Elec­tion casts doubt over FPM-LF al­liance

De­feat of Aounist can­di­date leads to re­crim­i­na­tions of bad faith

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Nazih Os­seiran

BEIRUT: In­de­pen­dent can­di­date Jad Ta­bet’s sur­prise elec­tion as head of Beirut’s Or­der of En­gi­neers may have cast doubt over the dura­bil­ity of the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment and the Le­banese Forces’ al­liance, but an­a­lysts Mon­day played down the vic­tory’s reper­cus­sions on up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tions.

Shortly af­ter Ta­bet beat the FPM’s can­di­date Paul Najm by a mea­ger 21 votes, so­cial me­dia out­lets were swarmed with FPM sup­port­ers ac­cus­ing their al­lies of cross­ing out Najm’s name from the bal­lot and vot­ing for Ta­bet in­stead, thereby se­cur­ing him a vic­tory.

Ta­bet is an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date who headed the Naqa­bati (“My Syn­di­cate”) list and was sup­ported by civil so­ci­ety col­lec­tive Beirut Mad­i­nati. Although Ta­bet was elected as the head of the or­der, the rest of the seats on the coun­cil were won by can­di­dates rep­re­sent­ing the es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

“Ev­ery­thing on so­cial me­dia rep­re­sents peo­ple’s pri­vate opin­ions and is not the party’s of­fi­cial stance,” an FPM source who was ac­tive in the elec­tions told The Daily Star Mon­day. “There still needs to be an analysis of the numbers and an analysis of the results and this takes time. When the lead­er­ship is done with its as­sess­ment, then the FPM will take the proper de­ci­sion and make the re­quired pub­lic state­ments.”

Long­time ri­vals LF leader Samir Geagea and Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun, the founder of the FPM, buried the hatchet in 2015 in a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion dubbed the Maarab Dec­la­ra­tion.

A se­nior source from the FPM re­vealed the cur­rent mind­set within the party’s halls of power.

“The lead­er­ship is ab­so­lutely pos­i­tive that their loss was the re­sult of the Le­banese Force’s ac­tions,” the source said. “And this is not the first time the party feels slighted by the LF. FPM of­fi­cials did not put out a state­ment on the mat­ter, nor will they. They are let­ting their con­stituents voice their anger on so­cial me­dia in­stead,” the source said.

The source pointed to two pre­vi­ous in­ci­dents that have soured the re­la­tion­ship between the two par­ties, whereby the FPM had felt slighted by its new­found al­lies. The first was when Geagea hinted that he would be open to form­ing an agree­ment with Ba­troun MP Boutros Harb over the district’s par­lia­men­tary seats.

Harb has long been con­sid­ered a pop­u­lar can­di­date in the re­gion yet the FPM has been ac­tively seek­ing to trans­fer Tripoli’s Chris­tian par­lia­men­tary seat to Ba­troun in a bid to have FPM Pres­i­dent and For­eign Min­is­ter Ge­bran Bas­sil fi­nally at­tain a seat in Par­lia­ment af­ter he had failed to se­cure one dur­ing the 2009 elec­tions.

The source re­counted an­other in­ci­dent in which he con­sid­ered the FPM was the re­cip­i­ent of a veiled cri­tique from the LF. “The [LF-af­fil­i­ated] in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter was hold­ing a cer­e­mony hon­or­ing Casino du Liban’s chair­man of the board of di­rec­tors and the lat­ter had some crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun’s ten­ure,” the source said.

“The ob­vi­ous ques­tion arises is why is the LF do­ing this?” the source added. “They are try­ing to pres­sure the FPM. There are cer­tain ar­eas, such as Jbeil and Ke­serouan, that are closed off for ev­ery­one ex­cept FPM can­di­dates; they al­ways get th­ese seats. What the LF is do­ing is pres­sur­ing the FPM into al­low­ing them to field their own can­di­dates in th­ese ar­eas and sub­se­quently get a greater share in Par­lia­ment.”

The head of the LF en­gi­neers’ group, Nazih Matta, de­nied that there was a cen­tral­ized de­ci­sion by his party to cross out the FPM can­di­date’s name in the re­cent elec­tion.

“There was a lot of con­fu­sion in the ne­go­ti­a­tions between us, the FPM and the other par­ties,” he told The Daily Star. “Af­ter we with­drew our can­di­date [late in the race] we were still de­cid­ing our course of ac­tion, yet the FPM kept stalling. They would call us at 8 p.m. and say 10 min­utes and you’ll have your an­swer. Then they would call us at 9 p.m. say­ing the same thing. This went on un­til 2 a.m. Saturday night.”

The LF and the FPM were ne­go­ti­at­ing on how they would be rep­re­sented in the coun­cil. Since the FPM was field­ing the can­di­date for the head of the or­der, the un­der­stand­ing was that the LF would take two of five coun­cil seats in re­turn. Yet with the un­der­stand­ing yet to be con­firmed as the vote drew near, dis­si­dence spread among the LF’s vot­ing mem­bers.

“Some of our peo­ple were very up­set by this. They thought they were be­ing taken for a ride by the FPM; I saw it be­fore my eyes and some of them got very en­raged,” he said. “Th­ese are the peo­ple who crossed out the [FPM can­di­date’s] name I think, but the de­ci­sion from [the LF head­quar­ters at] Maarab was clear, we were told to vote for the list as it is and that’s what the ma­jor­ity of the LF en­gi­neers did.”

Talal Atrissi, a Le­banese po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, said it would take some time for the his­toric rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between the FPM and LF to trans­late into a sim­i­lar coming to­gether of their re­spec­tive sup­port­ers.

“We have to re­mem­ber that there have been decades of an­i­mos­ity between th­ese two par­ties,” he told The Daily Star.

“This will not dis­ap­pear just like that. The agree­ment was between the party lead­er­ship at the high­est lev­els, but it the re­la­tion­ship between the pop­u­lar cadres still needs time to de­velop.”

He added that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties may have un­der­es­ti­mated their op­po­nents, which re­sulted in the in­de­pen­dent’s sur­pris­ing vic­tory.

“Najm was backed by the LF, the Fu­ture Move­ment, the FPM, Hezbol­lah and Amal. To them, there was no way they could lose so they did not ac­ti­vate their cam­paign co­or­di­na­tors. There was no se­ri­ous work done on the ground. While the Naqa­bati peo­ple ex­erted their full ef­fort into this and worked re­ally hard.”

Yet he placed sub­stan­tial weight on the elec­torate’s dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the in­sti­tu­tional po­lit­i­cal par­ties. “Peo­ple are fed up with the sys­tem and I think this is be­ing re­in­forced be­cause of the de­bate over the elec­toral law,” he said. “Which makes me think: Maybe the po­lit­i­cal par­ties will cre­ate an even more tai­lor-made elec­toral law that would en­sure the re­pro­duc­tion of their can­di­dates.”

Yet Chafic Masri, an­other po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, warned against ex­ag­ger­at­ing civil so­ci­ety’s tri­umph.

“What hap­pened is not that rad­i­cally new or dras­tic and is not the kind of shift that would see civil so­ci­ety hav­ing a new­found role. The in­de­pen­dent can­di­date won be­cause he was also sup­ported by the Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party and the Kataeb Party, and that can­not be for­got­ten. Of course, civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists played a role but we can­not dis­miss the role of the [es­tab­lished] par­ties,” he said.

“But it is a good pos­i­tive start and I hope it con­tin­ues. It makes the youth feel like they are now at the cen­ter of the page af­ter hav­ing been on the mar­gins for so long.”

Long­time ri­vals Geagea and Aoun agreed to bury the hatchet in 2015.

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