BEIRUT: The March 14 alliance clenched victory Friday, winning the majority of student council seats at the two campuses of the Lebanese American University. In Beirut, the alliance uniting the Future Movement, Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party won eight out of 15 seats, the Amal Movement secured five seats and two seats went to independent candidates.
Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement students boycotted the elections this year, withdrawing their candidates, and either sitting out of the vote or casting blank ballots.
The March 14 alliance recorded a landslide victory in Byblos, securing 13 out of 15 seats. It isn’t clear if the other two seats were won by independents or Amal-supported candidates. “The atmosphere is the same as last year: calm. The only difference is that some students are boycotting the elections this year, which is their right and we respect that; however, I am not convinced about the reasons” for the boycott, said Raed Mohsen, the dean of students at LAU Beirut.
Mohsen also admitted that some students do vote under peer pressure or in return for rewards or favors, but said that these incidents are not due to a “corrupt system at LAU as some students claim” but as a result of “the corrupt value system in Lebanon.”
“It is a shame that the new generation is participating in such activities,” he added.
Lynn Shami, an unsuccessful candidate running for a seat in the School of Business with the independent Ghayir movement, said that she was against the involvement of politics and sectarianism in elections and on campus in general. “What does the student council have to do with political parties and sects?” she said.
Ibrahim Fleifel, a winning candidate with the Step Forward campaign, which is the coalition of March 14 candidates, said that he will aim to decrease food prices in the cafeteria and find a solution for motorcycle parking.
“I want to work on issues that concern the entire student body and not just a certain political party,” said Niveen Sayegh, a successful candidate running in the School of Business. She added that her biggest priority is “to make LAU students feel happy and like they belong here.”
Rima Jamaleddine, a political science and translation student, said that she voted for an independent candidate from the Ghayir movement of which she is also a part. “I voted independent because I’m against the presence of political parties in university,” she said, adding that this year the elections were more stressful and “some people snatched the phones of voters and voted on their behalf.”
Ghayir won one of the two seats claimed by independents at the Beirut campus. “The elections aren’t as exciting this year because some opponents are not in the race,” Mohamad Mahjoub, representative of the Future Movement, said in reference to the FPM and Hezbollah’s decision to boycott the elections.
A student representative of Hezbollah was given the opportunity to address the students on election day to explain the reasons for the boycott, which include privacy concerns, reported hacking incidents and a general discontent with the voting system.
However, Assistant Vice President for IT Camille Abou Nasr explained that the university has taken extra measures this year to ensure the privacy of the e-voting process. “We have implemented a ‘one time password’ system, which is also used by banks, where the student upon logging into their LAU accounts will receive OTPs to their phones,” he said, adding that only upon entering the specialized password would students be able to vote.
Despite not winning a majority in the council, Amal students celebrated the fact that all five of their candidates won. Students cruised through the streets near the upper gate area of the Beirut campus, Amal flags waving in the air, leaving traffic snarled.
The elections took place between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the two campuses, after which the campuses were vacated to avoid brawls between opposing parties as the results were announced. Observers from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections were present to monitor the overall transparency of elections, listen to complaints by students and record any violations of election rules by voters and candidates.
In the LAU elections, each student can cast one vote for one candidate from their respective school.