|Date: Mar 26, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Lebanon: Vote lists form in droves on eve of deadline|
|Ghinwa Obeid & Benjamin Redd| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: Political parties announced electoral lists in droves over the weekend ahead of the registration deadline at midnight Monday, marking another milestone before May’s parliamentary elections and shaping the battle lines for the coming campaign fights.
As the deadline looms, a war of words has erupted between different political actors, the latest of which involving Prime Minister Saad Hariri, former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi and former Premier Najib Mikati.
The escalation came at the announcement of the Future Movement’s list for the Tripoli-Minyeh-Dinnieh district under the slogan “The Future is for North” at a rally in the northern port city of Tripoli Sunday.
Competing for 11 seats, the list includes candidates like Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara, Samir Jisr, George Bkassini, Dima Jamali, Othman Alameddine and Leila Chahoud.
“Let them all know, those on the lists of [Syrian President] Bashar [Assad] and Hezbollah, directly or indirectly: the era where they could control the decision of Tripoli will not return. The era of discord will not return and the era where they use intelligence services and weapons to impose their power will not return,” Hariri told the crowd of supporters and officials.
The premier also appeared to have directed a subtle jab at Mikati, who said last week during the launch of his electoral list that Tripoli didn’t need a guardian or decision makers from outside the city.
“They come during the election season to tell you that Tripoli refuses tutelage from outside. Ok, but what about Minyeh and Dinnieh, do they also refuse the tutelage? Today I am here to ask for the guardianship of Tripoli, Minyeh and Dinnieh to be placed on me,” Hariri said.
The premier also implicitly blasted Rifi, who is running against the Future Movement across the country.
Hariri criticized Rifi’s attack on Future and his claims that the premier has been giving Hezbollah undue leeway in the government
“As the Future Movement, we are running against Hezbollah with lists almost across all of Lebanon. ... If you’re against Hezbollah to that extent, why are all of your lists running against the lists of the Future movement and specifically the candidates of the Future Movement,” he asked, in a rhetorical address to Rifi.
The premier described the Tripoli-Minyeh-Dinnieh district as the golden triangle that has long been loyal to the Future Movement and his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“The north’s stability, security, development, dignity, Arabism and moderation are the only responsibilities of the ‘Future is for the North’ list, in these elections,” Hariri said.
Mikati and Rifi hit back at Hariri in separate responses.
The former premier brought up Hariri’s visit to Damascus to meet Assad in 2009. Syria and Hezbollah have been implicated in the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 but nothing has been proven.
“The memory of the Lebanese in general and the residents of Tripoli, in particular, are strong. The events of Dece. 19, 2009 that saw an embrace of tutelage are still in their minds,” Mikati, who was considered one of Assad’s allies in Lebanon in the past, said in a tweet. As for Rifi, he called on Hariri to resign from the “Hezbollah government.”
Hariri’s visit to Tripoli Sunday was preceded a day earlier by a visit to Akkar where he announced the members of the “Future is for Akkar” competing for the seven seats in the district.
The Future Movement- and Lebanese Forces-backed list will include candidates like Hadi Hobeiche, Wehbe Katisha and Walid al-Baarini, whose father is running on an opposing list.
The Future and LF alliance also announced Saturday the launch of the “Dignity and Development” 10-member list in Baalbeck-Hermel. The list includes Antoine Habchi, Bakr al-Hujeiri, Ghaled Yaghi and Mohammad Hamieh.
The “Reconciliation” list for the Chouf-Aley district that will bring together the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement was officially launched Saturday from the Mir Amin Palace in Beiteddine.
Led by Teymour Jumblatt, son of PSP head Walid Jumblatt, the candidates emphasized that Mount Lebanon would maintain coexistence between its different constituencies while highlighting the needs and services that must be provided to the area.
“We need to ensure basic services [for the people], such as water and electricity,” Jumblatt said. “I know there is lack of trust between politicians and citizens and so I don’t want to give empty promises, but I want to say that the youth are in need of job opportunities and housing and they also need hope.”
The Free Patriotic Movement Saturday evening announced its electoral program for the coming four years, including cracking down on corruption and providing electricity as well improving the education sector.
“We will spearhead the fight for your presence and your representation,” FPM head and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said. “We freed some of the [Parliament] seats through the [proportional] law and you will free the remaining [seats] with your votes,” Bassil added.
Sources close to the candidate confirmed to The Daily Star that Nicolas Ghosn would be running with the FPM in Koura. Separate sources confirmed that the LF and Kataeb would run a single joint list in the Bsharri, Zgharta, Koura, Batroun district.
By Friday, 31 lists had officially registered at the Interior Ministry. Around 30 other lists were declared over the weekend and are expected to be registered Monday when the ministry’s doors open again at 8 a.m.
Some shocking announcements also came with the flurry of list registrations over the weekend, including the declaration from former Speaker Hussein Husseini Sunday that he was withdrawing from the race. Husseini’s decision was made just as media reported his list was complete.
Meanwhile, speaking Saturday before a delegation of Lebanese football players, Speaker Nabih Berri warned that the electoral rhetoric wasn’t befitting of Lebanon. “If only politicians approach the elections with the same sportsmanship with which you [footballers] compete,” Berri said.