BEIRUT: Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun voiced his backing Friday for Walid Azar, the Syrian Social Nationalist (SSNP) and March 8 candidate for the Koura by-election to be held this weekend, and urged voters to take into consideration the unrest taking place further north in Akkar.
“Despite all the rumors, we back Dr. Azar in this battle,” Aoun said, according to the National News Agency.
Aoun's statement comes following comments by Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea that Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, unlike the SSNP and the Marada, is doing little campaigning on behalf of SSNP member Azar.
"The Aounists in Koura, unlike those in Metn, have not forgotten what the SSNP did to them during the war," said Geagea in comments published Friday in Al-Akhbar.
"The Aounists of Koura have always been against the SSNP and its practices, which have oppressed the area's people. For this reason, their electoral machine has not been activated and their participation is tentative."
Leading figures in the March 14 coalition have been stepping up their visits to town and villages in Koura, where the by-election is slated to be held Sunday.
Lebanese Forces candidate Fadi Karam will face off against Azar, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Karam is backed by March 14, while Azar enjoys the support of March 8. Two other minor candidates are also in the race.
During a stop on his tour of the qada, Future Movement General Secretary Ahmad Hariri said that Azar “is the direct candidate of Bashar Assad,” referring to the Syrian president.
Responding to a question about Hariri’s statement, Aoun said: “I question the claim the Syrian regime has arrived in Koura. Have they seen who stands at the edge of Koura? Has the LF candidate seen what is going on in Tripoli and Akkar?
Aoun said Friday that the people of Koura should vote based on the “present and the future.”
“I say to them that Akkar is not far from Koura and what is occurring there is very dangerous so they should vote with their heads and decide,” he said, referring to recent unrest in the northern region bordering Syria.
“[Voters] need to think of the political steps because the political steps that threaten Lebanon should be halted here in Koura and Koura has all the proof it needs to know what is occurring around it,” Aoun said.
Meanwhile, Hariri said in an interview with LBC television that a win for Azar in Koura would be a victory for the ideology of weapons beyond the state’s authority and a victory for the “May 7 project,” referring to the May 7, 2008, clashes in Beirut between pro- and anti-government gunmen over a Cabinet decision to dismantle Hezbollah’s telecommunications network.
He also defended his statements about the SSNP.
“We are not trying to paint the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in a certain light; it painted itself in this light through its statements,” he said, according to a Future Movement press release.
Hariri pointed to “the participation of members of the party in events in Syria” and said “there is a WikiLeaks cable that indicates this, and we will not forget the stances the party adopted in support of the Syrian regime.”