THU 21 - 11 - 2019
Date: Mar 30, 2019
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon: Winner of Tripoli election appeal says will not run in by-election
Jamali victory appears set after Naji boycott
BEIRUT: Former parliamentary candidate Taha Naji announced Friday he will not run in a Tripoli by-election that was triggered by a successful appeal he filed against the election results last year.

"The rightful winner does not enter a battle against the losers," Naji said during a televised news conference. Naji, along with MP Faisal Karami, who headed the electoral list on which Naji ran, have maintained that Naji should have been directly appointed after the decision last month to annul the election of the Future Movement’s Dima Jamali. The Constitutional Council ruling had given a very slight edge to the National Dignity list over the Future Movement for Jamali’s seat. However, it deemed the difference too negligible to give the seat to Naji outright, citing as well that the election itself “had defects.”

"We, as the Karama party and the National Dignity electoral list will boycott these elections and do not recognize their legitimacy," Karami said at the news conference.

Karami alleged that the Future Movement was directly involved in putting political pressure on the Constitutional Council to call a new election, which Jamali is likely to win, rather than hand the seat to Naji. "This is a political opportunity to tell the Constitutional Council: 'You made a mistake, oh Constitutional Council,' and to tell the politicians who use the slogans of reform and fighting corruption that the first act of corruption by this government was ... the theft of a parliamentary seat," he said.

Though Naji is out of the field, former MP Misbah Ahdab, who was formerly allied with the Future Movement, announced his candidacy on Friday, the last day of the candidate filing period.

The Tripoli by-election is slated for April 14, and Interior Minister Raya El Hassan had set the end of the filing period at midnight March 29. The deadline for candidates to withdraw is April 3.

Jamali had declared her intent to run the same day and launched her campaign two weeks later. Backed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement, she is considered the heavy favorite.

In addition to Ahdab and Jamali, the nephew of MP Mohammad Kabbara, Samer Kabbara, Yahya Mawloud of the Tahalof Watani coalition and Omar Sayyed will be running in the election.

Jamali victory appears set after Naji boycott

Benjamin Redd & Timour Azhari| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Dima Jamali appeared virtually assured to regain her parliamentary seat in next month’s Tripoli by-election after her main potential challenger announced Friday he would boycott the election.

“The rightful winner does not enter a battle against the losers,” a defiant Taha Naji said during a televised news conference Friday. Naji won the electoral appeal at the Constitutional Council that unseated Jamali on Feb. 21. While the court found that Naji had indeed won in the May 2018 national elections - by a single vote - it ordered a new election rather than naming him Jamali’s replacement.

Supporters of Naji and the list he was on - that of MP Faisal Karami - were furious at what they saw as a hollow victory.

“We, as the Karama Party and the National Dignity electoral list will boycott these elections and do not recognize their legitimacy,” Karami said at Friday’s news conference. “This is a political opportunity to tell the Constitutional Council: ‘You made a mistake, Constitutional Council,’ and to tell the politicians who use the slogans of reform and fighting corruption that the first act of corruption by this government was ... the theft of a parliamentary seat.”

Naji’s announcement answered the final remaining question surrounding the April 14 election, and paved the way for a sweeping victory for Jamali.

“It won’t be a serious election. Jamali will win,” pollster Abdo Saad told The Daily Star. But he added a caveat: “There will be a very low turnout - perhaps 15 to 20 percent.”

The North II district - which included Tripoli and two less-populous areas - saw just 36 percent turnout in 2018. The by-election will be held only in the subdistrict of Tripoli. Having a low turnout could attach a silent asterisk to Jamali, should she win. And legitimacy is already a word on the lips of one of Jamali’s remaining foes.

“My candidacy is to say they don’t really have legitimacy of representation,” said Misbah Ahdab, a former MP who tossed his hat in the ring Friday, the final day to do so. By “they,” Ahdab meant not just Jamali and the Future Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, but all the major powers in Tripoli, including former Prime Minister Najib Mikati and former Minister Mohammad Safadi.

Safadi has announced his support for Jamali, while Mikati did so implicitly at an appearance with her and Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri last Friday.

The Daily Star was unable to reach Jamali to comment for this story.

Ahdab, who was allied with the Hariris during his three terms in office from 1996 to 2009, scoffed at the notion that he might win at the ballot box.

“Of course not,” he said. “I’m not spending one penny. It would be a waste.” The point of his candidacy is “to win a political battle against them, not an electoral one.”

Another candidate is less dour on the prospects of winning on April 14. “We know it’s a difficult battle, and the people in power will do everything to manipulate [the vote],” said Yahya Mawloud, who like Ahdab unsuccessfully ran in the 2018 elections. “But I won’t know [who wins] until April 15.”

Mawloud styles himself as an opposition figure - a common theme among outside politicians in Tripoli - and ran with the Tahalof Watani civil society coalition last year. Tahalof Watani has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Tripoli by-election.

“My main battle is against all these political parties that are ruling,” he said.

“They got into power 30 years back. But they have been irresponsible and the situation is going from bad to worse.”

Among Tripolitans, complaints abound over the city’s stagnant economy, unemployment and lack of investment.

“I believe the Lebanese people deserve a better life,” Mawloud said. “People want a change.”

Mawloud doesn’t believe Tripoli’s political powers are truly popular. “I know people don’t want to vote for them. ... [But] maybe they don’t want to risk their jobs or their stability,” he said, referring to Lebanon’s clientelistic system of politics. “But every one of these people believes we can give a better option to voters.”

Voters will likely have several options on April 14 - although candidates have until Wednesday night to withdraw.

As of Friday evening, at least five candidates had declared: Jamali, Ahdab, Mawloud, Samer Kabbara and Omar al-Sayyed. The deadline to file was midnight, after The Daily Star went to print.

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