Beirut: Municipal Elections tense in places, calm in others

The Daily Star, Lebanon
May 3 2004

Elections tense in places, calm in others

Daily Star staff

Calm reigns in Aley during municipal contest

Contrary to what was predicted, election day in the qada of Aley was
extremely calm even in the city of Shoueifat, which had witnessed
clashes last week.

With Aley, out of the race because of the uncontested victory of the
list headed by the city’s mayor, Wajdi Mrad, the area remained even
calmer than others.

The battle was mostly concentrated in Shoueifat, the second most
populated town in Aley. Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and
Democratic Party flags were hanging from many balconies. But the heavy
presence of army and Internal Security Forces troops inside and in
front of the town’s three polling stations prevented the recurrence of
an incident.

“Political figures should not interfere in municipal elections.
Municipal polls should remain developmental and internal,” said Hala
Zakaria, one voter from Shoueifat.

Zakaria, who said she voted for the list headed by Haytham Jurdi and
backed by the PSP and the Communist Party, said her choice was
motivated by the names on that list and not by the political parties
backing it “because ultimately, a municipal council member should place
the interests of the municipality above that of his party,” she said.

That attitude prevailed in most villages visited by The Daily Star.

The opposing list, backed by Druze MP Talal Arslan’s Democratic Party
was headed by Walid Souqi.

On another level, the opposition’s participation in Aley was shy.
Rashmaya was the only town where hard-core opposition parties such as
the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces were participating
actively. They backed a list headed by Wajdi Kik, which was contested
by that of retired army General, Victor Abu Selwan.

While its neighboring towns of Chartoun and Ain Traz were quiet,
Rashmaya was swarming with cars and voters, forcing all traffic to stop
for 50 minutes.

Campaigners said that at around noon over 700 people out of the 1300
registered voters had already shown up.

Bhamdoun Station, right above Aley, was supposed to be another hotspot
with an opposition list challenging that of the village’s Mayor Osta
Rjeili. But despite a relatively high turnout – 730 people out of 1200
registered voters – no irregularities or infractions were reported.

North metn

Beit Mery’s 3-list battle sees high number of voters

The municipal election in the Metn was heated in towns and villages
where the opposition groups were active while most areas were calm,
with candidates securing their early victory.

>From Dekwaneh to Bteghrin, there were no clashes or any direct
confrontation between voters or between the competing candidates except
in Bikfaya where some voters were omitted from voting lists.

In Beteghrin, Mirna Murr’s list was the most popular and the candidate,
who is supported by her father Metn MP Michel Murr and her brother
Interior Minister Elias Murr, was very self-confident.

“There is no opposition in Bteghrin and you can see a high voter
turnout,” Mirna Murr said.

Interior Minister Elias Murr voted in his hometown at around 11.30
a.m., while his father, Michel, arrived at around 12.30 p.m. to vote
for his daughter.

Murr was carried to the polling station on shoulders while fireworks
filled the village.

Dekwaneh, which had two lists, also showed the same level of
confidence. Mayor Antoine Shakhtoura, who heads the only completed list
said: “The battle already ended.”

Shakhtoura’s list is opposed by an incomplete list supported by the
Phalange Party opposition faction and the Free Patriotic Movement

In Baabdat, the hometown of President Emile Lahoud, the battle was
quite calm with only one completed list and four individual candidates
running for the election.

President Emile Lahoud did not vote Sunday but his son, Metn MP Emile
Lahoud voted and said he supported the “coalition list.”

Labaki, whose list is supported by Metn MP Nassib Lahoud and Salim
Salhab, asserted that there is no battle in Baabdat.

On the other hand, Beit Mery saw lots of voters from the early morning.
By noon voters had to stand in lines waiting for their turn at the
polling stations while a majority asserted that they did not endorse
entire lists.

The high number of voters in Beit Mery was a result of the heated
battle between three lists.

In Mansourieh, two lists were running for the municipal election and
both expected to win. While the list supported by Joseph Zeidan
asserted it was backed by the FPM, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalange
Party opposition section and the National Liberal Party.

The other list supported by mayor William Khoury, who was said to be
backed by Michel Murr, also insisted his list included members of the
opposition groups.

Jounieh & jbeil

Jounieh elections tension-charged

Jounieh witnessed a higher wave of tension in its municipal battle than
Jbeil. This was mostly due to the power of the “Jounieh’s Future” list
backed by Kesrouan MPs Mansour Bone and George Frem and next to it, the
“All for Jounieh” list backed by Kesrouan MPs Farid Khazen and Fares

In Kesrouan, five municipalities out of 48 won uncontested.

A source close to “All for Jounieh” said Frem was bribing voters.
Joseph Sobeih, a member from the “All for Jounieh” list also said,
referring to Kesrouan MP George Frem, that any hegemony of any party
was to be banned.

Bone, who voted in Ghadir, denied resort to bribery.

“We called people to vote yesterday. We expect to win,” he said. “We
are not afraid of any breach.” But Frem, who voted in Haret Sakhr, said
Lebanese had the opportunity to work according to their conscience in
order to choose the best.

As for MP Farid Khazen, he called the Interior Ministry to have firm
control to ensure an honest municipal election.

Meanwhile, Free Patriotic Movement coordinator Roukoz Mehanna said the
FPM hoped to break into the list.

“If we do, we would have made a great achievement,” Mehanna said. He
also said many families gave in to bribery which had reached Sarba.

