Beirut: Uneven turnout as Lebanese vote

The Daily Star, Lebanon
May 10 2004

Uneven turnout as Lebanese vote
christians allegedly unhappy with election law

By Nayla Assaf
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: The municipal council elections in the capital were marked
by an extremely low turnout Sunday, a sharp contrasted with voter
participation in Baalbek.

In the Bekaa, turnout levels varied greatly from one region to
another, but overall it was much higher than Beirut, with 70 percent
in Baalbek and 40 percent in Zahle.

Beirut, on the other hand, had a 23 percent turnout – half what the
Interior Ministry projected.

Apart from the arrest of seven Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)
supporters for 30 minutes in Achrafieh, no wide-scale clashes were
reported. But observers said participation was extremely low among
Christian voters due to “an unjust electoral law” seen by many as
unlikely to bring about a representative council.

Interior Minister Elias Murr dismissed such claims Sunday evening,
saying turnout was low among Christians and Muslims.

According to Ziad Baroud, the secretary-general of the Lebanese
Association for Democratic Elections, three major irregularities
took place throughout the day: including a marked delay in issuing
voting cards and a delay opening doors for voters in some polling
stations – caused by a lack of representatives.

The electoral law stipulates there should be at least two campaign
delegates for two different lists present in each station.

“We did not see any tangible evidence of bribery, but there were
repeated reports of bribery coming from throughout Beirut,” Baroud
said, adding that the low voter turnout was proof that there is a
problem in the municipal law.

“While the Bekaa had an acceptable turnout, the level in Beirut was
extremely low, which is proof that people feel the elections will not
be representative of their choice,” he said. “It is unfair that
Beirut was divided into three districts for the parliamentary
elections of 2000 and that it remains one district for the municipal

Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, one of the heavyweights in the Beirut
elections, was among the first to vote, reportedly casting his ballot
at his Bliss Street registry at 7.30am.

Hariri called on voters to “vote, vote and vote,” reiterating his
campaign slogan.

“Elections are a guarantee of democracy. If we want a true democratic
system, we have to vote,” he said, adding that he was convinced that
Beirut voters would vote for “coexistence.”

On the other hand, former MP Najah Wakim, backing the opposition
list, said: “Hariri was trying to avoid an electoral battle in
Beirut, but the opposition list changed these calculations by forming
a second list.”

According to Wakim, the opposition produced a democratic environment
by offering Beirut voters a choice.

He then lashed out at Hariri, insinuating that the premier was buying

“Our list will now force Hariri to add some $3 million and buy more
votes,” Wakim said.

Although Wakim doubted that his list would achieve a considerable
victory, he said it has already achieved a political victory, because
it was able to form an opposition list.

Asked about the accusation that the Hariri-backed list bribed voters,
Beirut MP Ghattas Khoury, who is a member of Hariri’s bloc said,
“those are mere rumors.”

Khoury, who along with most of Hariri’s MPs was taking an active role
on the ground, said the Hariri-backed list did not need to resort to
bribery “since it is the only complete, multi-color list in Beirut.”

This confidence was displayed by the entire Hariri camp throughout
the day.

Campaigners for the list were the most numerous in all stations
visited by The Daily Star, with the delegates of the
opposition-backed Dignity and Change list also showing a high

As for the third list, the Beirut’s People list, its presence was
mostly noticeable in the areas of Raouche, Aisha Bakkar and Mazraa.

Many Christian voters were reportedly discouraged by the elections
and either failed to show up or only voted for the mukhtars and not
for municipal council members.

This, according to a source at the FPM was due to the lukewarm
backing of other Christian opposition parties. Another source
attributed this lack of participation as “remnants of the traditional
mindset which allocates areas as turfs to one leader or another.”

The source said that most opposition parties cannot shake off this
mindset and allow themselves to make deals with Hariri by “staying
away from his turf, so he would stay away from theirs.”

The FPM considers that it led the battle almost solo with Wakim and
the Communist Party since the Phalange opposition, the Lebanese
Forces and the Qornet Shehwan Christian opposition group did not
truly encourage their supporters to vote, despite the fact that they
were officially backing the opposition list.

“With Hariri’s circles spreading news that their victory is
guaranteed and after the defeats in Mount Lebanon, our opponents were
able to hold a systematic discouragement campaign,” he said. “As to
our allies, I think that they were telling their followers under the
table to only vote for mukhtars,” he added.

In the Bekaa, Syria had put its political weight in an attempt to
block all opposition parties from getting hold of winning municipal
seats. The alliance between Hizbullah and the Lebanon branch of the
pro-Syria Baath Party prevailed on the ground over all other
alliances, such as those between the Communists, Nationalist and Amal

Christian opposition parties such as the LF, the FPM and the Phalange
Rank and File failed to form complete lists or be included in the
major lists in such key Christian towns as Zahle and other villages
of the Western Bekaa.

The hotspots of the Bekaa were the towns of Zahle and Baalbek, where
the race remained mostly between different loyalist parties. What was
noticeable in both was the near-absence of Christian opposition.

In many villages, Hizbullah and Amal headed opposing lists. Sheikh
Naim Qassem, Hizbullah’s deputy secretary-general, even lashed out at
the Amal list on Saturday, calling them “enemies of god,” which they
felt was insulting.

According to Justice Minister Bahij Tabbara, 70 judges were
dispatched to oversee the tabulation committees. He also said that
last week’s delay in the issuing of the results for Mount Lebanon has
compelled the ministry to dispatch seven additional tabulation

The municipal council for Beirut, the largest in the country, holds
24 seats, while there are 108 seats for mukhtars, which are
distributed in the capital’s three districts.

Among the 420,000 eligible voters for Beirut, only 210,000 voters had
electoral cards and a meager 75,000 voted.

The major lists for Beirut were the Beirut Dignity list headed by
current Mayor Abdel-Monem Aris and backed by Hariri and the
opposition list called Dignity and Change and backed mainly by the
FPM, Wakim’s People’s Movement, the Communist Party and other
Christian poles of influence such as the Phalange opposition and the

The third list, the Beirut’s People List had five Muslim names and
was headed by Itani.

In the previous elections of 1998, Hariri’s list had won 23 out of 24

Foul play?

BEIRUT: Hizbullah campaign delegates in Achrafieh, Port and Mazraa
were seen distributing to voters the list supported by Premier Rafik
Hariri, with the name of Amal Movement Fadi Shahrour crossed out.

Standing in front of Gemmayzeh’s Sacre Coeur School, black-clad
Hizbullah women distributed a list to The Daily Star with Shahrour’s
name crossed out. A few seconds later, a delegate snatched the paper
from the reporter and handed out a second list, on which Shahrour’s
name was included. “The other delegate made a mistake and gave you
the wrong paper,” she said.

But, the “mistake” was not unique, as all other delegates were
distributing the list without Shahrour’s name.

Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab insisted that the party
was “committed to the agreement we made with Hariri, and we will not
cross out any names on the list.

“I don’t know how to explain the accident,” he said.

However, Imad Mahed, an Amal Movement representative in Beirut, said
Shahrour’s name was indeed crossed out from the list, and that ballot
boxes will reveal this.

In several polling stations, campaign delegates for the Tashnak Party
were handing voters a paper where they should write their name in
Armenian, as well as where they voted, and the ID number of their
electoral card.

Some considered such action an “anti-democratic attempt from the
party to control the election.”

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections checked the paper
and found “no illegal” substance in its content. LADE
secretary-general Ziad Baroud said, “We called the Tashnak Party to
ask them why they were using this paper. They said it was for
organizational purposes.”

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS