BAALBEK, Lebanon: Two days before municipal elections in east Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley Sunday, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and a number of local families are gearing up for fierce competitions in some areas. The city of Baalbek is preparing for an electoral battle par excellence, pitting two lists against one other.
The first is Baalbek Madinati (“Baalbek is my City”) headed by Ghaleb Yaghi and backed by former Minister Charbel Nahas.
The list includes representatives from some of Baalbek’s most prominent families.
The second, Loyalty and Development, was formed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement with other March 8 parties.
Several Baalbek families claim that little was done for the city during the years Hezbollah and Amal candidates were in power, prompting them to seek change.
When contacted by The Daily Star, Hezbollah officials in the northern Bekaa declined to comment on the matter.
The formation of competing lists in Baalbek and some areas of the Baalbek-Hermel district suggests that the major political powers there could face a strong challenge from local families who have decided to contest the races.
The situation in the Baalbek-Hermel village of Labweh is similar to that in Baalbek.
Two lists are competing against each other: the local Families of Labweh list and the Hezbollah- and Amal-backed Loyalty and Development list.
Labweh could be the site of a heated battle in light of reports that the families want to lead a change.
Hisham Rabah, head of the Families of Labweh list, explained that the differences are not necessarily political or party-related, but rather that the families want to spearhead local development.
Khaled Rabah, a notable local figure, explained that there have been attempts to find common ground between the village’s different components, but that they have not borne fruit. “Hence there was no consensus, and we are heading toward a battle where the true word will be decided on in the ballot boxes,” he said.
Although the political situations in Baalbek and Labweh are governed by similar circumstances, things are somewhat different in the Baalbek-Hermel district village of Brital.
Brital will witness an electoral battle between two major Shiite powers: the current leadership of Hezbollah and its former secretary-general, Sheikh Sobhi Tufaily.
The contest is confined to these two lists after the Amal Movement withdrew from the Brital elections.
Tufaily will face off against Hezbollah with the Developing Brital list, headed by current Mayor Abbas Zaki Ismail.
Tufaily, who is no longer a member of the party, has repeatedly criticized Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.
“The Resistance is bigger than any position,” Ismail said, criticizing Hezbollah for using its position to gain supporters. “We should leave our martyrs in heaven and not disrespect them.”
However, Ismail stressed that he supported cooperation with those who are willing.
In Taraya the electoral battle pits the Syrian Social Nationalist Party against Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. The SSNP-supported list is led by Mohammad Hamieh and has been dubbed “The Nation of Hezbollah.” This list is backed by one of the village’s notable figures, Ali Radi Hamieh.
As it is elsewhere in the region, the Hezbollah and Amal list is called Loyalty and Development.
The border town of Arsal will see its electoral competition contested by three major lists: a family based list, a list headed by current Mayor Mohammad Hujeiri and a third formed by former Mayor Bassel Hujeiri. There have been negotiations to combine the family based list with that of Mohammad Hujeiri, but the move failed after many families refused to join Hujeiri due to their disapproval of the work he’s done during his term.
Arsal citizens will cast their ballots at three electoral centers near the town’s entrance: the Arsal Vocational Institute, the Jawaher al-Adab School and the Makassed School. The town houses tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and Nusra Front and Daesh (ISIS) militants are positioned on its outskirts.
In an attempt to ensure a smooth electoral process, Mayor Hujeiri issued a statement limiting parking and announcing a curfew for Syrian refugees in Arsal from 1 p.m. Saturday until 10 a.m. Monday. It said that exceptions will be made in emergency cases.