Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zahle and the Politics of Tradition

Zahle a small but central town in the Bekka is becoming a center piece in the battle between March 14 and March 8 . The district of Zahle holds seven seats (two Greek Catholic, one Sunni, one Shia, one Greek Othordox, one Armenian Orthodox and a Maronite seat). The Greek Catholic dominate Zahle and what is making Zahle so interesting is that some of the population are finding it difficult to reconcile politics with tradition.

For some of the population of Zahle, especially the Catholic, that support March 14 they find it a difficult decision to vote against the traditional leader of the Catholics in Zahle Elias Skaff (who has aligned with the March 8 coalition). As one Zahlenian told me "my heart is with Skaff but my politics is with March 14." The numbers of such voters and how this sort of voter acts on election day will prove decisive in who wins the vital seats in the district. What is clear is that Zahle is going to have one of the most intense electoral competions in Lebanon. But March 8 are dominate in the area and in 2005 won all but one of the seats however, Araji who won the Sunni seat in 05 has moved over to the March 14 list from March 8.

The head of March 14 in Zahle Nicholas Fattoush recently released the March 14 list for Zahle Nicolas Fattouch and Antoine Abu Khater (Catholic seats), Elie Marouni (Maronite seat), Joseph Maalouf (Orthodox seat), Assem Araji (Sunni seat), Okab Sakr (Shia seat) and Chant Jinjinian (Armenian Orthodox seat). Of this list the Sunni candidate Araji and Catholic member Fattouch are the only incumbents. Elias Skaff, the head of the March 8 in Zahle, is still yet to release his list for the district but is expected to do so soon.

Skaff himself is completely confident of his victory in his families traditional heartland. Skaff stated that the relationship between his family and the Zahle community goes back a 100 years and would not be broken now. There is concern about violence in Zahle after an incident between two men that shot at Kataeb supporters that led to two being killed. Skaff strongly denies that these men had anything to do with him despite Kataeb allegations that they were his bodyguards. "These murderers had nothing to do with me but these people came up with their conclusions and continue to mislead people," Skaff said. As to the prospect of violence in the upcoming election Skaff stated that he did not think there would be any problems and was fully confident of complete victory.

In such a tight electoral race that Zahle will no doubt have bodies such as the Constitutional Council will of course be vital. Skaff stated that he thinks that if no agreement can be reached then the President should impose the decision. "You cannot have the elections without the Constitutional Council," Skaff stated.

Zahle also has a female candidate running for the Catholic seat. Magda Baradi is running as an independent in the Zahle seat but has many prominent billboards all around Zahle and outside. It will be interesting if Baradi can break through in this traditional political town.

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