Lebanon News

Election fever grips Maronite heartland

Maronite bishops at their monthly meeting in Bkirki.

BEIRUT: It is not surprising that Kesrouan draws much attention from Christian leaders, especially in the run-up to municipal and parliamentary elections. Kesrouan is overwhelmingly Maronite, and as a result in 2005 and 2009 fierce electoral battles were waged in the district, whose residents are known for their preference for homegrown politicians who are dedicated to the area.

The district has witnessed significant political posturing between the country’s two major Christians sides, the Free Patriotric Movement, which won the majority of Kesrouan’s five parliamentary seats in the previous two elections, and the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb (Phalange) Party and independent Christian officials.

With parliamentary elections about a year-and-a-half away, these divisions – as well as the disputes they ignite – seem likely to continue, even if the names of the candidates are different from previous years.

A quick look at current political attitudes in Kesrouan shows that the FPM still has popular support, even if it is not at the same levels as five years ago. Supporters of FPM leader Michel Aoun still subscribe to his viewpoints, especially his alliance with the resistance, his stance against corruption and his efforts to change the composition of the Cabinet, despite his party’s many ministers.

On the other side of the divide, the LF is seeking to reorganize itself, a process that is being led by Shawqi Dakkash, a party official in Kesrouan who was a candidate in the 2005 parliamentary elections. There were reports that LF leader Samir Geagea made a statement that he would personally supervise the party’s campaign in Kesrouan in 2013, but this was denied by Dakkash.

Dakkash said that “preparations have already started, and a meeting took place in Merab between Geagea and Kesrouan mayors and mukhtars, who voiced their admiration for the LF leader’s participation, regardless of his specific political views.”

He added that during the meeting, Geagea focused mainly on Fouad Shehab, a famous political official who hailed from Kesrouan, and whom Geagea described as a “man of institutions.” According to Dakkash, this meant that “the Lebanese Forces are reasserting their commitment to the project of the state as the only guarantee for domestic relations between political forces, and the only thing that can be trusted to ensure public order and the work of public institutions.”

As for the Kataeb Party, its Kesrouan campaign is being run by Sajaan Qazzi, a member of the politburo who according to sources has a rocky relationship with the LF over some minor differences in opinion.

The framework for the alliance between the two parties is based on March 14’s guiding principles, which include working to establish a strong state whose authority extends across the country, the belief that Hezbollah’s arms should be turned over to the Lebanese Army, and commitment to international justice, including the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The parties’ commitment to these major principles remains strong, but sometimes politics take priority and some partisans speak of a kind of estrangement between the two over the old disputes on Christian leadership.

Meanwhile, a new generation of candidates are looking to throw their hats into the ring. Among them is engineer Wissam Baroudi, who said that he was studying the political climate to help him secure victory.

Baroudi already has good name recognition as the son-in-law of President Michel Sleiman.

He said his electoral program will focus on both politics and development, and that he has not decided with whom to ally. “If March 14 forces find that they can campaign without alliances with independent candidates, they will not come to me and say, ‘We want to ally with you,’” he said, adding that he was not waiting for an alliance with any particular political group.

Most Kesrouan residents have grown weary of the same political speeches, which focus more on slogans than on action, and perhaps for this reason the district supports independent politicians, including former MPs Farid Khazen, Fares Boueiz, Mansour al-Bon, and Camille Ziadeh, who stand opposed to Aoun with their own bases of popular support.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2012, on page 3.




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