The “List for Change” picked up all 18 seats in the Jdeideh local elections, trouncing the competition by 2-1 and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the losing side.
Although a local election, the poll was seen by many observers as a “rehearsal” for this summer’s elections.
The criticism over the election’s lack of fairness, which did not take the form of official challenges or complaints, focused mainly on the run-up to the poll, and not election day.
The Interior Ministry’s director-general, Atallah Ghasham, held a news conference on Monday to announce the winners in the poll, but did not disclose the vote totals for any of the candidates, whether winners or losers.
But both camps had the final results in their possession by midday, showing that List for Change candidates, backed by Interior Minister Michel Murr, gained an average of 4,923 votes, with the rival Free Decision List candidates secured an average 2,124 votes.
The totals for the List for Change’s 18 candidates ranged from 4,639 to 5,276, while the Free Decision List’s results were in the 1,897 to 2,422 range.
The numbers distributed by fax by the winning ticket mentioned two competing sides: “The winning List for Change” and “The unsuccessful Decision List.”
The Free Decision List was headed by former Mayor Asaad Bakhos, the leading vote-getter on his list.
He told The Daily Star that “it wasn’t a case of tampering with ballot boxes, but pressure from the state authorities.”
“It was obvious to everyone. The town’s mukhtars and anyone with an (economic) interest in Jdeideh were pressured. There was a general atmosphere of intimidation, to the extent that we didn’t put election advertising on our cars since it would identify us with the list.”
Another gripe, Bakhos said, was the role of naturalized citizens, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 of Jdeideh-Sadd-Boushrieh’s 14,800 registered voters.
Bakhos did not object to their right to vote, but rather the way they were mobilized into action against his list.
He said that when the two camps were allied in 1998, “our side was charged with getting them to vote we went up and visited people in the Bekaa.”
The former mayor estimated that only about 800 voted that year, but put the figure for Sunday’s turnout at around 2,000.
As for the process of correcting election procedures, Bakhos said a complaint filed with the Interior Ministry would not “produce any results,” while an official challenge with the judiciary required solid proof of tampering or falsification.
“The only thing we can do is examine whether certain people voted on behalf of registered voters who are out of the country,” he said.
He summed up the experience by saying that he expected “the same will happen in parliamentary elections.”
The accusations of interference were backed by the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), but emphatically denied by Interior Ministry officials and the List for Change candidates.
The List for Change, which was not headed by a specific individual, included Tanios Gebara, the former deputy mayor and top vote-getter on Sunday.
When contacted by The Daily Star, Gebara declined to comment on the election results or the council’s next steps.
His colleague, Michel Qassouf, also declined to discuss the poll, saying only that “the results and everything else were completely realistic and democratic.”
Qassouf, who was not a member of the former council, said the group’s immediate goal was to initiate several projects to improve the community.
“We would like to launch projects ranging from street lighting, which we badly lack, to municipal guards, to improving traffic and the environment.”
Hassan Krayyem, who heads LADE, called the election “an unhealthy indicator.”
“It shows how important the imbalance is when considerations like campaign spending are not regulated. One list had every means at its disposal and the other did not.
“This determines the elections beforehand. Thus, there’s no use in holding the poll,” Krayyem said.
He noted that in a single, local election like Jdeideh, imbalance in media access was not an important factor, but that the role of campaign financing was. However, the role of the media would become considerably significant during parliamentary elections.
“We held a general assembly on Monday to assess the results, and will step up our campaign calling for laws to regulate the role of media and money in elections, as well as call for an independent body to supervise the parliamentary elections.”