No surprises in new round of municipal elections
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.