The fourth and final round of the municipal and mukhtar elections kicked off on Sunday in the North and Akkar region.
As in the previous 3 rounds security is very tight. General Security announced Saturday the closure of the Aboudieh border crossing to Syria for two days coinciding with the elections. The crossing is set to reopen at midnight.
Lebanon Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk encouraged voters to express their opinions in Sunday’s polls, but to “show restraint” whatever the outcome of the elections will be.
Speaking to Al-Jadeed, Machnouk said there were 850 thousand eligible voters in the north, including Akkar, and that 273 municipalities and 798 mukhtars were to be elected.
The elections for Tripoli’s 24-member municipal council are the first to be held since years of battles between gunmen from rival neighborhoods battered parts of the poverty-stricken city.
Three lists are competing in the city. The “For Tripoli” list is backed by former prime ministers Saad Hariri and Najib Mikati, ex-minister Faysal Karami, and some Islamist groups.
The “Tripoli’s Choice” list is backed by resigned Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, a Tripoli native who recently split from his allies in the Future Movement. Former MP Misbah al-Ahdab is backing the “Tripoli Capital” ticket.
Rifi declared on Sunday that “no one” can impose his will on the northern city of Tripoli.
He said after casting his vote in the municipal elections in the city: “I will confront any side that seeks to divide Tripoli according to its agenda.”
“We have suffered greatly due to such divisions,” he noted.
“I have chosen to leave the farm mentality, because I am a citizen not a sheep,” he told reporters.
“The elections do not intimidate us and the voter determines who wins and who loses. If we are defeated, then the Tripoli voters would have made their decision.”
Rifi is backing the list headed by Ahmed al-Qamri while Azzam Aweida is heading the “For Tripoli” list
An alliance announced earlier this week grouping the Marada Movement, the Independence Movement, the Future Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and representatives from the Doueihy family and civil society groups are expected to sweep the polls in Zghorta.
The alliance reflects the new shift in alliances between parties in Lebanon, where long-time rivals such as the Marada and the Independence Movements are stood side-by-side in the elections.
In Qobeiyat, one of the largest Maronite towns in that governorate, Future MP Hadi Hobeish has expressed his support for the “Qobeiyat Decides” list headed by current mayor Abdo Abdo. The list also has the backing of the Phalange Party.
It is competing against the “Qobeiyat’s People” ticket, supported by the Lebanese Forces and Free Patriotic Movement.
Bribes and Minor incidents
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.
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.”