BEIRUT: Independent groups launched their final electoral lists for nine of Lebanon’s 15 districts Monday, flaunting their 66 candidates at a packed house of hundreds at Beirut’s Forum de Beirut.
“We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on taking on the battle together across all of Lebanon,” Former Telecommunications Minister Charbel Nahas, an independent candidate in Metn, said during the opening address.
“Revolution, Revolution,” attendees chanted in response. “All for the nation.”
Speaking of the allegiances of local political leaders to foreign nations and the divisive Iran-Saudi power play, Nahas said: “It’s as if we’re watching a football match between two teams, and we [Lebanese] are the football being kicked around.”
Nahas is the founder of Citizens Within a State (Mouwatinoun w Mouwatinat fi Dawle), an independent movement that won roughly 8 percent of the vote in 2016 municipal elections.
Monday’s announcement marks the historic formation of an unprecedented anti-sectarian front against established parties, with many different civil society groups, independent candidates and recently-formed independent parties putting aside their many differences and forming united lists.
The groups have together formed lists under the name “Kilna Watani,” or “All for the Nation” in areas including Beirut I; Zahle; Metn; Kesrouan-Jbeil; Nabatieh - Bint Jbeil - Marjayoun - Hasbaya; Tripoli - Minyeh - Dinieh; Batroun - Koura - Bsharri - Zgharta; Baabda; and Chouf - Aley.
“Now, nobody has an excuse to buy corrupted products whose expiry date has long passed,” Nahas said of established parties.
For Gilbert Doumit, an independent candidate in Beirut I, the month-long and often testy process of negotiations between independent parties “blossomed into something beautiful.”
“No other party is able to do this, to unite across sects, from the north to the south, on one agenda and the same principles, focused on one project,” He told The Daily Star. This was due to the explicitly sectarian nature of the other parties, Doumit said, which left them unable to form an inclusive national vision.
Despite the high turnout at the event, no TV station other than state-run Lebanon TV covered it live. This was indicative of the high level of political control in Lebanon’s media landscape, Paula Yacoubian, a longtime host on Future Movement-owned Future TV, said.
Yacoubian, a respected journalist and TV host, resigned from Future TV earlier this year in order to run as a candidate in Beirut I with independent party Sabaa.
“Look around, look at all these faces,” Yacoubian told The Daily Star at the event. “I feel proud and excited. At the same time I feel sad because we don’t have live TV coverage like everyone else, and that’s a shame.”
“I hope we create momentum where we will really bring change,” Yacoubian said. “I don’t think we could ever fail them [Lebanese citizens].”
Speaking of being both a candidate and a journalist, Yacoubian said: “We know more than anyone else how badly this country is being destroyed, and that normal people need a voice.”
Lebanon's first elections in nine years are due to be held under a new proportional law for the first time. The law is expected to divide the parliamentary seats among a more diverse range of players, giving independent groups a fighting chance.
Any Lebanese under the age of 30 has not yet had the chance to vote, due to parliament’s controversial decision to extended their terms three times - ostensibly for security reasons and a technical delay to prepare for the new electoral law - elongating parliament’s current term to nine years instead of four.
“We’re simply disgusted after all these years,” an attendee who identified himself as Munif told The Daily Star. “But today, for the first time in nine years, I feel my political appetite has been reinvigorated.”
Layal Bou Moussa, an independent candidate for Batroun and a reporter for Al-Jadeed TV, oriented a message to the “Civil War generation.”
“Your generation that, in the absence of their state, worked so hard to raise your children so that they don’t feel what you felt - don’t let your children surrender, don’t vote for what you have fought so hard to keep them away from,” she told The Daily Star.
Bou Moussa said, “Sadly, the Lebanese government love to work as journalists. They tell us ‘look at this trash here’ or ‘this prison needs to be improved’ - but their job is not to teach me, their job is to find solutions. My job is to go see where there is a gap.”
She added, “So we decided that since they’re such good reporters, we’ll let them go for journalism and well take over the politics.”
Roughly 30 percent of Kilna Watani’s candidates are women, far surpassing the few select females present on the lists of established parties.
Independent lists unaffiliated with Kilna Watani have been formed in other districts in Lebanon, such as the joint Civil Society - Kataeb party list in Baabda which includes environmental activist heavyweights Paul Abi Rached and Ajwad Ayashe, and a Chouf - Aley list that includes Mark Daou, an influential independent figure.
However, no other groups have been able to field candidates across Lebanon.
