Lebanon Elections

Kesrouan-Jbeil set for elections showdown

Retired Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz. The Daily Star

BEIRUT: In the 2009 parliamentary elections, the Free Patriotic Movement won the eight seats in Kesrouan and Jbeil under the old winner-takes-all electoral law. The Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Amal Movement stood by the FPM’s side in the last elections. Around 8,000 votes separated the winning list from its opponents. But in May 2018, voting will be on the basis of a proportional representation law. The elections will be held under the new law intended to give fair representation by splitting the seats based on the proportion of votes for each list, rather than the previous system where party with the most votes resulted in election of the whole list.

This will allow candidates to win a seat in Parliament even if the list on which they ran did not get the largest share of votes.

So, who will be the winners in the district that helped FPM founder Michel Aoun reach the presidency?

Retired Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz, President Aoun’s son-in-law, will form the FPM endorsed list, although he is not a card-carrying member of the party.

Aoun has previously said that “Chamel is me, and in his heart he holds 1,000 [membership] cards.”

Sources monitoring the electoral preparations for Kesrouan-Jbeil say that the president’s relationship to the region’s MPs and high-ranking figures has helped remove a number of obstacles that Roukoz is facing.

This is essential to his campaign as the coordination with FPM leader Gebran Bassil is not finalized, except for the FPM’s official endorsement of two of Roukoz’s candidates – Roger Azar and Antoine Atallah.

The list includes former MP Mansour Bonne, Neemat Frem, MP Simon Abi Ramia and MP Walid Khoury. Talks are ongoing with former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, who is also close with President Aoun. Based on these talks, the fifth candidate will be determined for a Kesrouan seat.

Contacted by The Daily Star, Baroud said there was a possibility he would run on the list.

Originally, Baroud appeared on a political talk show earlier this year and confirmed he would run with Roukoz, however, the alliance has not been officially confirmed yet.

The former minister said it was not in his interest to run with the Lebanese Forces in the area or with another independent list.

“The LF or Farid Haykal’s list will win one or two seats maximum,” he predicted, adding that if they took one seat it would be for their candidate Chawki Daccache in Kesrouan and if they won two seats, it would be Daccache and former Jbeil mayor Ziad Hawat in Jbeil.

“[Former MP] Farid Haykal Khazen is the choice for Maronite MP on his [own] list,” Baroud added.

The independents, he added, were not strong on their own in the area.

“Kesrouan-Jbeil is different than other districts, not like Beirut I.”

They also have not officially agreed a finalized list, “but I wouldn’t be mad if they succeeded,” he said.

As for the Shiite seat, it’s highly likely that the Hezbollah candidate will not be on Roukoz’s FPM backed list.

The FPM has not made a decision on whether it will endorse Rabih Awad or if there will be no Shiite candidate running for them – a similar agreement as in Baabda district where a party won’t endorse another’s candidate but will not run against them either.

Hezbollah’s candidate, Hussein Zeaiter, launched his electoral campaign by meeting with religious authorities from the area. He is attempting to form a list after failing to get himself on the list of candidates with local electoral presence.

He is still studying options to form a list capable of ensuring the minimum voter threshold needed for a seat in the event that the Shiite voices objecting to Zeaiter not being from the region vote against him.

There are a little over 18,000 registered Shiite voters and there have been threats by the Shiite community of Jbeil not to vote for Zeaiter because he is not from the area originally.

On the other hand, there are three other lists competing in the district.

One is by former MP Farid Haykal Khazen who is aligning with Kataeb Party and March 14 coordinator Fares Souaid. The list is yet to be finalized.

The LF will also form a list, which currently has three candidates – Hawat from Jbeil, Daccache from Kesrouan and Mahmoud Awad as their Shiite candidate from Jbeil.

Separately, an independent list headed by former Minister of State without portfolio Youssef Salameh looks set to battle for one or two seats. “We are a list of independent candidates opposed to the current political class,” Salameh told The Daily Star.

He said as well as himself, he had three other candidates locked in, but would not give names.

“As of Thursday, we will be able to discuss the other names on the list,” he said. Salameh heads what he calls a political “gathering,” named Al Hawiya Wal Siyada (Identity and Sovereignty), which has joined the Tahalof Watani (My Country Alliance).

The grouping is a bold alliance of the civil society lists bringing at least 11 groupings together from across Lebanon to form a unified front.

This electoral district of Kesrouen-Jbeil is made up of seven Maronite MPs and one Shiite and there are 167,818 registered voters.

Sources from the FPM believe Roukoz’s list can win five seats, leaving the real battle down to the two or three other seats.

However, sources have pointed out that with this election being the first to use the proportional law and the system of a preferential vote each candidate needs to be individually selected could well affect the voter's choices on the day.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 01, 2018, on page 2.

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