BEIRUT: MP Sami Gemayel is set to be elected as president of the Kataeb Party Sunday, transferring the leadership of one of Lebanon’s oldest political parties to the third generation of a family that has already produced two Lebanese presidents. The polls will take place at the Kataeb headquarters in Saifi on the last day of the party’s 30th General Conference, which kicks off Friday at the Le Royal Hotel in Dbayyeh.
Despite the overwhelming support Gemayel enjoys among rank and file members of the Kataeb, he will not run unopposed. Pierre Atallah, a party official from the Marjayoun-Hasbaya district, has insisted that he will stand for the post as well.
Although victory is highly unlikely, Atallah said he is running in order to highlight the need to “reorient” the political performance of the Kataeb and other Christian parties.
Last week, Gemayel, 34, declared his candidacy and presented his electoral program during a ceremony in his hometown of Bikfaya, two weeks after his father, current party chief Amine Gemayel, announced he would not seek another term.
Sami Gemayel was elected to Parliament in 2009. His father Amine, Lebanon’s president from 1982 till 1988, has led the party since 2007. Sami is also the grandson of Pierre Gemayel, who founded the Kataeb in 1936. It would become the most influential Christian party during Lebanon’s Civil War. Sami Gemayel is also the nephew of assassinated President-elect Bachir Gemayel.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Atallah said his candidacy is partly aimed at protesting Gemayel’s inheriting the leadership of the party from his father.
“Let it be a transition of power through elections,” said Atallah, who also works as a journalist for An-Nahar.
Atallah said that if voters chose Gemayel, they must hold him accountable for his mistakes once his term ends rather than blindly re-electing him because he’s a Gemayel.
“I will continue my candidacy to prove the need for an actual political life within Christian parties. It is unacceptable that five [leaders] continue to decide for around 1.2 million Christians in this country.”
“We don’t see any of them asking the public what they really want ... even party supporters follow their leaders like sheep. This situation should not continue.”
“People are frustrated,” he added.
Atallah lamented that officials and supporters “worshiped” their leaders, and said they were abandoning their duties within the party.
“[They say], ‘We don’t decide, the leader decides for us, we don’t talk, the leader talks for us.’”
“Look at Hezbollah, it is a successful model in terms of how it manages its social and military affairs along with its political battle, and in how it mobilizes its people.”
Atallah said his electoral program centers on restoring the independent status of the Kataeb Party by withdrawing it from the March 14 coalition besides reorienting its policy.
He said that through its presence in the coalition, the Kataeb Party was appeasing its allies at the expense of its supporters.
Other party officials took a different approach in their opposition, challenging the legality of the conference and Gemayel’s eligibility for the post.
Earlier this week, Michel Jabbour filed a challenge with Nadim Zwein, the judge of urgent matters in Beirut.
Speaking to The Daily Star, Jabbour said Gemayel’s candidacy violated the Kataeb Party’s bylaws and the Law of Associations, which regulates political parties in Lebanon.
Jabbour said that according to the party’s bylaws, one has to be a party member for at least 15 years in order to run for its presidency. He noted that Gemayel took the party oath and became a member only in late 2007.
“But when he joined the party, the Kataeb said that Sami Gemayel had the right to seniority and that he was considered to have taken the oath in 2000,” Jabbour said.
In 2000, Gemayel filed a request to join the Kataeb Party.
“They [Gemayels] consider the Kataeb Party to be a family legacy which they own. But it is actually the property of the people, of tens of thousands of martyrs,” Jabbour said.
He said that even if Sami Gemayel is considered to have joined the party in 2000, this itself would violate Article Five of the Law of Associations, which stipulates that anyone who files a request to join an association must be at least 20 years old.
Gemayel filed his request a few months before his 20th birthday in December 2000.
Serge Dagher, a member of the Kataeb politburo, said that Jabbour’s arguments lacked legal grounds.
He conceded that Gemayel filed a request to join the party in 2000 and took the oath in 2007.
But he explained that following the reconciliation between former Kataeb Party leader Karim Pakradouni and Amine Gemayel in 2005, the party reversed a decision that had decreed that those who filed a request to join the Kataeb would only become party members after taking the oath. He said that the earlier decision had been influenced by Syrian tutelage over Lebanon.
Dagher added that Lebanon was a signatory to a U.N. document by which Lebanese are allowed to join political parties at the age of 18.
“If we want to follow Mr. Jabbour’s logic, then Amine Gemayel, Munir Hajj and Karim Pakradouni were not legal presidents,” Dagher said, noting that they joined the Kataeb Party at the ages of 15, 16 and 15 respectively.
“Mr. Jabbour lives in a totally different world. The challenge, just like the person who filed it, is of no real value.”
Jabbour’s challenge was rejected late Thursday, but he was not alone is contesting the legitimacy of Gemayel’s candidacy. Antoine Nehme, Judge of Urgent Matters in Metn, had already rejected a similar challenge filed by former Kataeb official Issa Nahhas.
Dagher disputed the idea that Gemayel was simply inheriting the presidency from his father, and said the party had proven that it was not ruled by the political dynasty.
“Following the death of Pierre Gemayel [in 1984], Elie Karami, George Saade, Mounir al-Hajj and Karim Pakradouni [all] headed the party,” he said.
Dagher also noted that Sami Gemayel possessed the qualifications to become president of the Kataeb.
“Look at his CV. He began the struggle when he was 16. He took part in demonstrations against the Syrian presence in Lebanon and was beaten up by [security forces],” Dagher said.
He also pointed out that of the 90 draft laws proposed by lawmakers elected in 2009, 28 were put forward by Gemayel. “He will be elected rather than inherit the post,” Dagher concluded.
While the battle for the Kataeb presidency is almost predetermined, competition for the party’s other leadership posts is a much more heated issue.
Veteran Kataeb officials Joseph Abu Khakil and Tannous Qerdahi are running for the post of first deputy-president, and the battle for the second deputy president pits former Minister Salim Sayegh against Sassine Sassine and Roukoz Zogheib.
Forty candidates are running for the 16 seats of the politburo. The electoral body is comprised of 400 district representatives.
Though he voiced support for Gemayel, Dagher also praised Atallah’s candidacy, saying he backed his call for real elections and more political discourse within the party.
“We all think like Pierre. People are evaluating the election experience at the Kataeb Party. Can you tell me of another election experience by a party in Lebanon?”