Lebanon parliamentary elections: Voting marred by disputes, low turnout

Supporters of the Lebanese Forces party rally in the Lebanon's northern coastal city of Batroun as they await results following parliamentary elections, Lebanon on May 15, 2022. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 16 May 2022

Lebanon parliamentary elections: Voting marred by disputes, low turnout

  • Poll observers subjected to pressure, threats and exclusion

BEIRUT: The Lebanese public headed to polling booths on Sunday to elect a new parliament against the backdrop of an economic meltdown that is transforming the country.

The armed forces were deployed on roads leading to polling stations.

Arab and foreign observers moved between polling stations to oversee the electoral process but refused to make any declarations, noting that their observations will be included in a report.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections registered dozens of violations, such as delegates being placed under “pressure and harassment,” and threats of expulsion.

The association criticized “the deputy registrars’ failure to carry out their tasks, which results in the cancellation of votes.”

The Supervisory Commission for Elections noted “hundreds of irregularities resulting from breaches of electoral silence.”

Irregularities were also noted by the Association for Democratic Elections. It accused “candidates and politicians, including President Michel Aoun,” of breaches.

Aoun and his wife cast their votes in his hometown in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

He urged voters to avoid being “impartial in a matter as important as choosing the ruling system.”

Politicians and clergymen, some accompanied by their children, cast their votes in front of the cameras in casual clothing.

Tensions reached a peak on Lebanon’s long electoral day in the final hours before polls closed, especially in areas with a strong Hezbollah presence.

The town of Fneidiq in Akkar witnessed several violent clashes and confrontations, prompting calls for the rapid intervention of the Lebanese Army and Internal Security Forces.

Despite the severe polarization that preceded the elections, the turnout was about 25.6 percent by 3 p.m. across Lebanon, according to figures from the Ministry of Interior.

The highest turnout was recorded in Jbeil–Kesserwan, where it reached 42 percent.

However, it did not exceed 22 percent in the Beirut II district, 17 percent in the Beirut I district and 12 percent in Tripoli.

Voters are electing 128 new parliamentary deputies. In some competitive regions, voters were divided due to many competing lists, particularly in Beirut and the north.

The turnout was high in places where party electoral machines were active and effective.

Parties and some electoral institutions invited a large portion of the public to cast early votes, but asked others to vote in the afternoon before the sealing of ballot boxes at 7 p.m., after studying voters’ orientations during the day.

These tactical practices also included offering money to voters.

An officer in one of the electoral machines of one of the lists of change in Beirut told Arab News that “Hezbollah, the Amal Movement and the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (Al-Ahbash) are more organized than others.”

Based on Arab News’ observations in Beirut, delegates of some lists were completely absent in some of the polling stations, while delegates of party lists were present.

Sunni voters in Beirut stepped back from their boycott in light of the decision by Saad Hariri — former prime minister and head of the Future Movement — to suspend his political activity.

One voter, Neamat Naoum, told Arab News: “I had to vote and not boycott. I voted for the interest of others. In previous elections, I used to vote for Saad Hariri and before him, for his father. But Saad bargained a lot and conceded, and the mafias are now controlling us.”

She added: “Why did he do that? We are not against him but we are looking forward to the future. I hope those I voted for are better. I don’t know.”

Bilal Haykal, who was accompanied by his son Yehia to the Khalid bin Al-Walid polling station in the Beirut II district, said that at first, he decided to boycott the election entirely.

“However, when Dar Al-Fatwa called on people to cast their votes, I decided to exercise my constitutional right. I voted for the candidates calling for change after studying their resumes,” he added.

“I don’t want to vote for Hezbollah and its allies, so they won’t control the country’s decisions, knowing that in politics, there is no black and white. That’s how the country is.”

The number of voters in the Beirut II district reached about 370,000. They casted votes to elect 11 deputies out of 118 candidates distributed between 10 complete and incomplete competing lists.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said that “pro-Hezbollah chants in front of and inside Lycee Abdel Kader polling station in Beirut affected the turnout.”

In the Beirut I district, about 135,000 people voted to elect eight deputies.

Voting in the district was viewed as an avenue to retaliate against the ruling class, since the area was hardest hit by the Beirut port explosion two years ago.

Many voters publicly said that “they will not reelect their killers.”

Thirty-nine candidates competed in the district, where the competition was mainly between the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges Party.

In Tripoli, 11 lists competed for eight parliamentary seats. The number of voters reached 438,254.

In Jbeil, people showed up to polling booths to elect two Maronite deputies and a Shiite deputy among 21 candidates.

The competition mainly focused on the potential for a Hezbollah-affiliated deputy or a Shiite deputy in opposition to the party.

Dr. Mahmoud Awad, a candidate on the Lebanese Forces list, was physical assaulted, according to a statement by his party.

“Members of Hezbollah harassed the Lebanese Forces’ delegates in one of the stations, resulting in the intervention of the Army Forces and the removal of the aggressors and the delegates from the center,” the statement said.

