Lebanon Elections

Future seeks sweep of West Bekaa

The Litani river is seen from the Western Bekaa village of Saghbin, Saturday, March 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

AITANIT, Lebanon: West Bekaa-Rashaya was one of the last electoral districts where political parties decided alliances and lists, and has proved to be one of the more difficult regions for predicting an outcome. Three lists have been submitted to the Interior Ministry in the district, where 16 candidates will battle for six seats – two Sunni, one Shiite, one Druze, one Maronite and one Orthodox. A “Civil Society” list will compete against one headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and a third list that includes pro-Syrian figures and the Amal Movement.

Traditionally, the region of more than 65,000 Sunni voters has been predominantly represented in Parliament by pro-Future candidates. Shiite and Druze voters for this year each hover at around 20,000 while there are around 30,000 Christian voters.

With the previous 1960s winner-take-all electoral law, the Sunni community determined who became an MP. But with the new proportional law, opposition figures and lists hope to change up these routine results.

Future Movement is backing a list that has candidates for all six seats, unlike its two competitors. MPs Ziad Qaderi, Amin Wehbi and Wael Abu Faour – Sunni, Shiite, and Druze respectively – are the only incumbents running. The “Future for West Bekaa-Rashaya” list hopes to replace the remaining incumbents – Telecommunications Minister Jamal Jarrah and MPs Robert Ghanem and Antoine Saad – with new MPs. Ghassan Skaf, a neurosurgeon at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, is the Orthodox candidate, while Mohammad Qoraawi is the second Sunni candidate. After announcing his candidacy, Qoraawi faced criticism for being close to Syria, but released a statement last week rejecting such claims. Henri Chedid is the Maronite candidate. The 84-year-old businessman previously came up short in his bid to become an MP, but this year may be different.

“He has a strong Christian sentiment and if he wins, he’ll most likely step down after his four-year term, unlike others,” a political source following the elections in the area said.

Saad, a member of the Progressive Socialist Party’s Democratic Gathering bloc, said earlier this week that his not being picked for Orthodox seat on the Future list had made MP Walid Jumblatt “fed up.”

The Future-backed list is likely to win the most seats, but former minister Abdel-Rahim Mrad and his Amal Movement allies believe they have a strong chance of winning at least the Shiite and one Christian seat.

While originally hoping to ally with Future in the district, the Lebanese Forces was ultimately unable to run any candidates after failing to form a list. Under the new vote law, those standing for election cannot do so alone and must run on a list of candidates that covers at least 40 percent of seats in the district.

Despite having candidates across the nation, the LF and the Free Patriotic Movement were unable to put forward any candidates in West Bekaa-Rashaya – likely a sign that the more than 30,000 Christian voters do not approve of the work done by Christian parties over the years.

“The Christians from here are some of the most devout in the country, no doubt, but the major Christian parties only try to do anything for us when elections come around,” George J., from Saghbin, said.

The Future list will face stiff competition from Mrad, the most prominent candidate on the “A Better Tomorrow” pro-Syrian, Amal-backed list. The former minister is the president of Lebanese International University, which has nine campuses across the country. He also enjoys support across all sects in the area.

“When it snows in the winter, he sends his own trucks over here to clear the roads,” Rami M. from Aitanit told The Daily Star. “He sends a Buche de Noel [Yule log] to the Christian families during Christmas.” Although he does not publicly criticize Saudi Arabia, Mrad’s close ties to Hezbollah and Damascus could prove costly as he looks to re-enter Parliament. “He had a chance [to win a seat], but after Hariri re-emerged as the main Sunni leader in Lebanon, Mrad won’t be able to,” the political source said.

Mrad is not the only controversial figure on his list. Another pro-Syrian former MP Faisal Daoud, will be the Druze candidate. Former Deputy Prime Minister Elie Ferzli will be the Orthodox candidate, while Naji Ghanem – a cousin of incumbent Robert Ghanem – is vying for the Maronite seat. Despite failing to secure a candidate in the district, FPM leader Gebran Bassil announced Tuesday that Ferzli will be a part of the FPM’s parliamentary bloc in the event he is elected; however, sources have said that Ferzli will join Speaker Nabih Berri’s parliamentary bloc.

Mohammad Nasrallah, a high-ranking figure in the Amal Movement, is the Shiite candidate. No second Sunni candidate is on the list.

A final “Civil Society” list put forward one candidate each for the Shiite, Maronite and Orthodox seats. Faysal Rahhal and Alaaeddine al-Chemali are the Sunni candidates on the list, which won’t have a Druze candidate.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2018, on page 2.

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