Low turnout mars key Beirut municipal elections

The disappointment – and apparent sense of hopelessness – was reflected by low voter turnout

Tarek Ali Ahmad
Tarek Ali Ahmad - Al Arabiya English
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Celebratory gunshots rang out in the sky of the Lebanese capital Beirut on Sunday night as early indications pointed towards victory for a Saudi-backed political bloc, dashing the hopes of a grassroots movement.

The March 14 bloc, led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the head of the country’s most prominent political dynasty, appeared to take again all 24 seats in the council.

The Beiruti campaign, headed by Jamal Itani and backed by the March 14 bloc, beat their main rivals Beirut Madinati, who ran an independent non-affiliated movement challenging the reigning movement.

But the prospect of March 14 bloc staying in power for another six years has disappointed many of the city’s residents, who had hoped for a fresh new leadership untainted by allegations of graft and corruption.

“Nothing has changed, there’s still bribes, and money paying and people forcing people to vote for their party, still nothing has changed at all,” Jamal, a voter on the street, told Al Arabiya English.

Several of cars had their party’s candidates’ pictures posted on their vehicles, as well as speakers tied to the roof in order to spread the word of the upcoming elections. (Credit Amir Richani)
Several of cars had their party’s candidates’ pictures posted on their vehicles, as well as speakers tied to the roof in order to spread the word of the upcoming elections. (Credit Amir Richani)

The disappointment – and apparent sense of hopelessness – was reflected by low voter turnout. Local media outlets reported that only 20 percent of eligible voters in the city cast their ballots.

Beirut Madinati, the independent non-affiliated campaign, who was the Beiruti campaign’s main opponent, deployed an engaging social media drive to send their message across the country, gaining them a large following.

The independent campaign gained a lot of supporters who wanted to change the usually anointed municipal cabinet that could not resolve several issues - namely the trash crisis that has haunted Lebanon for almost a year.

However, due to election rules specifying that voters must have roots in the city, most Beirut Madinati supporters are not eligible to vote. Even though many of them live, work and study in the capital, there is not much they can do but spread awareness.

Nevertheless, the elections took over the capital, with public schools used as voting stations and people out in the streets campaigning for their party.

Factbox: Lebanon municipal elections

Factbox: Lebanon municipal elections
Factbox: Lebanon municipal elections

In total, 1,300 voting stations were spread across Beirut, catering to around 500,000 eligible voters.

Activists dressed in party colors of white, red and yellow took over the capital’s roads, handing out candidate lists and urging citizens to make use of their right to vote.

“There’s a democratic energy running through the city today, of course this is due to having several opponents which would have never been imagined six years ago,” said Beirut Madinati supporter Mustapha, hours before initial results were released.

Beirut’s current municipal council has been charge of the capital for 18 years.

“It’s nice knowing the there are people who want to change [the country], but on the other hand, it’s sad to see people voting for the Beiruti list who… have done nothing,” said Nour Fakih, another Madinati activist.

“I work in Angola and came here just to help out in the elections and am traveling tonight - and I’m not even eligible to vote in Beirut - so I came to help because, in the end, I want to come back to the country [Lebanon],” he said.

“But with the situation now and the people who are in charge in politics, no way will I be able to come back.”

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