BEIRUT: The much-anticipated student elections at the Lebanese University will yet again be postponed until the establishment of bylaws for a unified student union that will represent all LU faculties, according to LU president Adnan Sayyed Hussein, who estimates the process will take two months.
“We will finish the bylaws and immediately hold polls in all faculties of the university, barring extraordinary circumstances,” Sayyed Hussein told The Daily Star, describing committee members as “eager to finish laying down the bylaws [for the National Union of Lebanese University Students] as soon as possible.”
Suspended for four years because of political turmoil in the country, LU student elections were supposed to be held in January, after a one month postponement for logistical reasons. Under an agreement reached in October by a committee of representatives of political parties at the university, this month’s elections were to be the last before the bylaws were finalized.
However, it was decided that it would be more efficient for the bylaws to be settled before the elections, according to Sayyed Hussein.
“Given that the parties have promised to finish laying down the bylaws as soon as possible, there would be no point in holding elections twice [before and after laying down the bylaws],” he said.
Holding student elections before the committee finalizes bylaws would result in separate student unions at every LU branch, the president said.
Holding two elections would also require a great deal of security, he continued, confirming that the situation in the north of the country and fights among students were factors in the decision to postpone the elections. “Maybe we can’t handle the burden of preserving the security of the process twice.”
LU has over 70,000 students enrolled in faculties across Lebanon. Clashes between students supporting the Lebanese Forces and those backing the Free Patriotic Movement left several wounded in December.
There have also been frequent armed clashes in Tripoli pitting supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad against his opponents.
But student party representatives were quick to voice their disapproval of the decision to postpone elections, arguing that the bylaws could take well over two months.
“We were surprised when the president told us that elections would be postponed for security reasons and holding them was tied to finalizing the bylaws,” said Hezbollah’s head of student affairs, Youssef Bassam.
“Elections have nothing to do with laying down the union’s bylaws which will take time, our deadline for finalizing it is in June.”
According to Bassam, elections have been held peacefully in universities with more parties competing than those at LU, “so, why wouldn’t elections be held at LU?” he asked.
LF student representative Elie Geagea said Sayyed Hussein’s decision amounted to “cancelling” elections.
“Creating the bylaws is a lengthy process that takes time ... by insisting on tying elections to bylaws the president is procrastinating,” he said. “We condemn this step, particularly after we agreed to hold them.”
Geagea said that LF is boycotting the committee’s work until a date for the elections is set.
Progressive Socialist Party student representative Sary Anz was less critical of the president’s move, acknowledging disappointment, but reasoning: “There are fears that a small fight in the university could move to other universities ... we support that the committee continues finalizing the bylaws, pending a change in the political atmosphere [which permits holding elections].”
Future Movement student representative Bilal Mir, however, said the university was using security as an excuse to postpone the elections.
“It seems deans and directors do not want elections to be held. In the 1970s, the student council at LU had a big say in the university’s affairs ... but they [the deans and professors] are happy now with no one opposing them or posing questions,” Mir said. “The security situation now is not bad. Polls are being held at other universities and security forces are taking measures. Can’t they take measures to preserve security for one day to hold the polls?”
“But all committee members agreed that elections would be held now for the last time before the bylaws of the union are finalized,” he said. “The president scrapped everything that we agreed upon and said there would be no elections until the union is formed and did not even set a deadline for us to finish the bylaws.”
The decision to postpone was also occasion for student representatives to take jibes at each other. Mir accused the FPM of not wanting polls to take place.
All the student representatives of parties from both the March 8 and March 14 camps, save for the FPM, insist on holding elections, Mir added, threatening that the parties would take action if the elections are not held.
Antoun Soueid, the head of the FPM’s Committee of Youth and Students Affairs, fired back, accusing the LF of not wanting the elections.
“Those who made trouble at the campus do want elections,” he said, referring to December’s incident.
Rather than polls, Soueid said, FPM’s priority is to convince the president to take stricter measures against the LF students who assaulted FPM students.
“FPM students are still waiting for quick measures to be taken by the university. Today our students were assaulted in the faculty of business ... things will spin out of control.”