The defining feature of these elections, both in Lebanon and abroad, has been the battle between the opposition and the government coalition. While seats in areas such as Beirut 3, Tripoli, South, and Beqa`-Hermel are mostly spoken for, real electoral battles are being waged in majority Christian areas between the Free Patriotic Movement and Christian parties under the March 14 umbrella. There are, however, other interesting flashpoints that go beyond the opposition/loyalists battle. Here are a few:
Beirut 3: The opposition list does not include either Hizballah or Amal, but rather a wide array of candidates from the leftist Harakat al-Sha`b to Sunni Beiruti families sidelined by Hariri (eg. `Itani). Although the seats are almost guaranteed to Sa`d al-Hariri, “almost” is the keyword. The opposition list’s ambition is to demonstrate that Beirut does not “belong” to Hariri and winning only one seat would make the point (Hariri battled down to the last seat in Beirut during the negotiations in Doha last summer). The Shiite vote alone is not enough for this, the opposition list would also need a high turn out (since the end of the civil war, the highest in what constitutes this district today is 24%).
`Akkar: There are several factors to keep in mind with respect to `Akkar. The feeling among the Sunnis of being let down after May 7th of last year and al-Mustaqbal’s neglect of the Wadi Khalid clans are first among them. Then there are also the Christians of `Akkar, whose vote, given the first sentiment, might end up having an impact. Though this does not really go beyond the broad guidelines of opposition vs. March 14, the results in this district would be very indicative of the position Sa`d Hariri now occupies among the Sunnis of the north. This is especially significant given the battle in Sidon, another Mustaqbal backyard, between Bahiya Hariri and Fuad Sanioura, on the one hand, and the Usama Sa`d and Abdel Rahman Bazzi coalition on the other.
West Biqa`-Rashayya: The Communist Party, running on the single-issue platform of proportional representation, is fielding five candidates this year and, barring surprises, none of them stand a chance. CP candidates Sam`an Laqqis (Kurah) and Faruq Dahrouj (West Biqa`) have insisted on running despite opposition pressure to withdraw. Dahrouj has particularly faced a lot of pressure, including some say Syrian, to move his candidacy to Zahle for the benefit of Abdul Rahim Murad. Getting one or two candidates on board is important for the opposition due to the symbolic value this district has for traditional allies of Syria. It would therefore be significant if Dahrouj manages to get enough votes to sabotage the opposition.
Marji`yun-Hasbayya: It would also be interesting to keep an eye on Sa`dallah Mazra`ani of the Communist Party to see how many votes the resistance-friendly left will be able to garner in Hizballah/Amal playground this time round. Though the Communist Party denies it, it seems there were attempts to reach some sort of deal with the opposition when the lists were being put together, but the party was shoved aside by Hizballah — which has been consistent in its aversion to leftist candidates in the past.
Granted, none of this constitutes much challenge to the main antagonists, yet the results can serve as an indication of the sway they have over their electorate. While no one can claim the Christian vote and no one can challenge the Shiite, it is mostly Sa`d al-Hariri’s credentials that are being put to the test after the carte blanche he was given in 2005. Though Shiite representation is not in any serious doubt, leftist voices not adverse to the resistance (The Communist Party and Najah Wakim’s Harakat al-Sha`b in Beirut) have managed to capture the Shiite vote in the past, sometimes even defying Hizballah alliances. Whether they will manage to do so this time — with electoral law reform as their agenda — would also be indicative of some dissatisfaction with Hizballah’s internal politics.