Lebanon: A Half-Century Wait for an Election

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A man stands in the streets of Abey. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Bassam Alkantar

Published Thursday, April 26, 2012

The municipal council in Abey and Ain Drafil has not changed since 1963. Residents joke that it should enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest elected municipal council in the world because it has been in existence for 49 years! However, this is expected to change on May 6.

The by-elections called for by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities on May 6 will take on added significance in the Lebanese towns of Abey and Ain Drafil that share one municipal council in the Aley district of Mount Lebanon.

In May 1998, Lebanese from most villages and towns elected municipal councils and mayors for the first time since 1963. The main exceptions were villages in the southern border strip, under Israeli occupation at the time, in addition to municipalities whose inhabitants were displaced during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).

More municipal elections followed when south Lebanon was liberated from Israeli occupation in 2000. But Abey and Ain Drafil continued to be excluded from municipal elections.

The reason was that reconciliation had not been completed between the Druze of the towns and the Christian inhabitants who were displaced in the civil war in 1982 and then returned.

A reconciliation and return agreement was signed by the Ministry of the Displaced for the towns of Abey, al-Binyeh, and Ain Drafil on 12 October 2010.

Although the municipality was included in the 2010 elections law, compensations were delayed until October 2011. This prompted the residents of Abey to ask the former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Ziad Baroud to exempt the town from elections.

They agreed on the election of mayors only. But the lack of consensus in choosing a mayor made the town’s Druze residents insist on not having mayoral elections either. A Christian mayor was elected for the town of Ain Drafil, while the mayoral seats in Abey remained empty.

The current head of the municipality of Abey-Ain Drafil, Nazih Hamze, confirms that consecutive Lebanese governments delayed the reconciliation and return to Abey until 2012.

This was done for various reasons. Hamze does not believe it is only the unavailability of money, which is the excuse given as to why reconciliation between Druze and Christians has not been completed yet.

“The Council for Development and Reconstruction acquired land within the real estate zone of Ain Drafil and created a landfill for garbage. This is the undeclared reason for the delay in completing reconciliation and paying compensation,” he says, adding, “Since 1997, it became essential for the Maronite residents of Ain Drafil not to return to their village because it is impossible to live there due to the unpleasant odors emanating from the landfill.”

He also explains that “they want to avoid any popular and civil action to close the landfill, especially since consecutive Lebanese governments have increased the amount of waste allowed to be dumped in the Abey-Ain Drafil landfill following the failure of solid waste management plans in 2003, 2006, and 2010.”

Hamze, a Druze, became the head of the Abey-Ain Drafil’s municipal council in 1983, succeeding the Christian Michel Kanaan. He stresses that the most important issue to hand over to the next municipal council will be the landfill.

He says there are four basic issues related to the landfill.

The first concerns carrying on with the popular struggle against the landfill being extended for the sixth time after the fifth extension ends in 2014, no matter what the circumstances and reasons.

The second is the treatment of the landfill after it is shut down, hopefully turning it into a public park under municipal management.

The third, which requires some work in order to be achieved, is benefiting from the methane gas emanating from the landfill. Studies show that if a methane-based energy-generating plant is established, it could produce more than five megawatts of electricity.

The fourth issue that was made a priority last March was the municipal council’s decision to file a lawsuit before the State Council. The municipality wants the state to revoke and cease and implementing decree No. 7374 that stipulates distributing the revenue of the Independent Municipal Fund for 2010.

The argument that attorney Asaad Attaya presented in accordance with a municipal decision was recorded in the Registry of the First Chamber of the State Council on 15 March 2012.

The municipality is demanding about 7.5 billion Lebanese Lira (LL) (US$5 million) as compensation from other municipalities whose waste was buried within their real estate zone.

It is expected that if the State Council approves the injunction for stay of implementation and considers the merits of the case, it will rule in favor of the Abey-Ain Drafil municipal council.

The candidate favored to become the future municipal president of Abey-Ain Drafil, Ghassan Hamze, confirms that the issue of the waste landfill is at the heart of the electoral agenda of the list he heads. The new municipal council will follow up on the lawsuit at the State Council as soon as it takes over.

He says they will use all possible means to exert pressure to have the landfill closed. The towns of Abey-Ain Drafil paid their fair share, putting up with Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s waste for over 15 years.

The factors that determined the list headed by Ghassan Hamze were not political in nature and the list did not include party members, despite the electoral weight of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) led by Walid Jumblatt in the town.

A source following the elections, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that Jumblatt’s lack of interference stems from his defeat in the municipal elections of 2010 in the neighboring village of Kfarmatta.

The competing list supported by Talal Arslan’s Lebanese Democratic Party and the Free Patriotic Movement won because of popular indignation at the way people associated with the PSP dealt with the issue of the displaced.

The population increase contributed to raising the number of seats in the Abey-Ain Drafil municipal council from 10 to 15 members, in addition to having three mayors instead of two.

While the mayor of Ain Drafil, Joseph Abu Suleiman, will finish his term in 2016, it is expected that Abey’s mayors will win unopposed. They are Khaled Halabi and Ghassan al-Khoury.

As soon as they take over, they will be able to register newborns’ place of birth on ID cards as Abey for the first time in three decades.

However, the prevalent desire among the majority of the town’s residents, both Druze and Christians, is to have a consensus list that includes candidates from the town’s different families.

According to preliminary information, the consensus list will include five Druzes from the Hamze family, the largest family in the town, and five members representing the other Druze families. Abey’s Christians would have three seats and Ain Drafil’s Christians two.

Antoine Kanaan tells Al-Akhbar that what the Christian candidates fear the most is to have a repeat of what happened in Kfarmatta. Competition between the Druze candidates there led to the Christian candidates being written off. This would jeopardize the agreed upon quota of five seats.

The number of candidates who submitted official requests to the office of the sub-governor, or qaimaqam, of Aley was over 20, including 13 Druze and eight Christians.

If these nominations are not retracted, then many candidates who were not included in the consensus list will run independently.

The president of the heritage revival organization of Abey, Nadim Hamze, points out that there has been no decision yet to form a competing list, in the hope that a consensus can be reached.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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