BEIRUT: Hours ahead of the release of official election results Monday, hundreds of demonstrators descended on the Interior Ministry in Beirut to voice their opposition to the electoral loss of an independent candidate in unclear circumstances. Not just expressing support for LiBaladi candidate Joumana Salloum Haddad, protesters criticized Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who heads the ministry in charge of implementing and overseeing the elections and who was successful in his own race for a seat in Parliament.
“I’m here because it’s rigged, the elections are f---ing rigged, the guy who’s supervising the elections is running,” protester Rami Shamaa told The Daily Star. “I’m here for the whole thing, I’m here because I’m pissed off,” he added.
Machnouk Monday evening announced that Haddad, who had been projected to win by many parties and news organizations Sunday, lost to Free Patriotic Movement candidate Antoine Pano. He said that the demands of Haddad and protesters were based on the results of some “electoral machines, which are not an official source.”
Machnouk added that his ministry had nothing to do with counting the ballots and that complainants should be addressed to the electoral registry committee.
Haddad meanwhile noted she did not accuse anybody of “stealing” her seat, but wanted “a recount because it’s very weird all the competing lists said on TV that LiBaladi has won two seats and then today we got one. Something went wrong somewhere.”
The issue, according to Kilna Watani (All for the Nation), revolves around election delegates reportedly being removed from a room where ballots were being counted at Beirut’s Forum du Beyrouth Sunday, due to an unspecified “technical error.”
Kilna Watani representatives have said they were let back in roughly 20 minutes later, and that the voting projections began changing out of their favor in the hours afterward.
“We requested a recount of the vote in Beirut I and other districts where they haven’t been transparent enough,” Haddad told The Daily Star. “We have now one confirmed MP in Parliament, my colleague [Paula Yacoubian], and we will keep on pushing until we achieve the justice we deserve,” she said.
Yacoubian is set to be the only MP from the independent Kilna Watani group, representing the Sabaa Party.
“I wanted to have Haddad in Parliament because it’s one more seat,” Shamaa said at the protest.
“But it’s the whole system I’m protesting. We have to be a much stronger civil society. If they cheat on 20 percent of the votes we need to be 50 percent stronger. There should be a million people here, but we’re just a thousand.”
After Machnouk’s announcement of the final results Monday night, protesters remained in front of the ministry, with Haddad herself showing up twice and delivering speeches in which she thanked supporters and called for recounts in Beirut I and in the Chouf-Aley district, also for alleged lack of transparency. Some had expected civil society candidates to win at least one seat in Chouf-Aley.
“Congratulations on the [fourth parliamentary] extension,” one protester’s sign ironically read.
Sunday’s elections were the first in nine years due to MPs having extended their terms three times due to security concerns.
Protesters’ multiple grievances were exemplified by their wide-ranging chants. They included “Kilna Watani” and “Joumana in, in, Machnouk out, out,” but were also punctuated by the 2015 garbage crisis era slogans of “revolution,” and “the people demand the fall of the regime.” Clearly, many of the protesters felt the same disgust and mistrust with the government as they did during the garbage crisis.
After the popular street movement largely fizzled out, a large segment has now directed its frustrations at the failure to effect change through Sunday’s elections. “I’m here today not primarily in defense of Haddad, but more generally for all the breaches of law that occurred during Election Day yesterday,” protester Youmna Mroueh said.
Over 7,300 electoral complaints were filed with the Interior Ministry Sunday. Machnouk has played down irregularities, calling the elections a “democratic celebration.”
But protesters like Hussein Chouri ridiculed that idea. “I believe the government stole the vote and I’m not surprised or shocked,” he said.