SIDON, Lebanon: Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora Monday ruled out running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, leaving MP Bahia Hariri as the only confirmed Future Movement candidate in Sidon-Jezzine. The areas are being treated as a sole electoral district for the first time in Lebanese history.
Despite Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s efforts Sunday to persuade the former premier to run for one of the district’s two Sunni parliamentary seats, Siniora announced in a news conference held at Parliament Monday that he would not seek elected office and intended to devote himself solely to the private sector.
In the 2009 elections, which were based on a now-superseded 1960 electoral law, Sidon and Jezzine were marked as independent districts. At the time, the Sunni Future Movement won two seats for Sidon MPs, whereas the Maronite-majority Free Patriotic Movement won three for Jezzine.
For the upcoming May 6 elections, which will be based on proportional representation for the first time, the two parties’ exclusive dominance in the areas is expected to come to an end. The new law also provides independent candidates a chance to pick up parliamentary seats.
The Sidon-Jezzine district now has five parliamentary seats up for grabs – two for Sunnis in Sidon and two for Maronites, and one for Catholics in Jezzine – with over 120,000 expected voters, according to the electoral roll.
To date, only four candidates running for the Sunni seats in the district have been confirmed: Future’s Bahia Hariri, the Popular Nasserist Organization’s Osama Saad, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya candidate Bassam Hammoud and former Sidon Mayor Abd al-Rahman al-Bizri, son of the late MP Nazih al-Bizri.
As for the Catholic seat, in 2017 Sidon’s Roman Catholic Bishop Elie Bechara Haddad announced Salim Khoury’s nomination, reportedly marking the first time the church has involved itself in local politics.
However, the nomination hasn’t yet been confirmed by any of the political parties. The Lebanese Forces, meanwhile, nominated Ajaj Haddad for the Catholic seat at a media conference at the party’s headquarters last September.
Although the new electoral law places great significance on coalitions between parties, potential alliances of major parties running in Sidon-Jezzine are still unclear – with the exception of an alliance formed between the Popular Nasserist Organization’s Saad, who is running for one of the two Sunni seats, and Ibrahim Azar, who is running for one of the two Maronite seats.
The alliance is backed by the Shiite duo of the Amal Movement and Hezbollah. There are an estimated over 17,000 Shiite voters in the merged district.
At a glance, the formation of the alliance seems to be an attempt to drive out the Free Patriotic Movement from the district, although the party leaders and activists deny such attempts. “The movement is a sign of unification, not division,” FPM representatives told The Daily Star.
The FPM seems confident of securing at least two of the three Christian seats. After FPM MPs and their two Maronite candidates, Ziad Aswad and Amal Abou Zeid, recently met with Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya and its candidate Hammoud, and separately with Bizri, the former Sidon mayor, rumors of potential alliances were neither denied nor confirmed by the FPM.
Recent positions of Hezbollah’s leaders – especially that of deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem on the issue of electricity and an FPM-supported plan to establish offshore power barges – appeared to directly target the FPM and have been perceived by FPM supporters as an attempt to sabotage any potential electoral alliance.
In Sidon, during an event Saturday where Saad announced his candidacy, the Popular Nasserist Organization member reiterated his position on combating corruption as part of his electoral campaign.
Saad promoted his list formed in alliance with Azar, emphasizing that the two were united by their “common national views.” The full list of candidates in the alliance has yet to be announced.
“We live in a system that created a state for the farmer, while we call for a modern civil state,” Saad said, adding that the power of effecting change is in the hands of the people. “This [current] system does not have any political views, the visions it has are sectarian. ... This system is incapable of facing challenges and dangers, but it is capable of protecting itself. This system has severely damaged state institutions.”
The candidate also pledged to “serve the community of the district” and contribute to the development of national legislative work “in a constructive manner.” He stressed the need to enhance cooperation between residents of the two districts and steer clear of “strife and fanaticism.”
The Future Movement’s candidate, Bahia Hariri, also held a media conference Sunday in Sidon’s Majdalyoun for a team tasked with reviewing achievements since the last parliamentary elections. During the conference, Hariri called on citizens to hold officials accountable by voting in the upcoming elections.
The MP said the parliamentary elections will act as a “station” where the public can stop and review the work of their previously elected MPs. “We are meeting today to go over what was achieved and what wasn’t in Sidon since the 2009 [parliamentary] elections.” A bulk of projects that were set in the 2009 electoral program were adopted and followed by the municipal council headed by Mohammed al-Saudi, Hariri said, adding that some of these projects are underway and new projects were recently added.
Hariri’s conference was attended by different parties that contributed to the 2009 electoral program, based on which, Bahia Hariri and Siniora won in 2009. Youth representatives focused on developing environmental and economic projects also attended.
“Today we have with us fresh young faces that we are proud of, because they are showing great enthusiasm in following up on the cases of their city and helping find solutions to its problems,” Hariri said. – Additional reporting by Gasia Trtrian