Jbeil’s municipal battle was confined to the authority-backed lists and
the opposition. The Jbeil elections are also known as the “three
Generals” battle, (Generals Emile Lahoud, Michel Suleiman and Michel

Telecommunictions Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi said around 4,500 voters
out of 7,879 were to cast their votes, with about 2,100 having voted
before noon.

“We should work for Jbeil development without using it for our own
interests,” said Qordahi. “Parties from outside Jbeil are exerting
pressure on Jbeil. We are concerned with the upcoming years rather than
the direct results of the current battle.”

Chouf & Iqlim al-Kharroub

Calm at times, hot at others

While election day in Chouf and Iqlim al-Kharroub passed peacefully and
free of heavy-handed electioneering, voters in some towns where
political or confessional dividing lines run deep headed to the polls
in an atmosphere as charged as the campaigns which proceeded them.

According to the heads of several voting stations, by 3 p.m.
participation rates had reached 50 percent, a healthy midday turnout
that offered one indication of the significance of the elections for
many residents.

In Deir al-Qamar, where townspeople voted in a festive-like atmosphere,
dancing and chanting in front of campaign offices, two lists vied for
support: One led by retired General Adonis Neameh and the other an
opposition list headed by Liberal Party leader Dori Chamoun and
supported by Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt.

“We and Jumblatt are in the opposition, while the others are obviously
on the government side,” said Chamoun, adding that two members of the
Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) were also on the list. “They want to
serve Beiteddine. They must have a chance to do so,” he said, referring
to the FPM candidates.

In Baaqleen, where former council member Nuha al-Ghuseini was all but
certain to be elected the first woman mayor in Lebanon, consensus ruled
the day as voters went to the polls outside of the town center.

In Mukhtara and 10 other villages, uncontested lists were immediately
declared the winners by default. Similarly, in Druze villages with one
political color, candidates had little to worry about since few
independent individuals ran in the contests.

In Iqlim al-Kharroub however, where former Chouf MP Zaher Khatib failed
to secure an alliance with the Progressive Socialist Party, the race
was heated between a leftist-Hariri-Jumblatt alliance on the one hand
and Al-Jamaah al-Islamieh on the other.

In Ktarmaya and Barja, the dominant families complained that Jamaah had
manipulated the former council and followed an exclusionary policy in
regard to all other prominent figures.


Confusion and alleged irregularities

As more than 139,000 voters in 70 separate districts of the qada of
Baabda went to the polls Sunday, several parties reported sporadic
election irregularities that added to the already charged atmosphere
surrounding municipal elections.

While expressing optimism over the outcome of the contests, Free
Patriotic Movement (FPM) candidate Georges Haddad nonetheless
complained about the heavy presence of Internal Security Force (ISF)
personnel at voting posts in Hadath, which he said resembled “ISF

Haddad also said that most of the distributed candidates’ lists were
wrong because “they included names from other lists.”

Current Hadath Mayor Antoine Karam disputed Haddad’s assessment of the
voting, however, saying that the electoral process had been “dispute

“FPM are acting just like peacocks,” said Karam. “I find it very hard
to imagine that the FPM can breach our list,” he added.

By 5 p.m., a light morning turnout in Hadath of 25 percent had risen to
43 percent.

No election irregularities were reported in Haret Hreik, where only one
independent candidate, Joseph Dakkash, ran against the list backed by

In Chiyah, opposition candidate Mareline Selfani said she wished that
the electoral process had been more democratic.

“Everything started wrong, as our contestants’ representatives were
illegally distributing their electoral tickets on the doors of voting
posts,” she said.

Edmond Gharius, Chiyah’s current mayor was more optimistic, however,
regarding the elections.

Gharius, who is the son-in-law of ex-Interior minister Michel Murr,
said that there had been some administrative problems regarding missing
electoral identity cards, “but,” he said, “it is a thing that happens
during any election.”

Coast of metn

Authorities arrest several voters

Several voters and representatives of opposition candidates on Sunday
were arrested and beaten up in Metn areas, which is considered former
Interior Minister Michel Murr’s turf.

Clashes and confrontations took place between the opposition and the
authoritries, especially in the municipalities of
Jdeideh-Boushrieh-Sadd, Zalka-Amarat Shalhoub, whereas other areas did
not even witness an electoral battle, such as Bourj Hammoud, where the
authority-supported list won uncontested.

A fight between Free Patriotic Movement representatives and some
delegates from Tashnak Party in Jdeideh-Boushrieh-Sadd municipality
resulted in four arrests of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporters.
In addition, a confrontation between delegates from the opposition list
and others from the current municipal council which is backed by the
authorities took place in Zalka-Amarat Shalhoub municipality.

“A delegate from the Michel Assaf Murr (current mayor) took a list from
our delegate and ripped it up, and earlier this morning, voters were
banned from using the booth,” Faddy Massoud, an FPM member said.

However, Murr asserted that everything was under control, “there is no
need for further quarrel, voters will make their choice with no

Meanwhile, a heavy turn-out of naturalized citizens, who do not live in
Mount Lebanon, prompted feelings of anger among opposition
representatives. This group of voters who were granted citizenship
under a disputed law, came from the Bekaa and South areas.

One of the bus drivers said that lists were distributed to them before
they headed out.

“These people don’t even know how to read and write so they don’t even
know who they are voting for,” Eddie Jbeily, an FPM member monitoring
the course of elections at the Jdeideh municipality said.

In Antelias and Dbayyeh, elections took place quietly, and candidates
from both sides asserted on the democratic slant of the elections, and
that results will be decided by voters.