BEIRUT: Municipal by-elections kicked off Sunday in 17 villages and towns across Lebanon to replace outgoing councils dissolved due to resignations and disagreements.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. as security forces deployed in the villages and towns of Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa, and north and south Lebanon to ensure the safety of the voters.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel toured various polling stations inspected the course of elections in different areas.
Speaking form the town of Qobeiyat in Akkar, the minister said that “the by-elections confirm that despite all the incidents democracy still exists in Lebanon.”
A high turnout was recorded in Qobeiyat, one of the towns that has seen a fierce election battle between two rival lists competing for the municipality’s 18-seat council, after the Kataeb Party switched alliances from the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces to the Free Patriotic Movement.
According to the Interior Ministry, 55 percent of voters in the Qobeiyat had cast their votes by 4:30 p.m., just three hours after the ballots were open.
Unlike previous municipal elections in Qobeiyat, which gave March 14-backed lists easy wins, this year’s change in alliances could change the balance of power.
Supported by the FPM, the Kataeb Party and former MP Mikhail Daher, former Qobeiyat Mayor Abdo Makhoul Abdo will be heading the list called “My Land, My Identity.”
The opposing list, “Qobeiyat in the Heart,” is backed by the Lebanese Forces and Akkar MP Hadi Hobeish from the Future Movement.
Also in Akkar, 41 percent of the voters in the Bireh village, 20 percent in Rammah, 59 percent in Kroum Arab, 58 percent in al-Sahleh and 49 percent in Qlayaat had cast their votes before 4:30 p.m.
Another fierce battle is expected in the Bireh village, where the 15-member council is being fought for by two lists, the “Bireh Development” list headed by former Mayor Mohammad Wehbe, and supported by March 14, while the opposing “Bireh First” slate is headed by Jamal Merheb and is seen as close to March 8.
In the village of Baslouqit in Zghorta where two March 8 and March 14 lists are competing for the nine-member municipal council 22 percent of voters had voted by 4:30 p.m.
In the town of Kahaleh in Aley two rival lists, both headed by members of the Bejjani family, will compete for the municipality’s 15-member council, with 54 percent of voters having cast their votes by 4:30 p.m.
The turnout reached 45 percent in Zahle, 43 percent in Hermel and 28 percent in Baabda.
Meanwhile, a low turnout was recorded in the Jezzine town of Kfar Houne where only 18 percent of the voters had cast their votes by noon.
Unlike parliamentary elections, most municipal elections are dominated by family politics, and in many towns and villages, a compromise is reached to form a united council and avoid an electoral battle.
In this round, four councils managed to win unopposed after enough candidates dropped out of the race.
Municipal polls can be a test of the popularity and the cohesiveness of rival political coalitions.
In this round of by-elections, the results in a few towns may give a boost to either the March 14 or the March 8 camp, both of which are gearing up for what are expected to be hotly-contested parliamentary elections in June.