Expectations low for Communist candidates

In a quixotic effort, the Lebanese Communist Party is running five candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections after failing to agree with Hezbollah over forging an alliance with the opposition. Though LCP candidates are expected to lose, as they have repeatedly in parliamentary elections, in one or two districts they could impact the race.

While the LCP has support in areas across the country, it has no stronghold and is expected to lose in Zahle, Koura, Baabda, West Bekaa-Rashaya and Marjayoun-Hasbaya, where it is running candidates. That said, its candidates will not be completely ineffective.

“They will take votes from the opposition,” said Abdo Saad, director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information, which conducts opinion polls.

Koura, he said, is the district where an LCP candidate could do the most damage. The party has support in the district, where the race is very close for three Greek Orthodox seats. Many analysts expect neither March 14 nor March 8 will take all three seats, so an LCP candidate that takes votes from the March 8 list could mean one more seat for March 14.

The Free Patriotic Movement, which is running a candidate in Koura, is not worried, however. The LCP and FPM signed a Memorandum of Understanding focused on reforming the state and abolishing sectarianism in December 2006, a few months after the FPM signed a similar agreement with Hezbollah.

FPM spokesman Nassif Azzi, who worked on the MoU and is a candidate in the Chouf district, told NOW that come election day, there would be “no problem” between the LCP and March 8 in Koura.

Besides, “We have a month to discuss all the details of the elections, especially in Koura,” he said. The LCP also has many supporters in Batroun, another mainly Christian district expected to be close, although it is not running a candidate there.

As the LCP is not allied with the opposition, supporters in Batroun could influence the race by voting against the opposition or staying home on election day.

However, Azzi said the FPM and LCP are working together in Batroun, and, like several analysts interviewed for this article, said party members do not always follow party decisions to the letter and were likely to vote for opposition candidates regardless.

While Azzi maintains that electoral ties between the FPM and the Communist Party are strong, it is clear the same is not true of the LCP’s electoral ties with Hezbollah. The two are loose allies with a turbulent past and vast ideological differences – atheism versus strict adherence to Islam, just to name one.

The LCP, founded in 1924, along with other Leftist groups enjoyed significant support among the Lebanese Shia, and many argue it still does, Hezbollah and Amal’s electoral dominance of the South aside.

Lebanese Leftists led the resistance against Israeli forces in South Lebanon when Hezbollah was still in its embryonic stages. Soon the balance of power shifted, though, and Leftists in the South found themselves in a tight spot with two domestic enemies.

In the mid- and late-1980s, Amal, at Syria’s behest, assassinated Leftists – particularly LCP members – that Damascus did not control, and some Shia clerics were urging their followers to take Hezbollah’s lead and kill the godless Communists.

The LCP entered the post-civil-war era severely weakened both by the bloodletting in the South and the fall of the Soviet Union. Fissures developed within the party over how closely to work with the Syrians during their occupation of Lebanon, and defections eventually ensued. Today there are three other groups largely composed of former LCP members.

Generally, the LCP does not reach electoral alliances with the powers that be come election time, though it has consistently run candidates who lost since the first parliamentary elections in 1943 following Lebanon’s independence.

Despite fighting alongside Hezbollah during the 2006 July War, the Party of God nixed any hopes of an electoral alliance in 2009. London-based Al-Hayat daily reported earlier this month that negotiations between the LCP and Hezbollah fell apart because the LCP insisted on keeping candidates in Zahle, Koura and West Bekaa-Rashaya.
Khaled Hadade, the party’s secretary general, told NOW that the negotiations never even got that far.

“We started to discuss politics and economics and could not agree on a common agenda,” he said.

So the party’s candidates will run independently. Hadade said they would have run more candidates but do not have the financial capacity. He is perhaps the only one hopeful about the party’s chances.

“They sadly don’t stand a chance of winning, no third list does,” Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told NOW.