“Today is a party and celebration of the historical achievement we’ve made in uniting civil society,” Laury Haytayan, an oil and gas expert and Beirut I candidate, told The Daily Star. “The bigger party will be on May 6 when everybody goes to vote for Kilna Watani.”
To those Lebanese who had slipped into apathy after successive governments’ failures to address basic issue such as electricity, water and waste treatment, Haytayan said, “You are wrong, you have to give a chance to the alternative.”
“There is no magic, the only magic is when you vote and make a change,” she said. “If you sit at home on May 6, you must know you will be responsible for the destruction of this country.”
Kolouna Watani’s nine lists across the country are as follows:
Vanda Adouar Chedid - Greek Orthodox
Ghassan George Maalouf - Greek Catholic
Houd Nawaf al-Taima - Sunni
Mohammad Abbas Hasan - Shiite
Hanna Fawzi Habib - Maronite
Nabatieh - Bint Jbeil - Marjayoun - Hasbaya
Jamil Mohammad Ali Ballout - Shiite – Nabatieh
Rami Ali Hamid – Shiite – Bint Jbeil
Salah Mehdi Nourredine – Shiite – Bint Jbeil
Akram Mohammad Qaiss – Druze – Marjayoun-Hasbaya
Fadi Issam Abu Jamra – Greek Orthodox - Marjayoun-Hasbaya
Tripoli - Minyeh - Dinieh
Dany Mahmoud Othman – Sunni – Dinyeh
Ahmad Mustapha al-Dahibi – Sunni – Minyeh
Farah Ibrahim Issa – Greek Orthodox – Tripoli
Malik Faisal Mawlawi – Sunni – Tripoli
Wathiq Abdelrazzak al-Maqdam – Sunni – Tripoli
Mohammad Munzir Ashraf Maaliqi – Sunni – Tripoli
Yahi Kamal Mawloud – Sunni – Tripoli
Nariman al-Shamaa – Sunni – Tripoli
Zeineddine Dib – Alawite – Tripoli
Moussa Asaad Khoury – Maronite – Tripoli
Batroun - Koura - Bsharri - Zgharta
Layal Bou Moussa – Maronite – Batroun
Antoine Habib al-Khoury Harb – Maronite – Batroun
Bassam Nadim Ghantous – Greek Orthodox – Koura
Fadwa Faiz Nassif – Greek Orthodox – Koura
Edmond Mikhail Tawk – Maronite – Bsharri
Maurice Romanos Al-Koure– Maronite – Bsharri
Riad Sarkis Ghazala – Maronite – Zgharta
Antoine Youssef Yammine – Maronite - Zgharta
Antonia Ramez Ghamre – Maronite – Zgharta
Laury Haytayan - Armenian Orthodox
Gilbert Doumit - Maronite
Joumana Salloum Haddad - Minority Christian
Ziad Raymond Abs – Greek Orthodox
Paulette Yacoubian - Armenian Orthodox
Levon Telvizian – Armenian Orthodox
Yorgui Teyrouz – Armenian Catholic
Lucien Bourjeily – Greek Catholic
Mohammad Karam al-Moqdad – Shiite – Jbeil
Rania Victor Bassil – Maronite – Jbeil
Nadim Shafiq Said – Maronite – Jbeil
Youssef Salameh – Maronite – Kesrouan
Josephine Zgheib – Maronite – Kesrouan
Dori Daou – Maronite – Kesrouan
George Rahbani – Greek Orthodox – Metn
Charbel Nahas – Greek Catholic – Metn
Victoria al-Khoury – Maronite – Metn
Adib Youssef Tohme – Maronite – Metn
Nadine Victor Moussa – Maronite – Metn
Emile Kanaan – Maronite – Metn
Rania Masri – Druze
Marie Claude Helou – Maronite
Joseph Wanis – Maronite
Ziad Akl – Maronite
Ali Darwish – Shiite
Wassef al-Harakeh - Shiite
Chouf – Aley
Maher Abu Shakra – Druze – Chouf
Rania Gheith – Druze – Chouf
Antoine Habib Fawaz – Greek Catholic
Mazen Nasreddine – Sunni – Chouf
Mohammad Sami al-Hajjar – Sunni – Chouf
George Emile Aoun – Maronite – Chouf
Ghada Ghazi Marouni – Maronite – Chouf
Imad al-Qadi – Druze – Aley
Alaa al-Sayegh – Druze – Aley
Zawia Najib Jridini – Greek Orthodox – Aley
Carl Farid Bou Melhem – Maronite - Aley