More than 100 rival lists of candidates representing Lebanon’s entrenched political parties and civil society groups and the so-called “change forces” compete in this weekend’s general elections deemed “crucial” to decide the country’s fate for the next four years.
Most Lebanese and the international community hope that the parliamentary elections will bring about an overdue change to help lift Lebanon out of its worst financial meltdown in decades while undercutting the grip of the ruling political elite that is blamed for the country’s economic collapse.
Al Arabiya English considers the candidates likely to have a crucial influence on the outcome of the elections.
Mark Daou, a political, social, and environmental activist and a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, is part of a 12-member “United for Change” list-fielding candidates standing in the Chouf-Aley district in Mount Lebanon. It will run against candidates from entrenched political parties, such as the Progressive Socialist Party, the Free Patriotic Movement, and the Lebanese Forces.
Daou, who participated in the Oct. 17, 2019, popular uprising against the ruling political elite, is running for the Druze seat in Aley. He called on the Lebanese to vote for change if they wanted to rescue the country and recover their life savings trapped in banks.
Daou said the 2022 elections provided hope for the new generation. “Time has changed, and you see it changed. Therefore, whether we like it or not, there is something new coming to share it and make it the best it can be so that Lebanon can be the best it could,” he said in a recent video addressed to the Lebanese.
Dr Najat Aoun Saliba
Dr Najat Aoun Saliba, a professor of analytical chemistry and the director of the Nature Conservation Center at the American University of Beirut, is also a member of the “United for Change” list. She is running for the Maronite parliamentary seat in the Chouf district. Dr. Saliba is a staunch supporter of Christian-Druze coexistence in Mount Lebanon, devastated by the 1975-90 Civil War, and an anti-pollution campaigner.
In one of her recent videos, she calls on rival political leaders to leave the war-ravaged area and let Christians and Muslims live peacefully together. Addressing politicians, she said: “You are the problem. You destroyed the country. Leave.” Najat Aoun noted that if elected to Parliament, she would work with other MPs to support farmers.
MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, which has the largest Christian bloc in the outgoing Parliament [27 MPs], is fielding candidates in all districts in an attempt to reduce losses. His bloc is expected to suffer mainly due to losing public support within the FPM.
In addition to its Christian rivals, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb Party, the FPM’s Change and Reform bloc faces a tough challenge from “change forces” and civil society candidates. Bassil, allied with Hezbollah, is waging the electoral battle to fight corruption, regain the people’s bank deposits, and enact essential reforms to rescue the ailing economy.
In Beirut, attention will be focused on candidates and lists seeking to fill the Sunni vacuum left by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s withdrawal from the political scene. Former minister Khaled Qabbani, the head of the 11-member“Beirut Confronts” electoral list, will compete for the six Sunni seats and the other five seats allotted to other sects in the Beirut II district in west Beirut.
One of the list’s primary goals is to “regain the state and topple Hezbollah’s mini-state.” Qabbani, a judge previously aligned with Hariri’s Future Movement, said the list’s candidates want to take the Lebanese toward “salvation, security, freedom, and sovereignty, rather than to war or violence.”
Bahaa Hariri, the elder brother of Saad Hariri, is not running in the elections personally. Still, he supports lists of candidates in Beirut and all over Lebanon under Sawa Li Lubnan (Together for Lebanon). Bahaa Hariri, a business tycoon, has vowed to end Hezbollah’s domination in Lebanon and pursue his slain father’s “project,” former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Bahaa Hariri’s support of candidates across Lebanon was aimed at filling the void left by his brother’s withdrawal.
MP Fouad Makhzoumi, a Sunni billionaire businessman, is heading an 11-member electoral list in the Beirut II district called “Beirut needs a heart.” Like other competing lists, Makhzoumi’s ticket seeks to fill the Sunni void left by Hariri’s pull out from the political scene.
During cabinet formation crises, he presented himself as a possible candidate to form a new government. In his electoral speeches, Makhzoumi, a harsh critic of Hezbollah, has vowed to disarm the group if he gained a large bloc in Parliament.
“Hezbollah is controlling the country with its arms. With Hezbollah’s arms, there will be no reforms,” he said. The founder of the National Dialogue Party, Makhzoumi, established a foundation carrying his name that provides social aid and medical care to poor families in Beirut.
In east Beirut, resigned MP Paula Yacoubian, a 46-year-old Lebanese Armenian and a former TV host, is heading the Tahalof Watani [National Coalition] opposition list to contest eight seats (four Armenians, one Maronite, one Greek Orthodox, one Catholic, and one minority Christian) in the Beirut I district.
A vehement opponent of the ruling class, Yacoubian said in a TV interview this week that if re-elected to Parliament, she would team up with other opposition blocs to confront the “corrupt” political elite.
Yacoubian was among eight MPs who resigned from parliament in protest at the Beirut Port explosion that killed more than 215 people and destroyed half of the capital.
Ali Ahmad Mourad
In south Lebanon, attention will be focused on an electoral list called “Together toward change,” which is fielding candidates against those of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in a district where the two Shia parties have monopolized parliamentary seats for decades.
Ali Ahmad Mourad, a political activist and assistant professor at Beirut Arab University, is a member of the “Together toward change” list. Mourad, who hails from the southern town of Aitaroun near the border with Israel, participated in the 2019 uprising against the ruling political elite. He runs for a Shia seat in the Nabatiyeh-Bint Jbeil district, where Hezbollah enjoys broad support.
He acknowledged that his list faces “a political confrontation” with one of the two strongest parties in power, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. “To run [for a parliamentary seat] in the south is not easy. There is a yearning in the south for change,” Mourad said in a TV interview this week. He said the challenge facing the “change forces” is to convince people that there is an alternative to the ruling political elite.
Despite the government’s repeated pledge to organize transparent and fair voting, the election process appears to have been marred by allegations of vote buying.
Aoun and the head of the Supervisory Commission for Lebanon’s Elections have cast doubts about the integrity of the polls. Aoun accused his opponents of spending money to buy votes.
“As the level of electoral money [vote buying] rises, I recall what I wrote back in 1998: Avoid electing candidates for what is in their pockets, this is for them, rather elect them for what is in their hearts and minds, since this is for you,” Aoun wrote on his Twitter account on May 3.
MP Jamil al-Sayyed, who is allied with Hezbollah, claimed that huge amounts of money are being spent in all districts in Lebanon to buy votes.
“The price of a single vote begins from $100 to $250,” he said last week.
Bassil has accused the LF of receiving money from abroad to fund its election campaign, a charge that has been denied by the LF.
Retired judge Nadim Abdelmalak, the head of the 11-member Supervisory Commission for Lebanon’s Elections, painted a gloomy picture of the election process, citing claims to bribe voters.
“There is chaos in the media, publicity and bribery which we hear about but without receiving any complaint in this respect,” Abdelmalak told An-Nahar newspaper’s website on May 3. He said his team was understaffed to oversee voting properly and ballots could easily be bought. "These elections will have violations," Abdelmalak told Reuters last week.