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| 23 April, 2018

Glut of lists fighting it out in Beirut II

A whopping nine lists are competing in this year’s race for Beirut II’s 11 parliamentary seats.

Lebanese members of parliament attend a session in Beirut.

Lebanese members of parliament attend a session in Beirut.

REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT - A whopping nine lists are competing in this year’s race for Beirut II’s 11 parliamentary seats. It could be a sign that candidates in the western part of the capital are trying to capitalize on any dissatisfaction in its current representation.

However, the numbers indicate that only four lists stand a real chance of winning seats.

Previously sweeping the whole district, the Future Movement continues to remain the favorite, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri heading the list in Beirut II. But as many as five seats could be stripped from Hariri’s party by a Hezbollah-backed list and two separate lists headed by prominent Sunni candidates.

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The district has six Sunni seats, two Shiite seats, one Druze, one Orthodox and one Protestant seat up for grabs.

CEO at Statistics Lebanon Rabih Haber said an anticipated 140,000 to 150,000 voters will cast a ballot out of the approximately 340,000 registered voters – an approximately 40 percent turnout. This will mean a threshold of nearly 13,800 votes – the minimum number of votes needed for a list to qualify to win seats.

Around 40,000 of the 71,000 registered Shiite voters are expected to turn out, and it’s likely that at least 35,000 of these will back the Hezbollah and the Amal Movement list – essentially corresponding to enough votes for the two Shiite candidates.

But the list will be looking for one more seat, which is set to go to former MP Adnan Traboulsi, who will undoubtedly attract the votes of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, also know as Al-Ahbash, a small but effective Islamist group. Another of the group’s Sunni candidates, well-known businessman Omar Ghandour, and candidates from opposing lists say they believe at least 7,000 Al-Ahbash votes will go to Traboulsi.

Dubbed “Beirut’s Unity,” the Hezbollah and Amal-backed list is confident that it will get four MPs, Ghandour said. “But I don’t care if I personally win – the main thing is to get as many people that believe in this point of view [of the resistance] into Parliament,” he told The Daily Star.

With three seats looking locked-in, the Future Movement will be looking, at best, to take the remaining eight. Hariri’s seat, the Druze and two Christian seats appear to be a set for this list. But all eyes will be on how many of the remaining five Sunni seats Hariri can win, with former Prime Minister Tammam Salam and current Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk favorites.

As for new faces, Hariri has endorsed one female candidate for the district – Rola Tabsh Jaroudi.

“If they [voters] really want youth in Parliament, this is their chance,” Tabsh Jaroudi told The Daily Star from her Downtown Beirut law office. Asked how she would be different from her predecessors if elected to Parliament, Tabsh Jaroudi said, “I am not from a political family and I am just one of the ordinary people.”

She has already started working on helping the younger generation build startups. “Around 95 percent of the Lebanese economy is made up of small and medium enterprises but there are laws missing to facilitate the process of developing them, and we will be working to make legislation to make it easier and cheaper,” she said.

The only female candidate on the list would not speculate on the chances she or her list will win.

“That isn’t our job and we’ll leave that to Leyla Abdel-Latif,” Tabsh Jaroudi said with a laugh, referring to a popular clairvoyant.

Another Sunni seat would be up for grabs if the five previously mentioned candidates gain enough votes.

Salah Salam, editor-in-chief of local daily Al-Liwaa, said he believes his Beirut al-Watan (Beirut the Nation) list will obtain enough votes for one or two seats. “The fact that there are nine lists competing in Beirut II proves that Beirut residents are frustrated,” Salam told The Daily Star. Many of the candidates on the list, including Salam himself, are known to be traditionally close to the Hariri family with regard to their political viewpoints. But he said Beirut residents are angry at the perception that Sunnis are being sidelined from job opportunities and representation in the area. “The feeling Sunnis are experiencing today is the same as what the Christians were feeling in the 1990s,” Salam said. He said a rule in the Beirut municipality stipulating that 60 percent of the employees be from the city itself was not currently being enforced.

Yet Salam reiterated his support for Hariri to retain the premiership, saying the prime minister “is the Sunni zaim [leader].” The driving force behind Salam forming a list is to “unify the political direction again,” after Hariri’s surprise endorsement of President Michel Aoun: “He [Hariri], until this day, never explained or convinced his crowd of this decision.” If Salam doesn’t secure a Sunni seat, the list’s other candidate, Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya MP Imad Hout, could.

Another list that could potentially win a seat is led by prominent businessman Fouad Makhzoumi.

He was unable to be reached for comment despite multiple attempts.

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