Lebanon elections spark war of words

Voters head to the polls in North Lebanon on Sunday amid heated accusations between candidates from two competing electoral lists.

Al-Hariri is now Lebanon's most prominent Sunni leader
Al-Hariri is now Lebanon's most prominent Sunni leader

Voters in the north, which is divided into two electoral districts, will elect 28 MPs in the final stage of the country’s first legislative polls held after a Syrian withdrawal last April.

Supporters of opposition groups are concerned that prominent figures will not be elected to parliament in a repeat of last week’s Mount Lebanon’s elections.

With the two opposing alliances trying to gain seats to form an influential majority, verbal attacks have erupted between contesting candidates and their supporters.

Christian leader Michel Aoun and leading pro-Syrian MP Suleiman Franjieh, who is running in the northern town of Zghorta, accused Sunni leader and son of slain former premier Rafiq al-Hariri of bribing voters.

Bribery accusations

“Those people have been buying consciences,” Aoun said, directly implicating Saad al-Hariri and his allies.

Incumbent MP Mikhael Daher, who heads the Justice Committee in the outgoing Parliament, said he would sue “election bribers” in court.

“We are the victims and they (his opponents) are the torturers; we are the blood of the martyr and they are the killers; we are March 14 and they are February 14”

Saad al-Hariri

For his part, al-Hariri urged his supporters to vote for candidates on the ticket he backs, lashing out at his opponents.

“We are the victims and they are the torturers; we are the blood of the martyr and they are the killers; we are March 14 and they are February 14,” he said in a huge rally in the northern city of Tripoli on Thursday.

Al-Hariri was referring to the date when his father was killed in a massive bomb blast in Beirut.

Accusations were levelled at Syria, which was then the power broker in Lebanon, and its Lebanese allies of complicity – a charge Damascus denies. An international investigation into the killing is under way.

Aoun victory

On 14 March, hundreds of thousands of Muslim and Christian protesters gathered in Martyrs’ Square and called for a Syrian withdrawal and pledged to stay united for the sake of Lebanon.

Franjieh, in return, lashed out at al-Hariri, saying the young Sunni leader “was hinting at me as the killer of his father because I was interior minister at the time of the assassination”.

Suleiman Franjieh has accusedSaad al-Hariri of bribing voters

Suleiman Franjieh has accused
Saad al-Hariri of bribing voters

Using an Arab proverb about dead people who continued to stay alive through their children, Franjieh said: “But with a son like that, [Rafiq] al-Hariri has really died.”

The war of words, which heated up on the final day of campaigning, is a reflection of how bitterly contested the last 28 seats are.

The opposition was taken by surprise when several opposition figures, including MP Nassib Lahoud and MP Fares Soueid, lost their seats to candidates backed by Christian leader Michel Aoun and his pro-Syrian allies in the Mount Lebanon elections last week.

Pivotal seats

“Fear is always there,” Emmeh Mouawad, a Christian supporter of the opposition alliance in North Lebanon, said, explaining the opposition’s apprehension at losing pivotal seats.

The opposition includes the Christian Qornet Shehwan Gathering – which is embraced by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir – and the Christian Lebanese Forces, which is headed by jailed Christian leader Samir Geagea.

“People aren’t feeling safe. Beirut is different from here. The borders are so close [to Syria]”

Tripoli resident

But MP Nayla Mouawad, who is a Qornet Shehwan member, told Aljazeera.net that the number of eligible voters in the north is divided almost equally between Christians and Muslims.

And therefore, she argued, a political balance is the most likely result.

There are around 690,000 eligible voters in North Lebanon – 55% Muslims and 45% Christians.

That breakdown in religious constituencies, she explained, could ensure that a “moderate” candidate win in the elections.

Syrian meddling?

Aoun’s sweeping victory last week took place in two mainly Christian districts in Mount Lebanon.

The victory was seen by analysts as a Christian need to follow one leader, especially with the presence of a Sunni leader, al-Hariri; a Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt; and a Shia leader, Hizb Allah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

But as the war of words continued, people in Tripoli complained about Syrian meddling in the lead-up to the elections in North Lebanon but preferred to stay anonymous in fear of retribution.

“People aren’t feeling safe. Beirut is different from here. The borders are so close [to Syria],” said one woman in Tripoli.

Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, which is owned by al-Hariri family, reported the presence of some Syrian intelligence officers in the Thaqafa Road in Tripoli. It did not attribute its information to any source.

Source: Al Jazeera

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