Lebanon News

Hezbollah negotiates election hurdles

A general view of the northeastern border town of Arsal, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BAALBEK, Lebanon: Three weeks before municipal elections, preparations for the race are picking up steam in the northern Bekaa, where clan allegiances can supersede political loyalties. As with other areas in Lebanon, the electoral alliance between Hezbollah and Amal applies to Baalbek-Hermel.

However, the groups are facing problems forming joint lists in some villages due to rivalries between different families and clans.

The election is scheduled to be held May 8. As the contest approaches, Hezbollah has finished putting together election lists in a number of areas affiliated with the group.

But in other villages, Hezbollah is still working to form common lists with the Amal Movement.

The city of Baalbek is the center of the governorate, it’s municipal council comprises 21 members.

There are a series of challenges facing Hezbollah in the city, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Although the party has been preparing for the elections, it has faced a number of problems fielding a candidate from a certain local family. One man believes that he has the right to head the municipal council, because his branch of the family has had a number of its members killed fighting for Hezbollah.

Hezbollah has urged support for other, more competent members of the same family. But if the dispute continues, it could shift its support elsewhere, the sources said.

Baalbek’s former Mayor Ghaleb Yaghi has also said that he is seeking to form a list that would face that backed by Hezbollah and Amal.

Another form of challenge posed to the group is related to the mayor’s six-year-term, the source said.

Since it is running with the Amal Movement, the party proposed to divide the mayoral term – three years for Hezbollah and three years for Amal. The idea has not been well received by Amal’s candidate, who wants to serve for the entire duration.

Hezbollah is also being pressured to back a deputy mayor, a post earmarked for a Sunni, who is affiliated with one of the party’s allies.

In Brital, which is largely affiliated with Hezbollah’s former Secretary-General Sheikh Sobhi Tufaily, the situation is different.

The Daily Star was informed by security sources that the course of municipal elections in the village is still unclear, as there is no room for agreement between Hezbollah and the other parties, who refuse to participate in the creation of a joint list.

Hezbollah is reportedly hoping to engage in a political fight and extend its influence in Brital against Tufaily, who has repeatedly criticized its involvement in the Syrian war.

The party is working to gain support from locals. Many residents of the village support current Mayor Zaki Ismail, backed by Tufaily.

The northeastern border town of Arsal is also readying for new elections, according to Mayor Ali Mohammad Hujeiri. Hujeiri called on the Lebanese government and security agencies to provide the necessary security to ensure the polls can be held safely.

There is a strong desire to hold elections in the town, despite the difficult circumstances the area has witnessed in the past couple of years. Extremists belonging to Daesh (ISIS) and the Nusra Front are still entrenched on the outskirts of the town.

Khaled Zeidan, a local resident, explained that agreement on a single list is highly unlikely, as one of the consequences of the Syrian war has been the sympathy of many residents for Islamist groups over other local parties like the Future Movement, which also has a strong presence in the town.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has set the elections for Beirut, the Bekaa, and Baalbek-Hermel for May 8, Mount Lebanon for May 15, South Lebanon and Nabatieh for May 22, and North Lebanon and Akkar for May 29.

Despite his setting the dates, some Lebanese remain doubtful that the elections will take place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 16, 2016, on page 3.




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