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Myra Abdallah

The Christian electoral alliance

What will the joint lists of Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement candidates for Lebanon’s municipal elections achieve?

Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun together on January 18, 2016. (AFP/Aldo Ayoub/Lebanese Forces)

In 2010, the last municipal elections were held in Lebanon, which also happened to be the last official electoral activity organized in the country to date. In 2010, the political blocs in Lebanon were very different from the alliances today. In the past six years in Lebanon has witnessed major political transformations that affected almost all political parties, most notably the Christian ones. When the last municipal elections took place, the Free Patriotic Movement was supported by its Shiite ally, Hezbollah, against its Christian rival, the Lebanese Forces, who in turn was backed by the Future Movement. Last year, the ten-year-old political groupings of March 8 and March 14 started to gradually fracture, which became painfully obvious after head of the Future Movement Saad Hariri nominated March 8 member Sleiman Franjieh for the presidency in December 2015. Following this nomination in January 2016, the two most prominent Christian politicians and rivals – head of Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea –reconciled after nearly 30 years of conflict and communication breakdowns. The reconciliation, described at the time as “historic,” is currently taking pragmatic effect as Lebanon prepares to hold municipal elections in May of this year.   

 

With the new political alignments, it has become obvious that the two main Christian political parties do not wish to be on opposite sides of major event affecting Lebanon. “In the majority of regions, we are we are attempting to ally with the FPM,” said head of LF media office Antoinette Geagea. “Every region and town in Lebanon has its own characteristics and we are dealing with every town taking into account its characteristics and requirements.” Geagea told NOW that the alliance with Aoun and the FPM does not rule out the LF from working with other political parties and that, depending on the setting of each municipal district, alliances could be made with the Future Movement and with independent politicians. However, both Christian parties are preparing to stand in the municipal elections as a unified party. “We are preparing for the elections as if we were a single party, despite some misunderstandings that might happen on a small scale among supporters,” said Joseph Fahed, electoral coordinator for the FPM in Kessrouan. “These problems can be easily solved as long as the leaderships of the two parties are working together. This created a big difference between 2010 elections and the current elections. We feel there is no tension among supporters that would stimulate personal conflicts.”

 

Reports claim that the FPM-LF alliance in the municipal elections is an attempt to create a powerful axis that will restore the two Christian parties to a dominant position in Lebanese politics. “It has been falsely claimed by others that alliance will take over 86% of the municipalities,” said political analyst Charles Jabbour. “This prediction meant to prove that, at the end of the municipal elections, the LF and the FPM would be successful in their goal to represent the whole Lebanese Christian community. However, both parties know that the electoral battle is not completely political but local family interests in towns must be taken into consideration.”

 

Despite being the representatives of the majority of the Christians and running a joint electoral battle might not only serve as a powerful political bloc against other parties from other sects. It has become increasingly obvious that FPM and LF are seeking to establish a long-term alliance that will make them both powerful enough to win parliamentary and presidential elections against other Christian rivals. “It’s all about forming an electoral base within every town that is able to win over other political parties. Even if the latter were able to gather support from local families and groups, they would not be able to be as powerful as the two main parties.” said Jabbour. “These elections will form a basis for future elections. If the LF-FPM alliance does well during the municipal elections, they will be able to succeed in future elections.”

 

Concern has been raised over whether the municipal electoral battle in Lebanon will turn into a sectarian one. Analysts whom NOW spoke with denied the fact that the alliance between LF and FPM will affect their alliances with other non-Christian parties. “In cities and towns that have religious diversity, we are also allying with the Future Movement. Allying with a political party does not mean enmity with other political parties or independent individuals and families,” said Geagea.

 

“This alliance will not negatively affect the relation of these parties with non-Christian parties. On the contrary, in towns with religious diversity, the LF and FPM are acting as a bridge. For example, in Beirut, the LF is the link between the FPM and the Future Movement to facilitate smooth electoral activity and ensure that the FPM is fairly represented among the 12 seats the Christians have in the municipality,” Jabbour told NOW.

 

Myra Abdallah tweets @myraabdallah

Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea and Free Patriotic Movement chief Michel Aoun together on January 18, 2016. (AFP/Aldo Ayoub/Lebanese Forces)

It has become increasingly obvious that FPM and LF are seeking to establish a long-term alliance that will make them both powerful enough to win parliamentary and presidential elections against other Christian rivals.