BEIRUT — A coalition of opposition groups won a second landslide victory over candidates backed by Lebanon’s ruling parties during elections at the Order of Engineers and Architects in Beirut on Sunday.
Aaref Yassine was elected the order’s president, leading the Naqaba Tantafid (“The Order Revolts”) coalition to another victory after the group roundly won the first phase of elections last month.
Yassine won 5,798 votes, far outstripping his nearest challenger’s 1,528 votes.
The opposition coalition also won nine of the 10 board seats up for election, with the last going to a representative of the traditional parties, as well as majorities on two syndicate committees related to pension funds.
With over 60,000 members, the Order of Engineers is one of Lebanon’s largest syndicates, and it plays a crucial role in establishing building standards. Taking control of the syndicate has been a top objective for opposition leaders as a way of putting pressure on the government to implement critical reforms amid the country’s grave economic crisis, and is seen as a litmus test for opposition viability ahead of parliamentary and municipal elections planned for next year.
More than 20 opposition groups came together to contest the elections against an alliance of major political parties, including the Future Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Amal Movement, and Hezbollah.
“The syndicate’s election is a good exercise for the opposition to see how well it does in organizing, mobilizing new voters and seeing which partnerships can be done with which groups,” Tracy Nehme, an electrical and computer engineer who voted today, told L’Orient Today. “It is also a small win/mood booster for the opposition, and it makes us hopeful for the future — it shows us that electoral processes still work.”
During the day, many voters said they had received allegedly fake viral messages stating that the opposition groups had withdrawn from the elections, which seemed to be a message to discourage voters from participating.
“Since Oct. 17, I’ve been monitoring around 14 public WhatsApp ‘news’ groups from across the political spectrum. Last night, starting at 6 p.m. till around 10:45 p.m., a coordinated disinformation campaign against Naqaba Tantafid’s lead candidate, Aaref Yassine, from four specific WhatsApp public groups — half of which are focused on Beirut,” Azza El Masri, a media researcher and disinformation expert, told L’Orient Today.
“It started with a supposed leaked video of Yassine proclaiming he was ‘Hezbollah's candidate’ — that video is not authentic — which allowed them to level an unfounded sectarian claim, then, that this was a Shiite conspiracy against Beirutis, specifically, and Sunnis in general,” Masri said.
Last month, during the union’s first phase of elections, and in an unprecedented high number of voters, independent groups from the Naqaba Tantafid opposition coalition won in a landslide against mainstream parties, securing 221 out of 283 seats in the Council of Delegates and 15 out of 20 seats in four branch councils.
During the first phase, voters in each department had to choose five members for every engineering branch. Naqaba Tantafid swept all departments save that of public sector workers, which was carried by traditional parties led by Mohammad al-Hajjar of the Future Movement.
One of the winning candidates for the opposition was Paul Najjar, who lost his 3-year-old daughter Alexandra in the devastating Beirut port explosion almost a year ago.
Anti-establishment groups’ victories at the Order of Engineers built on several other politically significant electoral wins since the Oct. 17, 2019, popular uprising, following the election of Melhem Khalaf to head the Beirut Bar Association and victories in student body elections at the Lebanese American University, the American University of Beirut and Rafik Hariri University.