BEIRUT — Candidates backed by traditional political blocs won big while opposition-backed lawyers suffered major setbacks on Sunday in the Beirut Bar Association elections, which some observers have said may be an indicator of how next spring’s parliamentary elections could swing.
Nader Gaspard was elected the association’s president, receiving 1,539 of the 3,360 votes cast. He was backed by the Future Movement, Free Patriotic Movement and Amal Movement, sources close to the three parties told L’Orient Today. His nearest competitor, Abdo Lahoud received 1,035 votes, and Wajih Massad received only 187 votes.
Alexander Najjar, a candidate backed by the Kataeb Party, received 599 votes, although he withdrew his candidacy before the voting was over when lawyers close to Amal, Future and the FPM reportedly switched their support from him to Gaspard.
Gaspard had come in second in the bar association presidential race during the next-most-recent election cycle, in 2019, when he was supported by Future and the FPM, ultimately losing out to incumbent President Melhem Khalaf, who ran as an independent that year.
Sunday’s presidential vote came after the first round of elections, when nine new members were elected to the association’s council: Imad Martinous, Nader Gaspard, Elias Bazrli, Abdo Lahoud, Alexander Najjar, Fadi Masri, Marwan Jabr, Wajih Massaad and Maya Zaghrani.
No opposition candidate was elected to the council, and therefore none were eligible to run for president of the bar association. Coming off the heels of the Order of Engineers and Architects elections, this setback came as a shock to many who had hoped opposition wins at the syndicate level would carry on up to the 2022 parliamentary election.
The vote on Sunday was the first election for the association in two years, after last year’s council election was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the pandemic and the country’s compounding financial, fuel and electricity crises notwithstanding, voter turnout was middling, with 4,323 votes being cast, compared with the 4,500 average.
Rola Moukerzel, a lawyer from Aley, said that despite the gas prices, she made it a point to reach Beirut and cast her ballot. A lawyer from Zaleh, who asked not to be identified, said he did not have trouble coming all the way to Beirut, but he noted that many of his colleagues from his hometown were not present.
Sandwiched between a monthslong lawyers strike to protest the erosion of their profession and the hotly anticipated upcoming parliamentary elections, the day was fraught with all the bluff and bluster of barristers whose work is often indistinguishable from the country’s politics.
At one point, a controversy arose when voting time was extended for the council vote, because some lawyers said they had not been able to cast their votes. This prompted objections from other lawyers, with one screaming that this set a very dangerous precedent in the bar’s history and another walking up to the podium decrying the use of electronic voting. The bar subsequently reversed its decision allowing for the extension.
In an acceptance speech, Gaspard said, “My heart is open and my office is open to all, and you and I are going to work together with the [former] president [Melhem Khalaf].” He added that he will look after lawyers’ rights first, and their health and livelihoods, calling these a “red line.”One of the most pressing issues on many lawyers’ minds is the inadequate medical care they receive. Firas Haidar, a lawyer from Baabda, told L’Orient Today, “Before the crisis, the association’s healthcare provider used to pay for everything, and now it is not really paying for much.”
Earlier in the day one lawyer, Michel Nemeh, took to the podium to lament the dire issues facing attorneys— namely, attacks on the legal profession and their dwindling income as a result of the lira’s depreciation. He pinned the blame on the political class, decrying political interference in the 2020 Beirut port blast case. He referred specifically to the protests held outside the Justice Palace on Oct. 14. The incident spiraled into deadly clashes that left seven people aligned with Hezbollah and Amal dead and injured more than 30 others. The parties said their supporters had been ambushed by Lebanese Forces adherents, although the LF has denied involvement.
Nemeh’s statements were met with applause.
Our sister publication, L’Orient-Le Jour, spoke with family members of the port blast victims who are represented by lawyers from the association. They said that the new election would not lead to a change of representation.
BEIRUT — Candidates backed by traditional political blocs won big while opposition-backed lawyers suffered major setbacks on Sunday in the Beirut Bar Association elections, which some observers have said may be an indicator of how next spring’s parliamentary elections could swing.Nader Gaspard was elected the association’s president, receiving 1,539 of the 3,360 votes cast. He was backed...