BEIRUT: March 14-backed candidate George Jreij was elected as the new head of the Beirut Bar Association Sunday, beating Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement contender. Jreij received 2,662 votes for the win against his competitor Fadi Barakat, the March 8 candidate, who got 1,439 votes.
Participating in the elections were 4,204 lawyers of around 7,100 eligible to vote. Lawyers affiliated with the Progressive Socialist Party voted for Jreij.
Speaking to lawyers after the announcement of the results, Jreij promised to work for the entire association, regardless of political affiliation, during his two-year term.
“Be sure that George Jreij is now the head of the Beirut Bar Association, not a legitimate representative of any party. ... I belong to two only: Lebanon and the Bar Association,” said Jreij, a Kataeb Party official who suspended activities for the party when he announced his candidacy in September.
Jreij said he would lay down an action plan to implement during his term. He promised to modernize the association by encouraging digital modes of communication among members. Jreij also promised to boost health care and pension benefits for lawyers.
Jreij will succeed Nuhad Jabr, who led the association for the past two years. Jabr is backed by the FPM.
In the first round of elections earlier Sunday, Jreij and Barakat, along with March 14-backed candidate Samih Bsherawi and independent Nader Kaspar, were elected to the association’s board. The board membership term is three years.
Amal Movement candidate Hussein Zbib was just a few votes behind and will replace any winning member who is unable to carry out his responsibilities. Some 4,794 lawyers voted in the first round.
The first round kicked off around 10 a.m. at the Justice Palace with thousands of lawyers, including MPs and politicians, flocking to the hall inside to cast their ballots.
Posters of candidates were on display on the walls and the columns of the hall. Many lawyers voted based on political affiliation, while for others only competence and performance mattered.
“I voted for March 8 candidates. Honestly, my choice was based on political affiliation, this is a political battle par excellence,” Hussein Yahya told The Daily Star.
But Yahya and other lawyers complained that a two-year term was too short for the head of the body to implement a viable program.
“It should be either a three-year term or the head should be allowed to run for two consecutive terms,” Yahya said. “Plans they [candidates] make require centuries to be implemented rather than two years.”
He complained that none of the heads of the association were making necessary amendments for laws organizing the profession.
Michel, another lawyer, said that he based his choice on the competence of each candidate.
“Although candidates have political affiliations, I did not vote based on this, but on the professional qualifications of the candidates,” he said.
But for one lawyer, who refused to disclose her name, Jreij only had good traits: “I voted for George Jreij for a myriad of reasons. He hails from my village and I know how competent he is. I also support his political stances.”
Lawyers hoped that the new head of the association would address their long-standing demands. These include health care benefits, including covering the cost of medication, as well as paying interns.
Others said that judges should show more respect for lawyers.
“If a lawyer did not show up one time during a court session, he might lose his client’s case. But if a judge does not show for one whole year, no one tells him anything,” one lawyer said, requesting to remain anonymous.
March 14-backed candidates Costi Issa and Omar Murad also triumphed in last Sunday’s Bar Association by-elections in the north.