Considered as the cradle of the main Christian parties, in the next three weeks, the constituency of Mount Lebanon II in the Metn district is set to become a real arena where the Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement will fiercely compete with each other, but also with the Murr dynasty, which, this year, joined forces with the Tashnag and the Syrian Social National Party.
Eight seats — four Maronite, two Greek Orthodox, one Greek Catholic and one Armenian Orthodox — are up for grabs in a constituency where Armenian voters, whose votes are estimated at nearly 9,000 out of a total of 183,562 registered voters, are highly sought after and can tip the balance in either direction.
Like in the 2018 elections, the three main Christian parties and the list sponsored this year by Michel Murr's grandson will cross swords and are expected to share votes and consequent seats, in more or less equal proportions.
Unless, of course, there is a surprise that could potentially see a list of the protest movement groups, primarily the one supported by Charbel Nahas’ Citizens in State party (MMFD). The political party is considered to have the best chances of gaining votes here and there, marking an electoral threshold against the four heavyweights.
While in 2018, the Metn elections did not result in any change in power, with most of the elected candidates being traditional figures who were reappointed to their seats, this year too, experts anticipate the same scenario is likely to play out again and change will probably have to wait for another legislature to emerge.
Again, as in the vast majority of constituencies, the candidates of the protest movement groups have not joined forces, thus reducing their respective chances of making a breakthrough.
However, this is not the main reason why the protest movement camp in Metn is likely to be undermined, but rather the fact that it has chosen to play in the big league, i.e., that of traditional parties and clans that are well-versed in the electoral game and have far superior know-how, machines and means.
Six lists are in the running and not all are complete. This is the case of the FPM list, which was abandoned this year by the Tashnag “for simple electoral interest,” as a source of the Armenian party said.
A figure little known to the general public but counting on the electoral legacy of his grandfather Michel Murr and a well-oiled clientelist network, Michel Elias Murr is running on a complete list that was joined by the Tashnag and SSNP.
The SSNP is expected to secure 3,000 votes, 23,000 for Murr, and 9,000 for the Armenian Party.
On the opposite side, there’s the Kataeb list, which is once again fielding Elias Hankach, the only Maronite with Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel to have made a breakthrough in 2018, and several newcomers, including some figures of the protest movement, and Samir Saliba, owner of Mike Sport, who is said to be the list’s sponsor.
Meanwhile, the FPM has concocted a list of five candidates out of eight, including three incumbents — Ibrahim Kanaan, Elias Bou Saab, and Eddy Maalouf — whose chances of winning are not slim. Also on the list is Nasri Lahoud, the nephew of former president Emile Lahoud.
The LF list includes a wild card: former Minister Melhem Riachi who is running for the Greek Catholic seat and would seriously threaten Eddy Maalouf's seat. In addition to Riachi, a second Maronite candidate, Razi al-Hajj who also ran in 2018.With a little luck, he could win the fourth Maronite seat according to an electoral expert who requested anonymity.
Also on the LF list is Hani Saliba, an entrepreneur who is also said to be financing the list and who is running against his brother Samir Saliba on the Kataeb list.
Finally, there is the main list of the protest group movement, which includes well-known candidates who have left their mark on the protest movement.
Among them, journalist Jad Ghosn, very popular in media circles and on social networks, movie director Lucien Bou Rjeili, lawyer Miriam Jaber and former member of the Municipal Council of Cornet Chahwan, and Shaden Maalouf, an active member of MMFD.
2018 vs 2022
In 2018, the power lists shared the seats, with a clear lead for the FPM, which obtained, with its allies of Tashnag and SSNP, four seats, collecting 43 percent of the votes.
The elected candidates were Elias Bou Saab (Greek Orthodox, 7,299 votes), Ibrahim Kanaan (Maronite, 7,179 votes), Edgar Maalouf (Greek Catholic, 5,961 votes), and Hagop Pakradounian (Armenian Orthodox, 7,182 votes).
Kataeb came in second, with two Maronite seats and 21 percent of the votes, the majority of which went to Gemayel (13,968 votes) and the rest to Elias Hankach (2,583 votes).
The LF list obtained one seat, with 15 percent of the votes, the majority of which went to Eddy Abillama. With the same percentage, the Michel Murr-sponsored list received 13,779 votes, of which 11,945 contributed to Murr's election.
Although unified in 2018, the opposition list led by Nahas under the label of Kulluna Watani only managed to garner six per cent of the vote, or 5,027 votes, a tally that was far too low to reach the electoral threshold.
As in 2018, the battle this year will be just as competitive in this constituency where traditional parties and forces of more or less equal caliber are facing off against each other.
