JEZZINE, Lebanon: A looming crisis in the municipality of Jezzine has been averted after incumbent Mayor Walid Helou and his supporters agreed to step down and install a new administration, a senior political source told The Daily Star.
The official said that an agreement had been reached to end the deadlock. Helou and his deputy would formally step down, a move that would be followed with new municipal council elections that are expected to see the ascendency of Khalil Harfoush, the head of the Union of Jezzine Municipalities, as the new mayor.
According to sources in Jezzine closely familiar with the issue, the new agreement had the blessing of Free Patriotic Movement head Gen. Michel Aoun, as the crisis threatened to dismantle the municipal council.
Tensions were high after opposing members within the FPM and their allies in Jezzine reportedly rejected a previous agreement that Helou would resign at the end of his three-year mayoral term to be replaced by Joseph Rahhal. Both men belong to the FPM.
The crisis arose when Helou refused to step down once his three-year-term was up, snubbing the deal allegedly struck with Aoun prior to the municipal elections in Jezzine. Instead of resigning, he renewed his mandate with the council and his deputy last June, without notifying the Interior Ministry.
Soon after, members of the council filed complaints over Helou’s term and questioned the legitimacy of his leadership. Some exposed details of Helou’s financial dealings, alleged theft and mismanagement of funds, as well as nepotism, a practice which led to a rise in contract employees to 80 from 27.
Consequently, Helou and members of the municipal council were referred by the caretaker Interior Minister to the Higher Commission for Discipline, because Helou did not implement required administrative regulations and did not abide by the prescribed laws before renewing his mandate.
The municipal council had set a date to confront Helou with the allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement during a council session. However, when the mayor learned he would have to defend himself against the accusations, he and eight municipal council members threatened to resign.
However, some sources said that selecting Harfoush as Helou’s successor would not resolve the roots of the crisis in the municipality, as the new mayor represents a loss for MP Michel Helou, who is at odds with the incumbent mayor, his relative.