Polls opened in the second phase of Lebanon's municipal and mukhtar elections Sunday, with heated battles taking place in a number of Mount Lebanon towns between different alliances.
Elections in 45 municipalities have already been decided by acclamation, the Interior Ministry said, however battles are taking place in the key areas of Jounieh, Sin al-Fil, Baabda, Hadath, Ghobeiri and others.
The vote comes one week after municipal elections in Beirut and east Lebanon saw victories for the country's mainstream parties despite a powerful showing by a grassroots group in the capital, and influential families in the east.
The mostly-peaceful municipal elections in Beirut, the Bekaa and Baalbek-Hermel marked the first polls to be held on time since the last municipal polls in 2010.
Similar elections are planned for the South Lebanon and Nabatieh governorates on May 22, and the North Lebanon and Akkar governorates on May 29.
The Interior Ministry has said around 20,000 security forces members being deployed at polling stations around the country at each phase of the voting.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that the security situation was completely under control and that his ministry had solved all issues that marred last week's elections, including vote-buying.
By about noon, he said that voter turnout in most areas had not yet reached 10 percent.
"Two people have been so far been detained since yesterday over their links to bribes," Machouk said from the operation center at his ministry's headquarters in Beirut.
He said authorities are conducting a "serious followup to rectify all mistakes" made during the first round of elections.
"All major gaps are being resolved," he added.
Polls close at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday's poll is seeing the country's three main Christian parties facing off in many areas, despite their alliances in others.
In a statement, the Interior Ministry said 834,768 voters are eligible to participate in Sunday's polls. There are 3,217 polling stations open in Mount Lebanon, with 6,790 candidates running in 325 municipal councils. Forty-five councils have already won uncontested, the statement added.
- Kesrouan -
Jounieh, capital of the Kesrouan district, has two lists competing for votes. One is headed by Fouad Boueiri, backed by the LF, former MPs Mansour al-Bon and Farid Haikal al-Khazen, and a number of local families. The list also has the support of businessman Neemat Frem, the son of a former MP and Cabinet minister.
The rival ticket, named "Jounieh's Dignity" and headed by Joan Hobeish, is backed by the FPM, the Kataeb Party and other families.
In Zouk Mikael, two lists partially backed by Christian parties are competing. The heads of the lists told LBCI that the battle is mostly between families, but that the FPM supports candidates from each list, and the LF supports candidates from one.
- Jbeil -
The current Mayor of Jbeil Ziad Hawwat is running against Claude Marje, an FPM member who is backed by the secular group Citizens Within a State. She told reporters that the FPM did not back her candidacy.
"The Jbeil municipality is for everyone and we respect Marje's candidacy against us," Hawwat told reporters, saying that the town "will remain civilized and will portray Lebanon's democratic image to the world."
Charbel Nahas, a former minister and the head of Citizens Within a State, described Marje as a "democratic" choice who "seeks to build the state."
The National News Agency reported that a verbal spat erupted between Nahas and supporters of Hawwat's list.
Several municipal candidates had won the municipal council of the town of Fidar by acclamation.
Forty-three mukhtars in different towns and villages across the district have also won by acclamation.
- Metn -
In Sin al-Fil, the current mayor Nabil Kahaleh is facing tough competition from a rival list backed by the FPM and the LF for the municipality's 18-member council. Kahaleh's list is backed by the Kataeb Party, MP Michel Murr and local families.
In the town of Fanar, 930 voters will be casting their ballots to choose nine-members for its municipal council and one mukhtar.
Two lists are competing in the area, the first "Fanar is our Town" backed by the FPM and the LF and headed by George Salameh. The second list is called "the Fanar of Tomorrow" and is headed by Antoine Aoun and supported by the Kataeb Party.
In Baskinta, the LF, Kataeb, MP Michel Murr's group, and the National Liberal Party are backing a list against the FPM, Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Waed Party.
Jal al-Dib is witnessing a battle between the "For a Better Tomorrow" list backed by FPM lawmaker Nabil Nicolas, and "Together for Jal al-Dib," which is the official FPM-backed list.
Nicolas denied in remarks to media outlets that he was reprimanded by the FPM over his decision.
"The battle is linked to development and I abide by the decision taken by the FPM command. But I am a lawmaker and I have my weight in my area. No one can divide us," he said.
Former president and Kataeb chief Amine Gemayel, who is backing his daughter Nicole's list for Bikfaya's 15-member municipal council, said he would have "favored the staging of timely parliamentary and presidential elections."
However, he noted that "the municipal elections confirm that the Lebanese people are holding onto their [constitutional] rights."
Nicole said that "polls in Bikfaya are being held in a calm environment."
- Aley -
Choueifat is witnessing a battle between lists supported by the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Democratic Party.
"I believe this is a chance for people to vote for the best choices," LDP leader Talal Arslan, who voted in Choueifat, said.
Arslan's "Choueifat Families" list is going up against a civil society group list backed by the PSP for the area's 18-member council.
- Baabda -
In the southern Beirut suburb of Hadath, two rival lists, one backed by the LF and another backed by the FPM, are competing for control of the town's local council.
Current Mayor George Aoun, who heads a list supported by the FPM, is running against Antoine Karam, who is backed by the Kataeb and LF.
A competition is also brewing in Ghobeiri, where Hezbollah enjoys wide support. Members of leading Shia families have teamed up to form a joint ticket to face a rival candidate list backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement for the control of the town's 21-member municipal council.
"If people want to change their daily realities then they should vote for our list," Wassef Harake, a lawyer affiliated with the We Want Accountability movement, said.
He is running on the "Ghobeiri for Everyone" list. "Our choice is clear. We want to change," he said.
That list is challenging the "Development and Loyalty" list backed by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.
In Hazmieh, the Kataeb and NLP support one list against the FPM.
In Haret Hreik, FPM lawmaker Alain Aoun said after he voted that it was "a shame that the LF is standing against the FPM" in the southern Beirut suburb.
The LF is backing Ziad Dakkache in Haret Hreik against the joint FPM-Hezbollah list.
"I am here to renew my support for the municipal council and stress my support for the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM," he said.
By 11:00 a.m. the voter turnout in Haret Hreik reached 20 percent, 12 percent in Burj al-Barajneh and 15 percent in Ghobeiri.
- Chouf -
The town of Deir al-Qamar is expected to witness a heated battle between the LF and FPM against a list backed by NLP chief Dory Chamoun and the Kataeb.
Chamoun, a traditional ally of the LF, criticized the party for running against his list.
Polls were briefly halted at a polling station in Naameh after a scuffle erupted between a municipal candidate and a representative from the competing list.
Two lists are battling in Naameh and Haret Naameh. The first "Unity and Development" list is running against "Love and Development" list, which includes current municipal members.
By Hanan Khaled
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