BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Politicians call Tripoli mayor’s bluff

Resignation threats have been bandied back and forth for the past two years on Tripoli’s municipal council.

BEIRUT: Nader Ghazal announced this week that he would step down as Tripoli’s mayor next month in protest over the corruption that has plagued the municipality.

But politicians from the March 14 and March 8 camps say that Ghazal, who has yet to formally submit his resignation to the city’s government, will likely stay.

In the 24-member municipal council of Tripoli, threats and counter-threats of resignations from members have been bandied about over the past two years, propelled by internal disputes and competition.

Earlier this year, a group of at least 10 members said they were ready to resign and dissolve the council. Although no one has resigned so far, the disagreements between the council members and Ghazal have paralyzed the body’s work in the city, which has witnessed renewed waves of violence in some of its neighborhoods.

Ghazal was elected as a consensus candidate after the 2010 municipal elections as part of an agreement among the Future Movement, former Prime Minister Omar Karami, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, and city MPs Mohammad Safadi and Najib Mikati.

“This was the first time that there was an agreement on Tripoli’s mayor ever in the history of the city,” said Ghazal. He said he accepted their nomination after receiving a number of assurances from Tripoli’s political figures that he would lead a cohesive council.

“It turns out that this wasn’t the case. It turns out that it was another game to distribute seats between Mikati and the Future Movement,” Ghazal told The Daily Star.

Ghazal’s decision to resign comes seven months before the municipality’s council is set to vote to renew or withdraw its vote of confidence in him.

Ghazal, a former member of AlJamaa al-Islamiya and an engineer, said he could no longer remain silent in the face of the obstacles put by the council’s members in the way of improving the municipality’s work in Lebanon’s second-largest city.

“Every party wants to get its share of the municipality’s resources to use them for electoral gains,” he added.

The accusations are not one-sided. A number of council members have repeatedly accused Ghazal of monopolizing decision-making within the municipality, and relations between the Future Movement and political figures in Tripoli have deteriorated since the collapse of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government in 2011.

These members primarily include officials backed by Mikati, or by Future Movement official and Tripoli MP Samir Jisr.

But politicians from across the political divide are expressing hope that Ghazal will reconsider his decision to resign, if only because it would be difficult to choose a new candidate.

“There are four candidates who want to replace Ghazal but it is very difficult to find a consensus candidate like him,” Future Movement official Mustafa Alloush said.

According to Alloush, Ghazal’s decision to step down from the municipality is an attempt to pressure politicians to resolve the disputes in the council.

“The problems in the council are due to some members’ ambitions to become mayor and administrative disputes, but Ghazal’s decision to resign is not final,” said Alloush, a former council member and a Tripoli MP. “He is trying to resolve the issues of the council by prompting politicians to intervene and pressure the council members.

“The Future Movement is concerned with the work of the council, and we are open to any suggestions by Ghazal that would help resolve the council’s disputes,” Alloush added.

If Ghazal submits his resignation next month, the municipality would likely become another arena of competition between Mikati and Hariri, since the city’s mayor is traditionally Sunni.

Despite that possibility, Interior Ministry Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star that if Ghazal resigns, there will be no political vacuum as municipal laws require the council members to meet with the governor of north Lebanon to elect a new mayor.

“Ghazal’s decision to resign is due to political problems within the council and if he needs to go forward with it, the council can elect a new mayor,” Charbel said.

A Tripoli official close to the council predicted that north Lebanon Governor Nassif Qaloush would refuse the resignation, and would take the initiative to run the affairs of the council himself.

The official also said finding another consensus figure would be difficult, adding that Mikati would seek to avoid a direct confrontation with Hariri.

“Electing a pro-Mikati mayor would be another serious political blow to Hariri, and Mikati does not want that,” he said.

Khaldoun Sharif, an aide to Mikati, declined to comment on Ghazal’s decision to resign, because it had yet to be submitted formally: “Perhaps he won’t resign, so we shouldn’t be hasty and comment on it [now].”

Ghazal is expected to hold a news conference next month to explain the reasons for his decision to step down.

“I will submit a detailed report of my work as mayor of Tripoli and all the obstacles that were placed against my work.”

“The opposition against me in the council is because I stood against corruption,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 28, 2012, on page 4.

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