Damascus: An unorthodox alliance is emerging in Mount Lebanon ahead of next month’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 15. It has united the old Christian families of Lebanon against Gibran Bassil, leader of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and son-in-law of incumbent president, Michel Aoun.
Before running for president next October, Bassil needs to win a parliamentary majority for the FPM. They hold 29 seats in the current Parliament, whose tenure ends on May 21.
Traditional Christian families have teamed up from across the political spectrum with the aim of destroying Bassil’s bid, first by denying him a parliamentary seat for his native Batroun, and by extension, to Baabda Palace (Lebanon’s presidential residence).
The coastal city of Batroun lies in the 2nd Northern District (Mount Lebanon), where there are 10 seats divided across four regions. This is where Strida Geagea, wife of Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea will campaign in Bshiri. She is active in the anti-Bassil campaign, along with the children and grandchildren of former Lebanese presidents.
Traditional families unite
Joining her are Nadim and Sami Gemayel (sons of ex-presidents Bashir and Amin Gemayel, respectively), Michel Mouawwad (son of ex-president Rene Mouawwad), and Tony Frangieh (grandson of ex-president Suleiman Frangieh).
Apart from wanting to see Gibran Bassil defeated, these MPs have little in common.
The Gemayels are scions of the leading Maronite political family in Bekfayya, and they represented the younger generation of the Lebanese Phalange Party, established by their grandfather back in 1936.
Nadim is 39, inheriting his career from his father, who was slain after being elected president and before assuming office in September 1982. Sami is 41, who operates under the directives of his now retired father, former President Amin Gemayel.
Michel Mouawwad (age 50) is founder of the Independence Movement and son of former president Rene Mouawwad, who assumed office briefly between 5-22 November 5-22, 1989, before he was assassinated during the final chapters of the Lebanese Civil War.
Tony Frangieh (age 35) is named after his grandfather, who was killed early in the war, scion of a leading political family in Zghorta. His great-grandfather Suleiman was president when the war broke out in 1975 while his father, Suleiman Jr, is running against Gibran Bassil in next October’s presidential election. Unlike Gagegea, Mouawwad, and the Gemayls, the Frangiehs are members of the Hezbollah-led 8 March Coalition. Ironically, so is Gibran Bassil.
During the 2018 elections, Gibran Bassil came in first in the 2nd Northern District, with 39 per cent of votes, seconded by Strida Gagegea (36 per cent) and Tony Frangieh (33 per cent). His 2018 victory included 382 Muslim votes, secured by Hezbollah. Back then 11,263 people voted in Mount Lebanon, giving three seats to each of the FPM, the Lebanese Forces, and the Marada Movement of the Frangieh family.
Running against Bassil in Batroun today, with the support of all the above mentioned political families is Majd Harb, son of longtime parliamentarian and former presidential hopeful, Boutros Harb.
There are two seats for Batroun in Parliament, both reserved for Maronite Christians. At best, Bassil will win one while the second will go either to Harb or Michel Mouawwad. Supporting Bassil in the uphill battle is the Armenian Tashnag Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), who are both allied to President Aoun.
In Keserwan, there are five Maronite seats, all being contested by the FPM. In Baabda, formerly a stronghold for Michel Aoun, the FPM will be running against strong opposition from the Lebanese Forces. The Aounists have three candidates for Baabda, one officially a member of the FPM and two independents affiliated to Aoun.
During the 2018 elections, the FPM scored 17,500 votes in Baabda, compared to 13,400 votes for the Lebanese Forces. Early polling projects their share in Baabda to increase by 3,000 votes, putting them on equal footing with the Lebanese Forces. Both will face opposition from civil society groups representing the October 17 Revolution (a total of five lists are running against both the FPM and the Lebanese Forces).
Bshiri is another important centre in Mount Lebanon; hometown of the Geagea family. The FPM are trying to penetrate Bshiri with one seat, although it remains overwhelmingly anti-Aoun and pro-Geagea.
Zghorta is also important to them but the FPM realises that it has a low chance of success, contested for the town’s three seats by a nominee of Mouawwad and Tony Frangieh, who is running instead of his father. Zghorta has historically been affiliated with the Frangiehs and the town is united rank-and-file behind Tony’s parliamentary bid and Suleiman’s presidential ambition. They currently control a small bloc of three MPs in Parliament, which they hope to increase before the presidential elections in October.