SIDON, Lebanon: With the deadline for candidates to register for the upcoming elections passed, 10 Muslim candidates from Sidon and 17 Christian candidates in Jezzine have registered for the district’s two Maronite, two Sunni and one Catholic seats. The real electoral campaigns for the five seats have now started in earnest in the two cities, which the new electoral law counts as one electoral district for the first time.
All eyes are on whether the Future Movement or Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya will try to form an alliance with the Lebanese Forces who currently hold the Catholic seat in Jezzine.
However, the Future Movement is on the road to forming an alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement, with sources in the party saying that 90 percent of the negotiations have already been agreed.
In Sidon, everyone is waiting to see what list the Future Movement will endorse, based on their alliances. The party has put forward local heavyweight MP Bahia Hariri as well as the relatively unknown Hasan Shamseddine as Sunni candidates. However, with Hariri seen as a shoe-in for one of the two Sunni seats, and the rival Popular Nasserist Organization a strong contender for the other, it remains to be seen if Shamseddine will withdraw his name if Future agree to an alliance with the FPM. Candidates have until March 22 to withdraw their name and get a refund on their fees.
Despite frayed ties between the Future Movement and FPM’s strong runners – current Maronite MPs Ziad Aswad and Amal Abou Zeid – work has been done to ease tensions between the parties, including those related to accusations leveled at Aswad that he is racist.
During several meetings, a proposal was put forth for the FPM to submit a name for one of the two Sunni seats in exchange for the Future Movement putting forward a name for the Catholic seat in Jezzine – currently held by the FPM – as Aswad and Abou Zeid are all but assured the two Maronite seats.
Sources close to Hariri say they are considering all options on the table in terms of alliances, except for one with MP Osama Saad from the Popular Nasserist Organization because, although he is seen by the party as respectable, he is also a political opponent.
As for former Sidon Mayor Abd al-Rahman al-Bizri, son of the late MP Nazih al-Bizri, “we [the Future Movement] haven’t opened the door for negotiations with him and the situation is the same for Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya candidate Bassam Hammoud or any other local candidate,” one source said.
Sources close to Hariri said that Shamseddine had been put forward as they wouldn’t give the second Sunni seat to the Popular Nasserist Organization without a fight.
Sources familiar with the elections in Sidon said that the independent candidates’ alliances in Jezzine did not appear to have enough support to gain seats as latest polling showed they would secure between 400 and 1,000 votes.
This means the LF in Jezzine has a significant number of voters, but not all the parties are keen to align with them over their controversial history in Sidon and its surroundings.
A large portion of Future Movement supporters completely reject an alliance with the LF and have a similar attitude toward Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya over the two parties’ legacy from the civil war.
All the local factions rely heavily on sectarian histories.
An Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya source said: “From the beginning, we didn’t and we won’t align with the LF.”
This article was amended on Sunday, March 11 2018
This story has been updated as it miss-reported that the Catholic seat in Jazzine is currently held by the Lebanese Forces. The seat is currently held by the Free Patriotic Movement MP Issam Sawaya, however, the LF has a sizable number of supporters in the district and are believed to have a good chance at winning the district's Catholic seat.