Thus, electoral pundits expect that the seats will be shared more or less equally between the four main lists. Election specialist and author, Kamal Feghali estimates that the FPM, despite its relative decline in popularity, will be able to secure two seats (the Greek Orthodox seat and a Maronite seat), the Kataeb two Maronite seats, the LF two more (Greek Catholic and Maronite), and the Murr list the last two seats (the second Greek Orthodox seat and the Armenian Orthodox seat that will go once again to the Tashnag).
Georgia Dagher, a researcher at the Policy Initiative, a Lebanese NGO that provides electoral studies among other research, seems to agree with this pattern, although she predicts that the FPM could win one more seat, which would reduce the LF's share in this scenario.
A third analyst who requested anonymity, seems to confirm a more or less equal distribution among the four main lists, with a question mark over the fourth Maronite seat, which he believes does not seem to be guaranteed for the LF.
What’s at stake
Two main issues are at stake in the run-up to this battle. Firstly, the question of who will win the Greek Catholic seat, Eddy Maalouf or Melhem Riachi — who are both relatively popular.
The second issue is the underlying battle for preferential votes taking place within the FPM list between Eddy Maalouf and Ibrahim Kanaan.
On the LF list, it is Melhem Riachi — the head of the list — who is expected to win. The LF continues to have a relatively strong presence, even if its influence in this area is less marked than that of its rivals Kataeb and FPM. The latter, however, is losing ground everywhere.
This is why the LF are doubling the stakes this time by targeting two seats instead of one. Aware of this issue, President Michel Aoun has decided, according to corroborating sources, to support by all means the candidacy of Eddy Maalouf rather than that of Ibrahim Kanaan.
Aoun’s decision is said to be motivated by the fact that Maalouf is closer to the president's son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who has been at odds with Kanaan.
“The president has relayed a message to the Shiite voters of Metn (3 percent), urging them to vote in favor of Maalouf rather than Kanaan,” an electoral expert who requested anonymity told L’Orient-Le Jour.
Aoun evidently wants to secure the Maaloulf’s election but also to beat the LF by challenging their strongest candidate on the list.
The president's maneuver can partly explain the fact that Kanaan “decided to launch his own electoral machine this year and to act alone as if he had no connection with the FPM,” Feghali said.
If Riachi is defeated, the third and fourth Maronite seats would go to the LF, probably one to Razi al-Hajj and another to one of the other three candidates on the list.
Unless Jad Ghosn, the Maronite candidate on the opposition movement list, can make a breakthrough and surprise the crowd by taking the fourth Maronite seat.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.
One district: Metn
Eight seats to be filled: 4 Maronite, 2 Greek Orthodox, 1 Greek Catholic and 1 Armenian Orthodox
Number of registered voters: 183,562 including 13,612 expatriates
Confessional distribution of voters: 44 percent Maronite, 15 percent Greek Orthodox, 14 percent Armenian Orthodox, 10 percent Greek Catholic, 7 percent other, 3 percent Armenian Catholic, 3 percent Shiite, 2 percent Sunni, 1 percent Druze, 1 percent Protestant
Electoral threshold (in 2018): 12.5 percent of the vote, or 11,300 votes
Competing lists (in alphabetical order):
1 - Metn the Change: supported by the Kataeb
Samy Gemayel, Elias Hankach, Krikor Mardikian, Mona Sukkar, Rima Noujaim, Samir Saliba, Semaan Bou Fadel
2 - Sovereignists of the Metn: supported by Alfred Riachi, a profederalism politician
Alfred Riachi, Shadi Bechara, Shant Sarafian, Paul Nakouzi, Romanos Raad, Wael Saqr
3 - The Free Metn: supported by the Lebanese Forces
Ara Bardakjian, Farid Zeinoun, Hani Saliba, Melhem Riachi, Rachid Abou Jawde, Razi al-Hajj, Salim Jalkh
4 - Together We Are Stronger: supported by Michel Murr and Tashnag
Michel Murr, Antoine Khalil, Hagop Pakradounian, Joyce Jamal, Lea Bou Shaya, Maroun Abou Diwan, Maroun Rizkallah, Randa Abboud
5 - Towards the State: supported by Citizens in a State (by Charbel Nahas) and protest movement figures
Shaden Maalouf, Jad Ghosn, Lucien Bou Rjeili, Miriam Jaber, Verena Amel
6 - We Were and We Will Remain for Metn: supported by the Free Patriotic Movement
Edgar Maalouf, Elias Bou Saab, Ibrahim Kanaan, Nasri Lahoud, Ricardo Malakian