Mount Lebanon III (Baabda): Aounists risk being defeated in their own fiefdom

Backed by Hezbollah and Amal, the FPM will compete against its traditional opponents, as well as the protest movement groups, to preserve its gains.

Mount Lebanon III (Baabda): Aounists risk being defeated in their own fiefdom

President Michel Aoun votes in Harat Hreik, Baabda, during the 2018 legislative elections. (Photo: AFP)

Historically the Mount Lebanon III constituency has been an Aounist stronghold. In the Baabda district, the Free Patriotic Movement has indeed held a tightened grip on the three Christian seats in 2009 ... up until 2018, when it had to give up one of them to the Lebanese Forces.

For the May 2022 elections, the battle is likely to be feverish for Gebran Bassil’s party, which risks losing another Maronite seat due to the Aounist party’s decline in popularity since the October 2019 uprising.

The presence of a strong Shiite minority, making up a quarter of the electorate, in this predominantly Christian region could, however, be a life preserver for a declining ally.

Hence, it is important for the FPM to join ranks with Hezbollah in the battle, and with the Amal Movement. The trio will compete against its traditional opponents, namely the LF, the Progressive Socialist Party and the National Liberal Party. The chessboard also involves the National Bloc and groups emanating from the protest movement, as well as those who defected from the FPM and seek to challenge the Aounist movement in its stronghold.

The concerned parties

There are six seats in this electoral district: three Maronites, two Shiites and one Druze. Seven lists are competing in the elections. One of them is naturally that of the FPM, which has managed to renew its traditional alliance with Hezbollah, and with Parliament Speaker’s Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, although he is the main opponent of the Baabda-FPM duo on the local scene.

This list will cross swords with another list formed through a tripartite alliance between Samir Geagea’s LF, Walid Joumblatt’ s PSP and Camille Chamoun’s NLP.

These two traditional camps will therefore fight the battle on two separate lists, but in unified ranks. But, this is not the case for the groups born in the wake of the protest movement. In Baabda, these groups are running in scattered ranks, which could reduce their chances of winning seats in May. One of the lists is sponsored by the National Bloc.

The Citizens in a State (MMFD) movement, led by former Labor Minister Charbel Nahas, formed its own list. There is also another list that claims to be part of the protest movement. But it is mainly defectors from the Aounists(FPM veterans who have resigned from the FPM since Bassil became its president) Naim Aoun (nephew of President Michel Aoun) and Ramzi Kanj, who sprang a surprise on everyone by managing to join ranks on a list supported by the Kataeb.

From 2018 to 2022

In Baabda, the electoral landscape in May 2022 resembles that of 2018, with a few nuances. In the previous elections, the FPM managed to elect Alain Aoun, nephew of the head of state, with 10,200 preferential votes.

The parliamentarian was part of a joint FPM-Shiite list. With 40,669 votes, it won three other seats: two Shiite (Ali Ammar with 13,692 votes and Fadi Alame with 6,348 votes) and a second Maronite, Hikmat Dib (4,428 votes). The latter, a weak link of the FPM in the area, resigned from the FPM after the party did not nominate him as candidate in the elections.

This decision reflected the FPM’s desire to anticipate the possibility of losing a second Maronite seat.But how would the absence of Dib, a long time activist within the Aounist party, affect the battle?

“I do not think he will fight against us, particularly since he said he will continue to be loyal to General Michel Aoun,” Sayed Younes, head of the FPM electoral machine, told L’Orient-Le Jour.

“Hikmat Dib has his weight within the movement, but without the party, he has no real presence,” said Kamal Richa, journalist and electoral expert.

The LF, which won one of the three Maronite seats (Pierre Bou Assi) in the constituency in 2018, thanks to the proportional representation system, will fight to keep this gain, and to win another.

“Alain Aoun’s victory is guaranteed, as well as that of Pierre Bou Assi,” Younes said, thus admitting de facto the FPM’s loss of one of the three Maronite seats. In this electoral cycle, Samir Geagea has slowly moved his pawns forward. He began by thrusting Bou Assi to the forefront, announcing his candidacy well before the lists were finalized. He then got into an alliance with the PSP, as he did in 2018.

Their list will ensure that the Druze seat continues to be held by Hadi Aboul Hosn (who obtained 11,844 votes in 2018). This time, the alliance between Moukhtara and Meerab has attracted the NLP, whose leader Camille Chamoun is a candidate for one of the three Maronite seats in the constituency.

This party’s positioning has thus changed, since in 2018, it had presented itself as an opponent to the current power and ran on the same list with the Kataeb and civil society figures. The list could only obtain 4,992 votes, while the electoral threshold was 13,077 votes. Therefore, it did not win any seats.

“We did not form the alliance with the NLP for selfish or electoral purposes. It is a front that, after the elections, will lead the battle for the country’s sovereignty,” an LF official said.

Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel, who was ditched by his former ally, is fighting the battle by backing the groups emanating from the protest movement, although the party does not have its own candidate unlike in 2018 (the party’s candidate was Ramzi Abou Khaled, who received only 2,586 votes).

In the run up for the May elections, Gemayel had to conduct laborious negotiations, as some of the October 2019 thawra (“revolution”) groups were not in favor of a rapprochement with his party, which they consider as traditional.

“Some want the Kataeb to give them their preferential votes, while they reject their discourse,” Khalil Helou, a retired general and candidate for one of the Maronite seats in the Mount Lebanon III constituency, said.

This is not the only bone of contention between the groups emanating from the uprising. “They also have different priorities,” Helou said. “Our list considers that the struggle to recover sovereignty and counter Hezbollah is paramount. Others, however, prefer to focus their fight on the fight against corruption and banking system restructuring,” he said.

For its part, National Bloc’s electoral machine expects that one of its three candidates will win a Maronite seat: Michel Helou, former executive director of L’Orient-Le Jour; Robert Khalife, entrepreneur; and Ziad Akl, head of Youth Association for Social Awareness.

“This list is the most serious opposition list,” a figure close to National Bloc said. They criticized the fact that “some candidates on other opposition lists remain quite close to the head of state,” in reference to former FPM officials who are part of the list, led by Khalil Helou and supported by the Kataeb.

The main issues

- The third Maronite seat: Everyone agrees that Pierre Bou Assi (LF) and Alain Aoun (FPM) are almost certain to preserve their seats. It is therefore for the third Maronite seat that the battle will be fought. That is true particularly since a breakthrough by civil society, or even a victory by the LF, would confirm the Aounist movement’s decline in Baabda, which would reflect a popular anger against the presidency and its camp. The latter tried to anticipate this defeat through Hikmat Dib’s withdrawal.

- Shiite mobilization: This election comes against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic crisis that has not spared the Hezbollah andAmal supporters . This could depress Shiite voter turnout, constituting 25 percent of the electorate in Baabda.

While some observers close to Hezbollah believe that the Shiite parties will easily be able to bring Ali Ammar (Hezbollah) and Fadi Alam (Amal) back to their seats, others are more skeptical, especially about the FPM’s chances.

For as the two Shiite candidates compete against Wassef Harakeh, a leading figure of the protest movement, the Shiite duo will need to maximize mobilization of its partisan base in order to secure the two Shiite seats and to be able to give votes to the Aounist movement so that it could win the third Maronite seat.

Competing lists

1- Capable: Citizens in a State (MMFD), led by Charbel Nahas

Ali Darwish (Shiite); Mohamad Saqr (Shiite); Rani Rajji (Maronite).

2- National Accord List: Free Patriotic Movement + Shiite parties Amal andHezbollah

Farouk Aawar (Druze); Fadi Alame (Shiite); Ali Ammar (Shiite); Alain Aoun (Maronite); Fadi Abou Rahal (Maronite); Chadi Waked (Maronite)

3- We are the Change: protest groups

Michel Chamoun (Maronite); Osama Aawar (Druze); Pierre Baaklini (Maronite).

4- Baabda the Change: National Bloc + protest groups

Abir Naji (Druze); Wassef Harakeh (Shiite); Michel Helou (Maronite, NB); Robert Khalife (Maronite); Ziad Akl (Maronite).

5- Baabda Revolts: former Aounists + independent figures

Ramzi Kanj (Shiite); Naim Aoun (Maronite); Khalil Helou (Maronite); Jean Abi Younes (Maronite).

6- Baabda Sovereignty and Decision: Lebanese Forces + Progressive Socialist Party + National Liberal Party

Hadi Aboul Hosn (Druze); Saeed Alame (Shiite); Saad Slim (Shiite); Camille Chamoun (Maronite); Pierre Bou Assi (Maronite); Alexandre Karam (Maronite)

7- Together We Can: protest groups

Fadi Aawar (Druze); Youssef Chaabeen (Shiite); Bilal Alame (Shiite); Patrick Abou Chacra (Maronite); Amal Abou Farhat (Maronite); Abdo Saade (Maronite).


District: Baabda.

Six seats to be filled: three Maronites, two Shiites, one Druze.

Number of registered voters: 172,026 including 13,271 expatriates.

Voters’ sectarian distribution: 33 percent Maronite; 25 percent Shiite; 17 percent Druze; 8 percent Greek Orthodox; 7 percent Sunni; 5 percent Greek Orthodox; 1 percent Armenian Orthodox; 2 percent other.

Electoral threshold (in 2018): 16.67 percent of votes, or 13,077 votes.

This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-le Jour. Translated by Joelle Khoury

Historically the Mount Lebanon III constituency has been an Aounist stronghold. In the Baabda district, the Free Patriotic Movement has indeed held a tightened grip on the three Christian seats in 2009 ... up until 2018, when it had to give up one of them to the Lebanese Forces.For the May 2022 elections, the battle is likely to be feverish for Gebran Bassil’s party, which risks losing another...