Final stages of municipal elections kick off in northern Lebanon

Published May 30th, 2016 - 05:00 GMT
People walk past posters of Lebanese candidates running in the country's municipal election. (AFP/File)
People walk past posters of Lebanese candidates running in the country's municipal election. (AFP/File)

The fourth and final stage of the municipal elections kicked off on Sunday in the North and Akkar.

The Interior Ministry said that 5,976 candidates will be running for seats in 273 municipal councils and 1,553 candidates will be running for 740 mayoral seats.

Some 580,095 voters are registered in the North and 269,910 are registered in Akkar.

Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq had followed up on the various administrative, security, and logistic preparations to ensure that the elections will be held without incident.

Mashnouq later told al-Jadeed television: "So far the final round of the elections is excellent and the voter turnout is very high."

The Interior Ministry urged candidates to respect the laws linked to the polls and security forces to combat any form of bribery.

Voter turnout at 3:00 pm was 14.3% in Tripoli, 34.3% in Koura, 36.5% in Batroun, 40.1% in Minieh-Dinniyeh, 34.75% in Akkar, 28.6% in Bsharri and 27.5% in Zgharta, with an overall average of 30.9%, according to the Interior Ministry.

In the city of Tripoli, a list backed by resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi is running against one backed by Mustaqbal Movement chief MP Saad Hariri, former Prime Minister Najib Miqati, and former ministers Faisal Karami and Mohammed al-Safadi.

A third list running in the elections is headed by former MP Mosbah al-Ahdab and a fourth one comprised of independent figures and civil society activists.

The list backed by Hariri and Miqati is headed by Azzam Aweida and the one supported by Rifi is headed by Ahmed Qamri.

Miqati said after casting his vote: "I met with Hariri and we decided to open a new chapter in our ties."

"Hariri and I are working towards development in Tripoli."

"Rifi is a part of Tripoli and no one can eliminate him."

In the area of Batroun, some 60,000 registered voters will be voting for 309 municipal council members. The main battle will take place between a list backed by Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb and another supported by the Free Patriotic Movement.

In Dinniyeh, over 115,000 candidates will vote for members of 34 municipal councils. In Zgharta, 76,000 voters will elect 333 municipal council members. In Bsharri, 50,000 voters will elect 186 municipal council members.

In Akkar, the most heated battle is anticipated in al-Qoubaiyat between a list backed by the Lebanese Forces and FPM and another backed by Mustaqbal MP Hadi Hbeish and former MP Mikhail al-Daher.

Hbeish said after after casting his vote in Qoubaiyat: "I hope that voters will be motivated by municipal interests, not political ones."

"Our sole reservation over the other electoral list in Qoubaiyat is that it was formed outside the town. A victory for our list will be a victory for residents of the town."

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said a number of voters were seen "casting their votes and then handing over their IDs to the representatives of the 'Qoubaiyat Decides' list," which is backed by Hbeish and al-Daher.

And in the Akkar town of Bebnin, LADE accused the Justice and Equality list -- which is backed by the al-Masri family and other families -- of buying votes "for $50, LBP100,000 or mobile phone recharge cards at the Rafik Hariri High School."

The Zgharta municipal elections were marked by an agreement between former rivals -- the Marada Movement of MP Suleiman Franjieh and the Independence Movement of Michel Mouawad.

Franjieh said after casting his vote in Zgharta: "The electoral process today is being held through consensus and it has development purposes, which we hope will encompass everyone."

Minister Roni Araiji, of Marada, said after casting his vote: "The agreement between the two sides in Zgharta is aimed at easing political tensions."

The electoral process was largely calm with security incidents being reported in some Akkar towns and another in Minieh-Dinniyeh where disputes among the voters in Kfar Habou disrupted the elections.

The security forces were quick to prevent the dispute from escalating and the elections are running smoothly.

A similar clash also erupted in Bakhoun in Minieh-Dinniyeh, but it was soon contained.

Security forces meanwhile arrested two people in the Zgharta district town of Aitou on charges of paying electoral bribes, state-run National News Agency reported.

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