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Lebanon News

As elections near, tensions within Tripoli municipality abate

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati attends the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 25, 2013. (REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: A two-year-old political crisis in Tripoli is showing signs of abating as politicians bury old hatchets in a bid to rush through development projects ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, both of whom are Tripoli lawmakers, are in a race against the clock to fulfill their promises of development projects in Tripoli.

Mikati has begun to acknowledge long-simmering conflicts and has organized meetings with local stakeholders and ministers to stimulate the dormant development projects in the city.

While these meetings are a key development, it is not yet clear whether such moves will solve disputes in the municipality or if it is only to buy time before a replacement for controversial Mayor Nader Ghazal has been secured.

The positive climate that resulted in a consensual list of candidates being elected to the Municipality of Tripoli in 2010 has been replaced with a mood of acrimony and infighting between different political factions, halting any prospects for development projects or stability.

The 2010 municipal elections took place during a time of amity among local leaders and produced consensual municipal councils in the northern cities of Tripoli and Mina.

The members were selected as a result of close coordination between Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi, former Prime Minister Omar Karami and the Future Movement.

The political consensus was embraced by politicians from across the board, but was slammed by activists and members of civil society, who described it as a “theft” of democratic principles and the right of any citizen to vote for their representative.

Leaders of the city defended their agreement as a means to protect Tripoli against external threats, such as political disagreements at a national level, which would spread to the city.

But only a year’s time was enough to expose the fragility of the alliance, which was shattered after Mikati accepted the role of forming a government following the toppling of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Cabinet.

In 2010, rivalries were put aside in Tripoli as members loyal to Mikati, Safadi, Karami, Mohammad Kabbara and the Future Movement all agreed to elect Ghazal to the post of mayor.

But since then, any sense of consensus has crumbled. All of Ghazal’s backers – except a minority loyal to Karami and a few independent members – have now withdrawn their support for the mayor.

Ghazal’s supporters-turned-opponents have begun criticizing his overall administration and accusing him of lacking financial transparency regarding allocations and his travels abroad.

Out of 24 members of Tripoli’s municipal council, 14 convened at a news conference last September and urged the mayor to yield to the majority’s agenda, warning that his failure to comply would polarize the council.

Ghazal’s appointment of 100 new municipal police officers spurred intense debate and further escalation of the conflicts among members of the municipal council. His critics accused him of failing to consult with the council and acting unilaterally.

The council’s activity has been totally paralyzed due to the ongoing tension, which some have called a “mutiny” within the municipality.

Supporters of Ghazal have said the members are attempting to “sabotage” the mayor, which would eventually lead to his relinquishing his post.

Today, signs of confusion and friction between Ghazal’s opponents and supporters are evident throughout the municipality. Though the council’s members are still forced to communicate every once in a while in order to address the deteriorating security situation in the city, little has been done to encourage development projects or attract investment.

Ghazal has threatened to resign should he continue to be treated as a scapegoat for the political arm-wrestling going on in the council.

He said he has done everything in his capacity to draw the attention of Mikati, Safadi and the Future Movement to the infighting that had plagued the municipal council.

In response to the bickering among members of the municipality, Future MP Samir Jisr held a long meeting at his home in Tripoli that was attended by Ghazal and his opponents who are loyal to the Future Movement.

Following the meeting Ghazal said that he was optimistic and called for Mikati to exert efforts to bring together all members of the municipal council and resolve their differences.

Ghazal has since said that he hasn’t received a clear answer from Mikati when it comes to resolving the problems faced by the municipality, indicating that Mikati was not willing to exert any pressure on the opponents of the mayor.

Also, members of the municipal council loyal to Safadi announced that conflicts with Ghazal would not be resolved, while Kabbara said that Ghazal had succeeded in making everyone his enemy in a short time.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 05, 2013, on page 4.

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