AUB elections see split in traditional political alliances
Hezbollah, coalition and independents elected in calm and organized atmosphere
Close elections for the American University of Beirut student council Friday saw the coalition representing the now-defunct March 8 split with the March 14 national political coalition and independent party seats.
Dozens of candidates from political parties, in addition to independent candidates, competed to represent their peers based on lists of candidates or a preferred vote, where one person is selected from a list.
According to official results released by the university, the Hezbollah-Amal alliance of Students for Change, Leaders of Tomorrow – a coalition of the Lebanese Forces, the Future Movement and Free Patriotic Movement – and an independent party Campus Choice each took six seats.
Students reported that “one independent will join March 8. However, this has not been officially confirmed by either party,” as the independent representative has not officially announced his joining of March 8.
This year’s election was unique in that political alliances were built on pragmatism versus tradition and that the secular party saw particular success. Lebanese student elections are closely watched as a bellwether of national political sentiment.
The Free Patriotic Movement made a surprising step by abandoning its alliance with Hezbollah and Amal to join the Lebanese Forces and Future Movement.
The Progressive Socialist Party did not field any candidates, having withdrawn from elections in all universities earlier in the week, saying the purpose of the elections to improve institutions had been lost.
However, a financial economics masters student said, “The Progressive Socialist Party realized they were losing in elections, that is why they withdrew. “They do not have ‘a right path’ and they are affiliated with a different party each year.”
Carl Abou Jawde, the Free Patriotic Movement’s administrator said, “We have had a problem with Amal since last year’s elections when they crossed candidates from our party off the list in one of the faculties,” according to local online media outlet Al-Modon. “We have an understanding with Hezbollah about [leaving the coalition],” he added.
The elections took place between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Friday. All students not attending classes or lab sessions were barred from the university’s campus from 5 p.m. as the votes were counted, with ID checks at the entrances enforced. The Lebanese Association for Electoral Democracy sent observers to oversee the elections.
On the AUB campus, while the vote was taking place, a candidate from Students for Change who asked not to be named told The Daily Star that “elections are being held in a calm and organized atmosphere with no problems.”
He said he was confident in his party’ s chance of winning and in its ability to bring change to the university. “Each candidate has his own platform to impact his faculty,” he added.
A candidate from the March 14affiliated Leaders of Tomorrow stressed that “Aounists [FPM] did not get any seats in the university last year so it is normal for them to be angry and abandon the previous coalition.” He noted, however, that “this only happened in AUB.”
“We agreed for them to join because of the coalition between Aounists and Lebanese Forces that led to Michel Aoun’s election as president. Our [Future Movement] coalition with Lebanese Forces will stay strong,” he continued. “Aounists are one of the political parties that were part of the March 14, 2005, revolution, so we welcomed them.”
Before the result was announced, the Students for Change candidate was confident that the addition of FPM would boost their changes. He stressed, however, that “The secular party has a really important role in AUB and became really strong, but we don’t know the reason behind it. It is considered a good competitor.”
“We hope that this year will be different for us,” he said. “All parties have the same aim to bring change, but some of the parties suggest changes that aren’t possible, like lowering tuition fees and banning smoking etc. but we all want to bring positive change.”
A candidate from Campus Choice, Abdul Sattar Ouayda, said that change was possible if candidates could bring faculties together and be pragmatic. “But we have a lot of things to change,” he added.
He said he did not agree with the way elections were handled in terms of political alliances. “Those parties just care for winning while we care for bringing positive change.
“Many students don’t know each other, especially new students, so we try opening communication and facilitating dialogue between them,” he added.
Faculty of Arts and Sciences graduate student Elias Choucair said,
“You don’t have any sectarian divisions or hate among people here, which encourages you to vote,” he added, noting that he voted for Leaders of Tomorrow’s candidate because he liked the party’s platform this year.
“You have many students that don’t vote or have decided to stop voting, but this should change because it’s the only way to hold accountable any candidate by not voting for them next year.”
For her part, Economics MA student Dana said that she had stopped voting after having held a seat. “I won in 2009’s elections,” she said. “When the Student Council meetings had to be held to decide how to apply our program, nobody would attend and [this situation] continued that way unfortunately. This made me change my mind and stop voting.”
In parallel, the Lebanese Forces swept a victory at Notre Dame University in Zouk Mosbeh while other political parties split the remaining seats. According to official results released by the university, the Lebanese Forces alone took 33 seats (80 percent), while the March 8 coalition took eight seats and Kataeb took two.
The election of 43 candidates distributed across all faculties began at 8:30 a.m. and proceeded without incident. In NDU’s electoral system, it is almost impossible for any political team to win all seats as it adheres to a proportional representation system. However, both the Law and Political Science and Nursing and Health Sciences faculties use a one person, one vote system.
Lebanese student elections are closely watched as a bellwether of national political sentiment.