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Steps toward a fuller democracy

Lebanon, December 22, 2011

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Earlier this year 800 people in a small village in northern Lebanon went to the polls. Like people across Lebanon, many in the village of Qaa had never voted before in their lives, mostly because they’d been disillusioned with tales of corruption, inefficiency and greed in politics.

But this vote was different. Instead of old men, stuffy speeches and broken promises, the vote was for a new council of youth. The candidates were young people from 17 to 35 who want to make a change and have their say in how their community is run, and everyone — young and old — came out to vote.

The special new Youth Shadow Council in Qaa is one of 15 Mercy Corps is setting up around Lebanon as part of our work with the Lebanese Transparency Association.

Corruption and inefficiency is rife in Lebanese politics, and the councils are designed to help passionate young people act as watchdogs for the interests of their local communities. Each council of 60 young people will learn how to engage with local officials, advocate for their local interests, take action and challenge corruption. The project’s name in Arabic is musharaka, which means “participation.” It’s what the Youth Shadow Councils are trying to achieve for the communities they represent.

During the first round of elections for the Youth Shadow Council in Qaa, council member candidates presented their views and then local people cast their votes. One man from Qaa who took part in the vote will celebrate his 100th birthday next year. He’s lived through French colonization, civil war, Syrian occupation and the long development of Lebanon’s democracy, and he was keen to be involved in this new step forward.

Everyone was so excited about the council that word spread to areas not included in the project. Seven communities not originally involved were so impressed with the idea and its success that they decided to set up a Youth Shadow Council at their own expense.

When the ballot boxes closed in Qaa, the occasion was heralded with parades, food and dancing. As the Council members were announced, cheering erupted from the crowd of girls, boys, their mothers and their fathers, coworkers, neighbors, friends and strangers. The newly elected youth and the communities they represent have the chance to become models for their country and for an active democracy. They can now begin to exemplify true participation – musharaka.