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NOW

Lebanon voters
return to the polls

Independent candidates are challenging Hezbollah in Dahiyeh

Lebanese voters. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

BEIRUT - Lebanese are heading to the polls for the second week running to vote for local municipal councils and mayors, this time in the Mount Lebanon governorate that stretches from Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah-bastion, northward toward the tranquil seaside town of Byblos.

 

Although dozens of the races in the 325 municipalities up for vote on Sunday have already been decided by acclamation, a number of the local elections--which in Lebanon often come down to family rivalries--have witnessed spirited competitions.

 

Voter turnout varied greatly according to how competitive the local election, with the Interior Ministry saying the overall voter turnout was 43% shortly before polls closed at 7:00 p.m. In Dahiyeh, residents flocked to the polls for two local elections making headlines. 

 

Independent candidates have formed electoral slates in the sprawling Shiite-populated suburbs outside Beirut, including in Ghobeiry, the richest part of the sprawling Dahiyeh area south of the capital, as well as in the densely-populated Bourj al-Barajneh quarter, a lower-income quarter that includes a Palestinian refugee camp.

 

These two campaigns, the “Ghobeiry for Everybody” and “Our Heart for Bourj al-Barajneh,” are facing off against a unified electoral lists formed by Hezbollah, its Shiite ally the Amal Movement, and its main Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement.

 

Although, Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Thursday insisted that his party's rivals were considered “our beloved and friends," reports have emerged that behind-the-scenes pressure was being exerted on the independent lists. 

 

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s two largest Christian parties--the Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement, which recently allied over the nomination of Michel Aoun as president--are butting heads via local proxies in Jounieh, just north of the capital.

 

Aoun decried the course of the campaign in the Christian town, saying Sunday that “unfortunately, the elections have turned into a battle of money… the dignity of Jounieh is not for sale.”

 

In Byblos, the activist Citizens Within a State group, which is backed by former Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas, for its part is backing the list of FPM partisan, Claude Marjeh, against that of the incumbent municipality chief Ziad Hawat.

 

A shouting match erupted in Byblos before Nahhas and supporters of Hawat's electoral slate, however despite the frayed tempers the vote was more peaceful than elsewhere in the country.

 

Security forces deployed in heavy numbers again to protect the voting process, which was marred by a number of brawls, including in Afqa, where partisans of rival electoral lists aligned with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, close political allies, fought each other, forcing the Lebanese army to intervene to put an end to the violence.

 

Fighting also erupted outside a polling station in the Christian-populated Zouk Mikael, where the Lebanese army arrested two locals over the violence. 

 

Another clash also hit the Byblos town of Mishan, where voting was temporarily suspended, leaving three people people injured as the Lebanese army deployed to ensure calm.

 

Four people were arrested in the Keserwan towns of Yahshoush and Raashin on charges of vote buying, while the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections monitoring the elections said it registered at least 200 violations. 

Lebanese voters. (AFP/Anwar Amro)