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Asserting Sunni Leadership in Lebanon Mustaqbal Priority in Parliamentary Polls

Asserting Sunni Leadership in Lebanon Mustaqbal Priority in Parliamentary Polls

Wednesday, 21 February, 2018 - 07:45
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri greets supporters in Beirut in November 2017. (AFP)
Beirut – Paula Astih
The Mustaqbal Movement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is expected to run in the polls with the goal of asserting its leadership of the country’s Sunnis.

The last time the elections were held in 2009, the movement was part of the March 14 alliance that was running against the rival March 8 bloc, lead by the “Hezbollah” group. The situation in Lebanon has changed since then with shifting alliances and members that were once part of the March 14 camp now running against it.

The Movement is now faced with the task of running against these former allies, most notably former Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi, in order to assert itself as the major Sunni player in Lebanon.

Hariri had on February 14, the anniversary of the assassination of his father, former PM Rafik Hariri, declared that the movement’s primary political goal in the elections is confronting “Hezbollah”. He did however criticize “former friends, who are working for the party.”

Elections experts predicted that the Movement’s lawmakers at parliament will drop from 34 to 22 or 20.

Head of the Beirut Center for Research and Information Abdo Saad told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Mustaqbal and Hariri’s standing in Lebanon has improved in wake of the recent crisis that led to his resignation in November. He has since retracted it.

His popularity however is nowhere near what it was in 2009, he remarked.

He has lost a third or a quarter of his popularity in several regions in favor of other Sunni figures, he explained. For example, in the western Bekaa region former Minister Abdulrahim Murad is gaining popularity, while in Beirut, the Mustaqbal faces competition from head of the National Dialogue Party Fouad Makhzoumi.

The greatest challenge to his authority however lies in the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli, said Saad. There Hariri and the Mustaqbal will face stiff competition from former Prime Minister Najib Miqati and former Minister Faisal Karami. Rifi however is likely to be the fiercest competitor in wake of scathing criticism he has directed against the ruling political class.

Several elections experts explained that the Mustaqbal’s expected loss in the polls cannot be attributed to the new electoral law, which is based on proportional representation. It instead is due to the movement’s decline in popularity as a result of its recent political choices.

Saad said: “Proportional representation protected the Mustqbal, whose losses would have been greater if the polls were to be held based on the majority rules electoral law.”

“Despite this, the movement will remain the primary and irreplaceable Sunni authority in Lebanon,” he added.

The Mustaqbal has meanwhile blamed its expected losses to “the success of rivals and ‘Hezbollah’ allies alike in taking the battle to the Sunni scene,” said former MP Mustapha Alloush.

He remarked however that the slogans that Hariri raised against “Hezbollah” during the 2009 still stand.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “There is no doubt that the current circumstances suit ‘Hezbollah’ given the division among Sunni ranks. The party is trying hard to garner supporters from all sects, especially Sunnis, so that they will be part of its bloc in the new parliament.”

Alloush expected the Mustaqbal to wage the battle in Tripoli alone and it will likely run against three or four other lists.

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