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All eyes on key Akkar by-elections

  • Akkar MP Hadi Hobeish and his father Fawzi, a former MP and minister, at the head of a campaign rally in Akkar. (The Daily Star / Antoine Amrieh)

QOBEIYAT/BEIRUT, Lebanon: Seventeen villages and towns across the country will hold municipal by-elections Sunday to replace the outgoing councils that were dissolved due to mass resignations and disagreements over who would best lead them.

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.

The town of Qobeiyat in Akkar is one of the towns that will witness a fierce election battle between two rival lists competing for the municipality’s 18-seat council.

Unlike the previous rounds of municipal elections, which gave March 14-backed lists easy wins, this year’s change in alliances might move things in the other direction.

Supported by the Free Patriotic Movement, 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.

More than 5,000 voters are expected to take part in the by-elections in Qobeiyat and, according to local officials, the race remains tight as rival lists bring in Lebanese expatriates to take part.

Hobeish’s list, headed by Sabri Abdo, is competing closely against the list headed by the former mayor. The Kataeb Party’s decision to align itself with the FPM, due to the performance of the previous municipal council, has given the opposing list momentum ahead of Sunday’s polls.

The Kataeb’s realignment also included a number of LF supporters, which might play a decisive role in this weekend’s race, local officials told The Daily Star.

The LF maintains that its supporters will not split their votes between the two lists. Observers say it will come down to a number of voters who consider themselves supporters of both the LF and the Kataeb, making their final choice too close to predict ahead of time.

“The Lebanese Forces have chosen to support the Qobeiyat in the Heart list and is fully committed to the members of this list. We are certain that there are no members of the Lebanese Forces on the opposite list,” the party’s coordinator in the town, Raoul Zribi, said at a gathering this week.

Another fierce election in Akkar will take place in the village of Bireh, where the 15-member council is being sought by two lists.

The “Bireh Development” list is 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.

Similarly, the town of Kahaleh in Aley is another close race to watch. Two rival lists, headed by members of the Bejjani family, will compete for the municipality’s 15-member council.

The “Dignity” list, which is headed by former Mayor George Tawfiq Bejjani, will run against another list led by Jihad Bejjani.

The municipal council in Kahaleh was dissolved after some members of the Bejjani family had a dispute with the town’s mayor over who should head up the Bejjani Family Benevolent Association.

Family politics will dominate the race, as observers believe the supporters of political parties will split their votes between the two groups of candidates.

Separately, in the village of Baslouqit in Zghorta, the “Baslouqit Dignity” list headed by former Mayor Gerald Abdullah, is supported by the Marada Movement and the FPM.

Abdullah will compete against an incomplete list headed by Doumit Maroun, who is supported by the March 14 coalition.

Nearly 200 voters are expected to cast their ballots to elect the town’s nine-member council.

Abdullah’s municipal council was dissolved after all of the members resigned last year due to disagreements with the mayor.

Meanwhile, by-elections in the Bekaa Valley town of Jebaa were postponed by the Interior Ministry after local figures called on the government not to hold polls due to recent security incidents in the area.

“Based on a petition sent by the residents of Jebaa calling for the postponement of the elections, due to security incidents ... elections are postponed until further notice,” the ministry said on its website.

The Interior Ministry has expressed its readiness to supervise Sunday’s by-elections. “Everything is set and ready for Sunday’s elections,” Michel Karam, senior adviser to Interior Minister Marwan Charbel told The Daily Star Friday.

“Polling stations will open at 7 a.m.,” Karam added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 02, 2013, on page 2.
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