BEIRUT: Candidates from the Lebanese Forces and March 14 edged out their rivals to win a majority of seats at the largest faculty in Universite Saint Joseph’s student elections Wednesday, retaking it from the Free Patriotic Movement and its allies.
The March 14 student coalition won 12 out of 24 faculties across Beirut with nine faculties going to their March 8 rivals, and three to independent candidates.
The electoral contest mainly pitted the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb Party (Phalange) and Future Movement against the FPM, Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and other March 8 groups. The Progressive Socialist Party boycotted the race for the second year.
Since the majority of USJ students are Christian, the LF and FPM view the polls as a form of referendum on their popularity among Christian students.
Candidates from the LF and its allies took nine seats in the Faculty of Business and Management at the Campus of Social Sciences on Huvelin Street in Beirut, while rivals from the FPM and March 8 groups won six seats.
The faculty is the largest among USJ faculties – boasting around 1,500 students – and the contest there is referred to as “the mother of battles.”
There are also a significant number of Hezbollah and Amal supporters among the faculty’s students.
The LF and its allies also won a majority of seats in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Insurance on the same campus. Independent candidates won at the Institute of Political Sciences.
On other campuses, the FPM and March 8 groups won in the faculties of engineering, dentistry, arts, nutrition and translation. The Lebanese Forces and its allies won the majority of seats at the Faculty of Pharmacy.
Members of the March 8 list in the Faculty of Business and Management campaigned under the slogan “Don’t complicate it, it is very simple,” while their rivals chose “Reconstruction.”
Supporters of various lists wore sweatshirts bearing their slogans, while students supportive of Hezbollah and Amal wrapped kufiyehs around their necks to commemorate Ashoura.
Some candidates campaigned on their record. Michel Kiwan, a candidate from the FPM at the Faculty of Business and Management, said that the March 14-dominated Student Council made no achievements for the students in the academic year 2010-2011.
“We won last year and implemented between 90 percent and 95 percent of our agenda,” Kiwan said. “We provided students with course packs at a much lower cost and we organized parties.”
But Johny Spanioli, a graduate student at the same faculty and an LF candidate, dismissed Kiwan’s claims.
“We distributed course packs for students for free when we won and we did so when we lost as well,” he said.
Spanioli said his list’s agenda was divided in four sections – academic, cultural, humanitarian and events – but said politics was the decisive factor.
“Students care least for the agenda – they vote based on political affiliations. This is a political battle par excellence pitting the Lebanese Forces against Hezbollah,” Spanioli said.
Qassem Hashem, the Hezbollah representative at the Faculty of Law, accused the LF of drumming up sectarian sentiment in the campus.
“We do not take part in elections based on sectarianism – our battle is not against Christians. We are promoting a cause,” he said.
Joseph Utayyeq, USJ’s official in charge of students, said that polling went without incident: “Students at the university [came to] a gentlemen’s agreement last week, promising to adhere to the requirements of the democratic game.”
Electronic voting was adopted this year in all USJ faculties for the first time after a trial run last year.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, whose members monitored polls in all USJ faculties, praised the use of electronic voting, adding that USJ was among the first universities to adopt proportional representation.
The statement said that elections guaranteed the secrecy of ballots, but said that some polling centers were not equipped to receive the handicapped.
LADE added that campaign staff from various parties pressured students to vote for certain lists.
Army personnel and members of the Internal Security Forces deployed near the campus’s entrance.
“I voted for the March 14 list because this is the university of [late President] Bashir Gemayel,” said a student, requesting anonymity.
Jamal, another student, voted for the March 8 list because his friends were on it, but didn’t think the outcome of the elections mattered much.
“Two years ago, March 14 students won and last year the March 8 won and both did nothing,” he said.