BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman and Interior Minister Marwan Charbel hailed Monday the smooth parliamentary by-election in the northern district of Koura as a victory for democracy in Lebanon, while opposition March 14 parties said the vote outcome was a precursor for next year’s parliamentary polls.
Lebanese Forces candidate Fadi Karam, who was backed by the March 14 coalition, won the Koura parliamentary seat in Sunday’s hotly contested by-election against his rival from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party Walid Azar, supported by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance.
According to official election results announced by Charbel Monday, Karam won 12,412 votes against 11,141 votes for Azar. Other independent candidates John Mfarrej got 311 votes, Naim Ajaimi, 94, Youssef Skaff one vote while George Matar got none.
The smooth and trouble-free by-election was held to fill a parliamentary seat in Koura left vacant with the death of LF MP Farid Habib in May. Although the by-election was calm and orderly, the two sides traded accusations of vote buying.
Sleiman said the holding of the Koura by-election in “a democratic and civilized manner” confirmed the Lebanese commitment to democracy.
“Democracy begins with elections under the slogan of a rotation of power, in addition to their affirmation of the importance of concluding constitutional deadlines on time, which is at the core of democratic systems,” Sleiman said in a statement released by his office.
The president called for introducing amendments to election laws, allowing Lebanese expatriates to vote and beginning practical preparations for the 2013 parliamentary elections, the statement said.
Charbel praised the smooth by-election as a victory for democracy, and hoped that the calm atmosphere would prevail in the 2013 elections.
“[Sunday’s] by-election was a public victory for democracy embodied by Koura’s residents and political parties of various affiliations,” Charbel told the news conference at which he announced the official by-election results. “This by-election constituted a successful example of discipline and calm and was held in a trouble-free atmosphere.”
Charbel congratulated all security bodies, the Army, Internal Security Forces, Public Security and State Security personnel and representatives of rival political parties who participated in “this democratic day, which is a source of pride for the Lebanese and the world.”
“If this calm security situation along with the cooperation of political parties prevails during the 2013 elections, Lebanon will witness [its] best elections ever,” Charbel said.
Commenting on allegations of bribery and vote-buying during the by-election, Charbel said: “The [Interior] Ministry has heard from all parties that there was bribery during the election process, but it has not received any official document ... [needed] for legal measures to be taken against the briber and bribed.”
Some 26,000 of Koura’s 57,600 registered voters cast their ballots in 128 polling stations across the district, according to Charbel, making voter turnout to be roughly 47 percent.
Speaking to delegations who came to congratulate him on his victory, Karam said the by-election confirmed that Koura’s residents upheld the Lebanese state-building project.
“Today is a new day. The battle is over. Let’s [start] a new page through cooperation with everyone [so we can] do the best for Koura,” Karam said, in a statement released by his office.
LF leader Samir Geagea received a series of phone calls from Sleiman, Charbel, former President Amin Gemayel, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and several March 14 MPs congratulating him on Karam’s victory, according to a statement released by Geagea’s office.
Deputy Speaker Farid Makkari, a key figure in the March 14 coalition, congratulated Koura’s residents on the “democratic election” in the district, saying it reflected “their loyalty to the principles of the Cedar Revolution and their adherence to the March 14 choices and the state project.”
“This victory has confirmed the Lebanese’s adoption of the March 14 policies and [has] given the Cedar Revolution a new momentum that will be asserted in the 2013 elections on a wider scale,” said Makkari.
Bsharri LF MP Strida Geagea, wife of the LF leader, said the Koura by-election was “a victory for Lebanon and democracy.”
“In the light of the turmoil that is happening in the Middle East, the holding of the election without any incident ... [is] a remarkable example of democratic change,” she said in a statement.
Batroun LF MP Antoine Zahra told Al-Fajr radio station that the outcome of the Koura by-election was “a precursor” for the 2013 parliamentary elections.
“[Sunday’s] election was crucial because it was held in an area [of] political and sectarian diversity, and showed that Koura’s choice was the state-building project ... putting an end to the direct tutelage that had been exercised by the Syrian regime and its allies for a long time,” Zahra said.
Zahle’s March 14 MP Joseph Maalouf said the results of the by-election were “a precursor for the next elections, but they did not necessarily reflect what would happen in 2013.” He told the Voice of Lebanon radio station the result proved that the alliance between the LF and the March 14 parties was secure.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections praised the holding of the Koura by-election in a calm atmosphere despite political divisions between rival factions.
“Amid this tense atmosphere, the Koura by-election came to prove once again that democratic choice is the only way to resolve differences,” LADE director Adnan Malki said. “The democratic spirit which marked the election process despite the local and regional circumstances pointed to many positive possibilities and revived hope for overcoming the crisis by boosting such practices,” he added.
However, Malki criticized some aspects of the election, such as the absence of a government committee to supervise the election campaigning. He said LADE was unable to confirm complaints of bribery.