Lebanese Forces delegates were subjected to harassment in Jezzine by members of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, including inside a polling station.


Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

Updated 19 August 2022

Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

  • Anger in West Bank after man, 58, is shot on his way home from morning prayers

RAMALLAH, West Bank: There was growing outrage in the occupied West Bank on Friday after Israeli troops killed another unarmed Palestinian man.

Saleh Sawafta, 58, was returning from dawn prayers at a mosque near his home in Tubas when he was shot in the head. Doctors fought to save his life, but Sawafta died from “critical wounds.”

The victim, who had been preparing for his daughter’s wedding next week — was not involved in previous clashes with Israeli forces and was not a target for arrest.

His death brought the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army since the beginning of the year to 135.

Hundreds of people attended Sawafta’s funeral on Friday afternoon as anger spread in the city.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Tubas Governor Maj. Gen. Younis Al-Assi accused the Israeli army of using “excessive and unjustified force” against Palestinian citizens, and of shooting to kill.

He told Arab News that the Israeli army’s policy of killing, wounding and arresting Palestinian citizens was the main contributor to the “industry of terrorism,” and influenced young people to seek revenge for the deaths and assaults.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that the armed forces of the Israeli occupation would continue their “terrorism” unless the international community stopped displaying double standards over international law.

“As long as they can act with impunity, the crime continues in the absence of punishment. Children, women and the elderly are victims of the terror of the occupation in every city, village and camp,” the prime minister said.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sawafta’s killing was “part of a series of daily crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian citizens,” and said the army was acting on instructions from Israeli politicians.


US says ‘concerned’ by Israeli closure of Palestinian NGOs

Updated 19 August 2022

US says ‘concerned’ by Israeli closure of Palestinian NGOs

  • Six of the Palestinian organizations were labeled last October as terrorist organizations by Israel
  • The NGOs have all denied any links to the PFLP, which many western nations have designated a terrorist group

WASHINGTON: Washington said Thursday it was “concerned” by the Israeli government’s forced closure of several Palestinian NGOs operating in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military announced earlier in the day that it had conducted overnight raids of seven organizations in Ramallah, the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters are located.
Six of the Palestinian organizations were labeled last October as terrorist organizations by Israel for their alleged links to the leftist militant group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), though Israeli officials have not publicly shared any evidence of the links.
The NGOs have all denied any links to the PFLP, which many western nations have designated a terrorist group.
“We are concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press briefing.
“We have not changed our position or approach to these organizations,” said Price, though he noted that Washington does not fund any of them.
“We have seen nothing in recent months to change (our position)” he added.
US officials have reached out to their Israeli counterparts “at the senior level” to obtain additional information, which Israel has promised to provide, according to Price.
The seventh organization raided by Israel on Thursday, the Union of Health Work Committees, was banned by Israel from working in the West Bank in 2020.


Israel announces plan to boost Gaza work permits

Updated 19 August 2022

Israel announces plan to boost Gaza work permits

  • A further 1,500 people from the impoverished and overcrowded Gaza Strip would be allowed to work in Israel from Sunday

JERUSALEM: Israel said Friday it plans to grant more work permits to Palestinians in blockaded Gaza, reviving a pledge made ahead of a visit by US President Joe Biden but later scrapped.
A further 1,500 people from the impoverished and overcrowded Gaza Strip would be allowed to work in Israel from Sunday, the military said in a statement.
“The decision will take effect ... on condition that the security situation remains quiet in the area,” said COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories.
The move to boost to 15,500 the total number of work permits was initially announced on July 12, on the eve of Biden’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
But it was scrapped four days later, in the wake of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and retaliatory strikes by Israeli warplanes.
The work permits provide vital income to some of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who have been living under a strict blockade imposed by Israel since the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in 2007.
Friday’s announcement follows three days of fighting this month between Islamic Jihad militants and Israel.
At least 49 Gazans were killed and hundreds wounded, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry.
The plan to issue additional permits follows a decision by Hamas largely to stay out of the recent fighting.


Market blast in north Syria kills 19 people, wounds dozens

Updated 45 min 20 sec ago

Market blast in north Syria kills 19 people, wounds dozens

  • Assad regime shelling hits busy market in rebel-held Aleppo town, says monitor
  • The attack on the town of Al-Bab came days after a Turkish airstrike killed at least 11 Syrian troops and US-backed Kurdish fighters

JEDDAH: At least 19 civilians were killed in northern Syria on Friday in an upsurge in violence along the border with Turkey.

Artillery fire by Assad regime forces hit a busy market in the border town of Al-Bab, which is under the authority of Turkish-controlled Syrian fighters, killing 15 people.

In the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northeast Syria, four children were killed and 11 were injured in a Turkish strike on a rehabilitation centre for girls near the city of Hasakeh.

