Lebanon News

Sidon poised for fierce election battle

As mayor, Saudi oversaw the leveling of the city’s trash mountain and its transformation into a garden.

With more than a month to go for the municipal and mukhtar elections in south Lebanon, all signs indicate that a fierce battle for the control of Sidon’s 21-member municipal council is inevitable. The chances of reaching an electoral agreement among various political parties in Sidon have apparently been dashed after the city’s Mayor Mohammad Saudi decided to seek another term, backed by the Future Movement and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, while former Sidon MP Osama Saad, head of the rival Popular Nasserite Organization, vowed to contest the municipal vote, rejecting any consensus or alliance with the Future Movement and its allies.

Sidon’s former Mayor Abdel-Rahman Bizri has not yet decided on whether to contest the elections, even though he tends to support an electoral consensus.

“If the Future Movement really wants consensus, I ask why has it contacted only some political groups instead of all factions in the city [before deciding to back Saudi again]?” Bizri asked.

Saad, a long-standing opponent of the Future Movement and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, stressed the need for the municipal elections to be held on time, rejecting the extension of municipal councils’ terms throughout Lebanon.

“The [Nasserite] organization has decided to contest the municipal election battle in Sidon. The group’s senior bodies have decided to prepare for the battle, while stressing the absence of consensus or alliance with the Future Movement and its allies,” Saad told The Daily Star.

Saad is not represented in the current municipal council, which is shared by representatives of the Future Movement, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, Bizri and independents.

The current mayor, who had previously announced he will not seek another term, said he had to change his mind at the request of some parties in Sidon.

“In fact, I say that my age does not allow me to sit for another six years [as mayor]. But some have insisted that I carry on,” Saudi, 77, told The Daily Star at his office.

He said one of the municipality’s priorities, the elimination of the trash mountain, has been achieved. “If I stay in this seat, I will continue the implementation of the remaining developmental and environmental projects which are equivalent to the elimination of the trash mountain,” Saudi said. He praised the harmony among members of the municipal council, which includes three women.

In their support for Saudi’s bid to seek another six-year term as Sidon’s mayor, the Future Movement and Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya cited the success of their alliance in electing a homogenous municipal council whose members were in agreement with its head.

They also highlighted a list of developmental and environmental achievements, at the forefront of which is the municipality’s success in ridding the city of a mountain of trash on Sidon’s southern coast and establishing a public garden in its place. The municipality has also managed to operate a solid garbage treatment plant in Seyniq after developing ways of sorting and treating.

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has said the municipal elections would be conducted across Lebanon in four stages in May.

Municipal elections are held every six years to select mayors and mukhtars, or local government officials. The elections are expected to draw over 3.3 million voters across more than 1,000 municipalities to elect 11,961 representatives in Lebanon’s first democratic elections since 2010.

With regard to the Future Movement’s preparations for the municipal elections, Sidon MP Bahia Hariri is devoting more than two hours a day to meet and consult with notables and organizations on the city’s affairs and projects based on a review of the electoral program that led to the election of the current municipal council led by Saudi. Hariri is seeking to draw up a new electoral program for the next municipal council.

During electoral meetings at her residence in Majdalyoun, east of Sidon, Hariri said: “Municipal elections are one of landmarks of democracy in the country which we should not abandon because it renews vitality and accountability.”

“We are heading for a municipal election on which each citizen and sector in the city must have an opinion, and on what the city wants and how to preserve the achievements made,” she added.

Hariri stressed that the Future Movement is preparing for the municipal elections which constitute “an opportunity for a review of the past stage and choosing what is better for the city in the next stage.”

Asked about the prospects of an electoral consensus with Saad, she said: “We support anything that serves the city’s interests. Channels of communication with all the parties in the city have not been cut off. But elections are a democratic process. Sidon is a city that respects divergence and diversity, and at the same time is a coherent city that is interlinked at the social, ethical and humanitarian levels.”

Describing Saudi as “a success story of Sidon,” Hariri said she was proud of cooperating with the mayor over the past six years, which had resulted in “projects and achievements in the city in various fields.”

A senior official of Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya called for holding all sorts of elections in Lebanon, starting with the election of a president and a new Parliament and municipal and mukhtar polls in all areas.

However, Bassam Hammoud, the group’s coordinator for the south, voiced doubts that the municipal elections would be held on time, given the “obstruction that has hit all state institutions, amid an implicit decision by some political parties to continue this situation, link it to regional developments and wait for their outcome.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 11, 2016, on page 2.

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