Welcome to Bekaa II (Western Bekaa-Rashaya), where all the political parties rub shoulders. A district whose electoral fate is uncertain in the upcoming parliamentary elections, especially since the announcement by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri of the withdrawal of the Future Movement from politics.
The allies of the party, notably the Progressive Socialist Party of Walid Joumblatt, seem to be in an unenviable situation. This is especially true in the Western Bekaa-Rashaya district, where in addition to the Sunni majority, 49 percent of the electorate, there are large Christian (23 percent), Shia (15 percent) and Druze (14 percent) minorities. Six seats are up for grabs: two Sunni, one Shia, one Druze, one Maronite and one Greek Orthodox, with an electoral threshold of 16.7 percent.
In the 2018 election, three lists were in the running: the first, the "Better Tomorrow" list, a coalition of pro-Syrian figures (Abdel Rahim Mrad, Deputy Parliament Speaker Elie Ferzli and the Amal movement), received 32,578 votes, or 49 percent of the vote, and 3 seats (one Sunni seat to Abdel Rahim Mrad, the Greek Orthodox seat to Elie Ferzli, and the Shiite seat to the Amal candidate Mohammad Nasrallah).
The second list, "The Future for Western Bekaa and Rashaya," was formed by the Future Movement and the PSP. It obtained 31,817 votes, or 48 percent of the vote, and 3 MPs as well (the Druze seat to Wael Abou Faour, a Sunni seat to Mohamed Karaaoui and the Maronite seat to Henri Chedid). As for the third list, called "Civil Society," it obtained a meager score of 1,546 votes, or 2 percent, far below the electoral threshold.
Taking advantage of the presumed absence of the Future Movement, a heavyweight in the region, Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian allies seem determined to storm the constituency in the May 15 elections.
"There is a desire by the Syrian regime and Hezbollah to topple MP Wael Abou Faour in the western Bekaa and replace him with Tarek Daoud, a pro-Syrian Druze," said Hisham Nasreddine, PSP electoral officer. "As a proof, Ali Hijazi, the secretary general of the pro-Syrian Baath party in Lebanon, recently went to Rashaya, where he met with figures close to Syrian intelligence," added the official, calling for the union of "sovereignist" forces in the face of the risk of a growing Syrian influence in Lebanon. "We are currently in discussion with the Lebanese Forces [headed by Samir Geagea] and Sunni personalities to form a list," he said.
Wissam Raji, the head of the electoral machine of the LF, said he shared the fears of the PSP and is working towards a union. "We are putting together a joint list in the western Bekaa: Mr. Abou Faour for the Druze seat and Imad Wakim (outgoing MP for Beirut I) for the Greek Orthodox seat. We will also support Dany Khater, an independent, for the Maronite seat. We are also in discussion with Sunni figures, such as Mohammad Karaaoui," said Raji.
From Hezbollah’s side, things are more nuanced. "Of course, in an election, the objective is to win all the seats, and therefore to beat the opponent. But the party does not put anyone in its sights. Moreover, Hezbollah is far from being dominant in the West Bekaa, it has the same degree of influence as the other parties," explained Faysal Abdel Sater, an analyst close to the Iran-linked party.
Hezbollah did not respond to our request for comment. In order to carry out the electoral battle, the March 8 parties are also preparing to form a unified list. On Thursday, local television station MTV reported Elie Ferzli as saying that he is working to create an electoral alliance with Hassan Mrad, son and political heir of Abdel Rahim Mrad, Kabalan Kabalan (Amal), Tarek Daoud and a candidate from the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil’s party.
Relations between Ferzli and the FPM have cooled sharply since he slammed the door on the Aounist parliamentary bloc in April 2021. Sayed Younes, head of the FPM electoral machine, qualified these remarks. In a statement to L'Orient-Le Jour, he said that the alliances in Western Bekaa-Rashaya are far from being finalized. "We are waiting for the results of our primaries, and once our candidate is known, we will negotiate with all the allied political formations the creation of a common list," he said.
Stemming the tide
If a list bringing together the forces of March 8 is announced, will it manage to beat Wael Abou Faour, as the PSP fears? In the last election, Abou Faour alone obtained 10,677 votes (first on his list, and second in his constituency), for an electoral threshold of 11,080 votes. Nearly obtaining an electoral threshold on his own, he was very comfortably elected to his seat, especially since his Druze opponent Faysal Daoud, brother of Tarek Daoud, had obtained only 2,041 votes.
"The risk to the former industry minister is not really serious, it is just a way for the PSP to mobilize the electorate, especially the Sunnis who could boycott after the withdrawal of Saad Hariri," said a well-informed source.
But if the seat of Abou Faour in Western Bekaa-Rashaya is not at serious risk, the same cannot be said in all regions. In Beirut, in the North, in the Chouf and even in the Bekaa, the absence of Saad Hariri risks favoring the return to the scene of pro-Syrian figures, if the PSP and the LF find themselves without Sunni allies.
According to information obtained by our political columnist Mounir Rabih, Samir Geagea, Walid Joumblatt and Fouad Siniora are preparing a tripartite alliance ahead of the elections to stem this progression. This initiative would be encouraged by Saudi Arabia, Siniora having held talks a few days ago with a Saudi official in Paris, added our columnist.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.