The new bloodshed comes against a backdrop of increased tensions pitting Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the regime against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor in Britain that has a network of sources in Syria, said the shelling that hit Al-Bab originated from Assad regime positions. A spokesman for the SDF denied any involvement.

The strike ripped through the market area and witnesses described a jumble of body parts, strewn vegetables and mangled handcarts.

BACKGROUND

The new bloodshed comes against a backdrop of increased tensions pitting Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the regime against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies.

Violence between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds escalated this week with a deadly Turkish strike killing 17 regime and Kurdish fighters in retaliation for Kurdish fire inside Turkey.

Ankara considers the main Kurdish component of the SDF — allied with the US against Daesh militants —to be a terrorist organisation with links to the outlawed PKK.

The warring factions in Syria's 11-year conflict have carved up the north into a patchwork of zones of control. Al-Bab is within the areas of Aleppo province held by Turkish-backed rebels. Other parts are held by Assad regime troops backed by Russia.

The SDF, spearheaded by Kurdish groups who have opened a dialogue with the regime in Damascus, also control parts of the north and northeast.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened a new military operation against the Kurds in northern Syria, but has failed to obtain a green light from allies Iran and Russia.

Erdogan insisted on Friday that Turkey did not intend to seize any Syrian territory despite stepping up its attacks against Kurdish forces.

“We do not have eyes on the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers,” Erdogan said. “The regime must be aware of this.”

But he also hinted that Turkey may be open to a reproachment with Assad after fiercely opposing his regime.“There should be no resentment in politics,” he said.


Deadly wildfires contained in Algeria after homes, livelihoods lost

Updated 19 August 2022

Deadly wildfires contained in Algeria after homes, livelihoods lost

  • Justice Ministry launches inquiry after interior minister suggests some of this year’s blazes were started deliberately

ALGIERS: Wildfires which killed at least 38 people across northern Algeria have been contained, firefighters said Friday, as volunteers mobilized to help those who lost homes and livelihoods in the tragedy.

“All of the fires have been completely brought under control,” said fire brigade Col. Farouk Achour, of the civil defense department.
Fierce fires have become an annual fixture in Algeria’s parched forests where climate change exacerbates a long-running drought.
Since the beginning of August, almost 150 blazes have devastated hundreds of hectares.

BACKGROUND

Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Algeria, which has more than four million hectares of forest.

In the badly hit region of El Tarf, farmers examined the charred remains of their animals killed when flames swept through the area.
The fire “didn’t spare anything,” said one farmer, Hamdi Gemidi, 40, who walked in rubber sandals on the ash-covered earth where the carcasses of what appeared to be sheep lay.

An elderly Algerian woman reacts inside the ruins of her home. (AFP)

“This is our livelihood ... We have nowhere to go and nothing to make a living from.”
Ghazala, 81, said she had been rescued along with a few animals after flames came dangerously close to her house.
“I don’t know where to go now. Should I stay in the fields, forests or mountains?” she asked, on the verge of tears.
“I really don’t know where I should go.”
The Justice Ministry launched an inquiry after Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud suggested some of this year’s blazes were started deliberately, and authorities on Thursday announced four arrests of suspected arsonists.
But officials have also been accused of a lack of preparation, with few firefighting aircraft available despite record casualties in last year’s blazes and a cash windfall from gas exports with global energy prices soaring.
Authorities said they deployed more than 1,700 firefighters over Wednesday and Thursday.
The dead included more than 10 children and a similar number of firefighters, according to multiple sources including local journalists and the fire service.
Most were in the El Tarf region near Algeria’s eastern border with Tunisia, an area which was sweltering earlier this week in 48 degree Celsius heat.
Algerians both at home and in the diaspora have mobilized to collect clothing, medicines and food to help those affected.
Late on Thursday, dozens of trucks carrying humanitarian aid from various cities arrived in El Tarf, regional authorities said.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also offered support to Algerians “hard-hit by the terrible fires.”
Writing on Twitter, he said: “The EU stands by your side in these difficult times.”
Twelve people burned to death in their bus as they tried to escape when fire ripped through an animal park, a witness who asked not to be named said.
When “nobody came to help us, neither the fire service nor anyone else,” park staff assisted families with young children to escape as flames encroached on the area, Takeddine, a worker at the park, said.
Fires last year killed at least 90 people and seared 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the country’s north.
Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Algeria, which has more than 4 million hectares of forest.
Algeria had agreed to buy seven firefighting aircraft from Spanish firm Plysa, but canceled the contract following a diplomatic row over the Western Sahara in late June, according to specialist website Mena Defense.
Spain, too, has this year battled hundreds of wildfires following punishing heat waves and long dry spells.
On Thursday, Algeria’s Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane defended the government’s response.
He said his country had ordered four new firefighting aircraft but they would not be available until December.
The prime minister added that strong winds had exacerbated the fires and authorities deployed “all their means” to extinguish them.

 

Related