to walk the talk so that we aren’t left with “I would’ve chosen someone else, but there was only two choices to make and I voted for the lesser evil.”
  • Celebrating our victory. Whatever result we achieve against the Octopus (whether it’s a few 100 or few 1000 or a million votes), it will be cause for celebration. After all, we are working with no money against billions of dollars. We are working with no foreign support against international alliances. We are working with youth against a dominant mentality of clientelism, blind loyalty, and fear. We only have volunteers and the Octopus hires thousands of people to work on elections day. We are working ethically and they bend every rule and bribe every person to construct fake popularity for themselves. So really, every vote against this system is worth 100 votes because it’s a vote that’s brave and groundbreaking and inspiring.

And so if the system expects us to (and is designed so that we) achieve absolutely nothing, what do we have to lose?

Al Za3im wal Cement

Al Za3im wal Cement

A small example of political & economical leverage in Lebanon.

The Octopus


We’ve put in so much time and effort trying to diagnose the system’s problems in Lebanon. I have grown a little tired of these discussions. Khalas, everyone knows what they are. Everyone knows the feeling of being screwed over by the Octopus. It’s the justice you know you will never get. It’s the corruption you can’t report to anyone. It’s the za3eem mawkab and his bodyguards passing by you in the midst of insane traffic. It’s wanting to bang your head on the wall every time you watch the evening news. Hayda houwwi. The Octopus.

Let’s stop diagnosing the problem and just call it what it is. The Octopus has eight tentacles: za3emi, corruption, plutocracy, sectarianism, tribalism, clientelism, civil war, and foreign control. We, the people, want leadership, transparency, democracy, secularism, citizenship, equality, security, and independence.

If you think Lebanon is split March 8 / 14 (wa tawabi3ahom) you’re wrong. Those are all one and the same; they are all the Octopus. Some people tell me: ah, yes, but some parties are better than others, some are bloodier than others, some are newer than others, blah blah blah. I don’t care. They are all invested in the Octopus.

And so, the real split in Lebanon is the Octopus vs. the people. Which side are you on?

Elections Law and Catch 22

5 months are left till the elections and we still have no law. The debate on the law proposals is utterly ridiculous. Every side of the Octopus is using whatever leverage they have – threats, corrupt media, lies – to tailor the new elections law to suit their sectarian rhetoric.

The fact is that Parliament will never ever vote on a fair and just electoral law, which most of us agree is proportional elections, one district for all of Lebanon, outside of confessional restrictions, 18 the legal voting age, expat voting, closed lists, etc. CCER is the national coalition that’s been working on this law for years (if not decades).

But as long as the Octopus rules the country, it will not vote in an electoral law that doesn’t reproduce it. And as long as we have no fair electoral law, we can never vote out the Octopus. Catch 22.

Therefore, a new electoral law that is representative of the people (including us) can only be brought about through mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of people.

When will we reach that stage? That’s another discussion. I am hoping, maybe, if we manage to build enough momentum via the 2013 elections, it will catapult us into a movement strong enough to demonstrate in mass for a new electoral law despite the Octopus.

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