SIDON, Lebanon: The battle for the Sidon-Jezzine district in May’s parliamentary elections is expected to be a heated test of the Future Movement’s popularity in its stronghold. The upcoming vote has already caused a political surprise in terms of alliances in the area.
Although the Future Movement in the district, represented by Sidon MP Bahia Hariri, allied itself with Lebanon’s Muslim Brotherhood branch Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya and former Sidon Mayor Abdul-Rahman Bizri for the 2016 municipal elections, the three are entering this year’s electoral battle on opposing sides.
There are four main lists contesting the May 6 parliamentary elections: one that brings together the Future Movement and independent candidates; an alliance of the Free Patriotic Movement, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya and Bizri; a joint list that will include Popular Nasserite Organization leader Osama Saad and Ibrahim Azar; and another list that will include the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party.
The lists will be courting the district’s 122,382 registered voters for one Catholic, two Maronite and two Sunni seats.
“Over the past years, Hariri only presented us with promises. We are the ones who provided her with our votes in the 2009 parliamentary elections,” Ahmad Jardali, head of Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s electoral campaigners, told The Daily Star.
Jardali said that pressure had been exerted to prevent the alliance from taking place.
“But we broke the monopoly of nomination and the victory of any member from the list is a triumph for the whole list,” he said noting that Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya will not take part in any future alliance with the Future Movement.
During her meetings with residents of the district, Hariri acknowledged the challenge ahead in the electoral battle.
Visitors quoted her saying that previously the Popular Nasserite Organization leader Saad was the Movement’s main opponent, but now she is surrounded by the tripartite alliance.
Sources close to the Future Movement said they failed to bring Bizri to their side, explaining that they parted ways with Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya for regional reasons.
The Future Movement’s list for Sidon-Jezzine is expected include the following candidates: Hariri and Hasan Shamseddine for two Sunni seats; Amin Rizk and Angel Khawand for the two Maronite seats; and Robert Khoury for the Catholic seat.
The sources added that the Future Movement will find it challenging to get a high total number of votes, but that it will focus on Sidon in order to garner as many votes as possible.
Nevertheless, the Future Movement is preparing itself for the fact that it might lose the Sunni seat currently occupied by Sidon MP Fouad Siniora, who decided not run.
The sources said that it is eyeing the Catholic seat in Jezzine.
These developments came as Change and Reform bloc member of Parliament Amal Abou Zeid Monday registered the “Sidon and Jezzine Together” list as the deadline for ticket registration ended.
Bizri and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya’s official Bassam Hammoud will be contesting the Sunni seats, Abou Zeid and Ziad Aswad the Maronite seats and Salim Khoury the Catholic seat.
This list was assembled after several meetings that began weeks ago with Bizri saying it reflected a unification of powers in the area.
“After a lot of discussions, we decided that our list is a model one that matches with the Lebanese reality and that we are proud of it,” Bizri said during a meeting last week.
Saad, along with Azar – the son of late Jezzine MP Samir Azar –formed the “For All People” list, backed by the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
Saad and Abdel-Qader al-Basat will be running for the Sunni seats, Azar for one of the Maronite seats and Youssef Skaff for the Catholic seat in the district. After defeat in the 2009 parliamentary elections, Saad is looking for a strong comeback.
He said that the list’s candidates will attempt to spearhead change in the country and bring the demands of Sidon and Jezzine to Parliament.
The fourth list, which doesn’t seek to contest all seats, will bring together the LF and Kataeb.
It will include Ajaj Haddad for the Catholic seat, Joseph Nohra for the Maronite seat and Samir al-Bizri for the Sunni seat.
Electoral experts have said that this list – dubbed as the “Ability to Change” list – was likely to be the weakest for the district in terms of gaining votes.
But what do some of Sidon’s residents think about all of this?
They are largely divided, with each supporting the list that they see as representing them the best.
Adnan Mesto, who supports Saad's list, said that the next phase focuses on pushing voters to turn out for them.
But for voter Adnan al-Bizri, although this alliance is good, he said that it should be translated on election day through what the people actually want. “I am sure [Abdul-Rahman] Bizri will make it to Parliament,” he said.