By Joseph El-khoury
Observers of the Lebanese elections could not have failed to notice the tensions arising within the ‘Free Patriotic Movement’ (FPM/Tayyar) led by General Michel Aoun in the build up to the 7th June. Having kept us guessing for weeks the General finally released the names of his candidates for the key electoral districts of Jezzine, Baabda and Kesrwan. The reform and change bloc new line up in the Christian heartland of Kesrwan, a Aounist stronghold since the 2005 elections, is noticeable by its lack of change. All the indications are that the opposition list will perform well in this district with only limited possibility of a challenge from a disparate cohort of local politicians with little to offer than a return to the stale and uninspiring pre-2005 situation. A number of accusations and rumours preceded the announcement, the latest being from controversial editor of Ad-Diyar daily Charles Ayyoub who claimed that a number of financial transactions in Aoun’s favour influenced his final choice of candidates. The disappointment comes also from within the Tayyar, as described by inside sources to El-Nashra. In effect, the unchanged list denies any new faces coming from the ranks the chance to genuinely establish a legacy within the area. Instead Aoun chose a more reliable alliance of loosely connected traditional personalities who operate under the umbrella of the Reform bloc. Candidate Nader Mrad, a Tayyar activist was the first victim of this course of events. He, who until a few days before was still insisting that he had the backing of his party, had to accept that electoral priorities came first. A similar picture had emerged in Beirut district 1 where long time student activist Zia Abs was originally mentioned only to be dismissed in favour of Abou Jamra, a veteran Aoun right hand man from 1989 but with little charisma and well past his expiry date.
The battle of Baabda even held more hopes for the Tayyar rank and file to challenge the norms of Lebanese politics and be represented by a non-Christian. Ramzi Kanj, Shiite and party member has been a rising star over the past 2 years, was sacrificed on the altar of an agreement with Hezbollah that followed a disagreement with the Amal movement of Nabeeh Berri in Jezzine. It is true that the FPM has fielded in the same district Alain Aoun, another young Turk with a promising future. But Aoun is the general‘s nephew and cynics might argue that the family connection trumps the reformist credentials of the young Aoun. My impression is further confirmed by browsing at the faces of the remaining candidates on the movement’s website; Mostly suited men in their 50s in keeping with the long held image of the Lebanese politician. Gilberte Zwayn, hardly a feminist icon, is left to represent 50% of the Lebanese population rendering the Tayyar’s advertising campaign (Sois belle et vote / Be pretty and vote) even more ironic.
Regardless of my prejudices against the Aounist interpretation of history, one could at least see glimmers of hope for the emergence of a genuine secular political party that would stimulate a battle of ideas on the national level. And while the 14th March tenors of the Cedar revolution seem to have already abandoned any pretentions of reform ; the elections, won or lost, might relegate the FPM to just another self-serving tribe. In the silent struggle between the (Free Patriotic) movement and the (Reform and Change) bloc, it is certainly the latter that comes out on top... unfortunately for everyone.