No surprises in new round of municipal elections

Sunday 29/05/2016
Voter turnout was modest due to lack of electoral competition

BEIRUT - There were no major sur­prises in the third round of Lebanon’s municipal elec­tions, covering the South Lebanon and Nabatiyeh governorates. Nor did observers expect any upset along the lines of those seen in the first two rounds of voting.
The third round of the municipal elections took place in areas domi­nated by Lebanon’s Shia communi­ty and the country’s two main Shia parties — Hezbollah and the Amal Movement — which formed an elec­toral coalition dubbed the Develop­ment and Loyalty list.
The slate dominated the electoral scene, despite growing competition from independent candidates. The emerging presence of grass-roots candidates and electoral lists ech­oes a phenomenon seen in the first and second rounds of municipal elections and was the only striking development in the third round.
Whenever Shia-led protests would break out against the gov­ernment in Beirut, or rallies would be staged in southern Lebanon to criticise international powers or the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Hezbollah would point to the power of the ahali of the south. However, for the first time, those families threw their weight behind Hezbollah’s opponents, backing lo­cal grass-root candidates and elec­toral lists.
Although the families-backed candidates did not succeed in un­seating Hezbollah, the switch in support could cause repercussions in future elections.
Hours before the start of polling, Hezbollah Secretary-General Has­san Nasrallah called on Hezbollah supporters to make sure to vote to affirm his party’s popularity and electoral legitimacy.
However, voter turnout was mod­est due to a lack of any real electoral competition with some Develop­ment and Loyalty candidates run­ning virtually unopposed.
As for the families-backed elec­toral candidates, they put up a strong fight based on a general feel­ing of discontent in southern Leba­non towards Hezbollah’s continued dominance of the region based on the pretext of the “resistance”, but were ultimately unable to succeed.
There can also be no doubt that this phenomenon of grass-roots political engagement has begun to concern Hezbollah, with Nasrallah calling on people to remain loyal to his party. Senior Hezbollah fig­ures expressed concern that this phenomenon could go beyond the south and affect the party’s stand­ing nationwide and its dominance of Lebanon’s Shia community.
The results of the third round of elections ultimately confirmed — as was demonstrated in the pre­vious two electoral rounds — the dominance of the major parties, which likely indicates their future dominance of parliamentary elec­tions. This is because the current majoritarian electoral system — as opposed to the proportional repre­sentation system — guarantees the ascendancy of the major parties.
This raises the question of to what extent these parties will accept elec­toral reform given that the current system guarantees their electoral success.
The third round of elections also saw strong left-wing mobility, with the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) winning important victories. New LCP Secretary-General Hanna Gharib sought to promote its “resist­ance” credentials but was careful to frame the contention as resistance against corruption — a campaign policy that Hezbollah failed to learn from.
The Christian community in southern Lebanon remained under the sway of the country’s two main Christian parties — the Free Patri­otic Movement and the Lebanese Forces, which formed a coalition that crosses the March 14 and March 8 alliance divide.
The Christian coalition secured a hard-fought victory in the Bekaa city of Zahle against local candi­dates. It also won an important par­liamentary by-election in Jezzine.
However, the real victory was for Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, who confirmed his popularity among Lebanon’s Chris­tian electorate, including in major cities such as Zahle, Jounieh and Jezzine, in a manner that strength­ened his presidential ambitions.
The electoral battle in Sidon, a Sunni stronghold and the so-called “capital of the south’, was also in­teresting. The fierce electoral battle over the home town of former prime minister Rafik Hariri ended with a victory for the Future Movement, which is led by his son Saad Hariri.
The victory confirmed the Fu­ture Movement’s dominance of the city at a time its opponents were counting on the party’s decline fol­lowing financial troubles related to construction company Saudi Oger. The victory affirms that Hariri’s long absence from the country has not troubled his popular standing, and confirms his leadership of the Fu­ture Movement.
The final round of Lebanon’s elec­tions is set for the North Lebanon governorate.