David Munir Nabti
Registered residents of Bishmizzine in the northern Koura district
are voting today to fill municipal council seats left vacant after the
council disbanded over 4 years ago.
The previous council, elected in 2004 for a six-year term, was selected under heavy influence of the dominant Syrian regime at the time. When the Syrian military and political presence largely left Lebanon in 2005 under heavy pressure from various Lebanese political factions and international diplomatic pressure, the different factions on the local council could not reconcile their differences. Several council members resigned, and the council itself was soon dissolved. The Bishmizzine municipality has been without council representation since early 2005, according to a local resident.
Around 20 candidates registered to participate in this current election, from parties across the political spectrum. Two of the main opposing candidates, Fouad Mufarrij and Riyad Najjar, entered into a collaboration to try to avoid the conflict that disrupted the council's work four years ago. They established a consensus list of 12 candidates from across the political spectrum, and agreed themselves to split the role of municipal council president, each serving a three year term out of the council's full 6-year term.
While there is general consensus about the main local issues that the council should work on, including solving a major sewer drainage problem and improving the local natural and agricultural environment, a number of the candidates not included on the consensus list disagreed with the Mufarrij-Najjar approach to the local election. Simon Barakat, another candidate who was elected twice previously to the municipal council, explained how several independent candidates came together to form an alternative list to preserve choice for the voters. "We are not against the other list, we know them and are friends with them. But we disagreed with the effort of the "consensus list" to get the other candidates to withdraw so there would be no election in Bishmizzine. We didn't agree to "taskia", and we think the people of Bishmizzine should have a right to a democratic election."
People from both lists also complained about lack of access to funds for local projects. Centralization of authority means that most local projects have to be approved by the government in the capital, Beirut, meaning some many local projects are delayed, underfunded, or never funded.
Both lists, which both include women candidates and candidates under 30, include a mix of political representation, even though the issues they highlight are basically the same. Farid Najjar, 25 years old, is a candidate on the consensus list, and a distant relative to the leading Riyad Najjar. Farid says that it is important to bring new blood onto the council, and to help revive Bishmizzine. According to Farid, the two most important issues are to fix the sewage problem affecting Bishimizzine, and to clean up the "Snoubar" pine-forest part of the village, which is heavily littered by frequent use by non-Bishmizzinis.
The consensus list also includes Henry Jeha, 28 years old. The challenging list includes Adel Al-Sarraf, a young woman in her mid-20s. (They could not be reached in time for this post to confirm their ages.)