BEIRUT: The Maronite League is expected to witness a fierce electoral battle Saturday, with three separate candidate lists contesting the polls.
Two former heads of the Beirut Bar Association are battling to win the top seat of the league, which has historically been considered a prestigious position within the country’s largest Christian community.
Sources from the league told The Daily Star that around 950 people are expected to cast their ballots in the polls, which will take place at the Forum de Beyrouth, near the Maronite League’s offices in the Karantina neighborhood in Beirut.
The former head of the Beirut Bar Association, Samir Abi Lamaa, will challenge Antoine Qlimos, another former association head, for the leadership of the league.
A 15-member executive council and the seat of the deputy president are also up for grabs in Saturday’s elections.
Both Abi Lamaa and Qlimos have their own list of candidates for the executive council while Talal Doueihy, a former member of the group’s executive council, is heading an incomplete list.
Political affiliations rarely influence the league’s elections, the sources said, adding that any open political support for any of the three lists would negatively affect their chances of winning the elections.
The sources said the race is not based on the rival lists’ views of the league’s mandate, but on who should lead the body.
“There is no difference between their agendas. It’s all about the top position and who will become the president of the Maronite League,” said a source that has been monitoring the campaigns in the past few weeks.
First established in 1953 during the presidency of President Camille Chamoun, the Maronite League was initially founded to play a charitable role within the community. The league is mainly comprised of current and former presidents, government officials and security chiefs.
“[Lebanese] presidents have often avoided taking part in the league’s elections,” the source said, adding that the league gradually came to play a role “under the umbrella” of Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate.
“The importance of the Maronite League is in the role that it is designated by Bkirki,” the source added.
In 2003, the league’s bylaws were changed to increase the number of registered members. Members who are eligible to vote in Saturday’s elections pay an annual membership fee of $200.
“In 2003, the bylaws paved the way for the inclusion of 60 new members per year who have a proven record of serving the community,” the source said.
Many have criticized the league recently for becoming a stage for Maronite figures to establish a base for a future political career.
Earlier this month, former ambassador Abdallah Bouhabib announced he was quitting the race because the candidates running for elections had no interest in pursuing an agenda for the community.
“The race has become purely for personal gains and for narrow interests, no one has been talking about an agenda,” Bouhabib told The Daily Star.
Speaking to a local television channel, Qlimos said that if elected, he and his 15-member council would address all the challenges facing the Maronite community.
“We will help Maronite families who are in need with financial assistance and stand by them to expand their families and maintain their attachment to their land,” Qlimos said.
“During tomorrow’s elections, we should vote based on what kind of league we want and what kind of future we want for Maronites,” Qlimos added.
The polls will open at 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m.