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‘Change has started’: opposition candidate celebrates expected win in south Lebanon

by May 17, 2022Arab News

The Lebanese army patrols past a poster showing portraits of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, right, and the head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Raad, in Nabatiyeh. AP

Elias Jradeh, a 55-year-old eye surgeon, is set to become the first opposition lawmaker elected in south Lebanon, a region dominated by Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal. Analysts believe that this would be a first since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Volunteers working on his campaign shared preliminary figures after 11pm on Sunday evening, four hours after polling stations closed, that indicated that Mr Jradeh had obtained the highest number of votes on the opposition list running in his district of South 3.

That was roughly four times more than his rival on the Hezbollah and Amal list, MP Assaad Hardan. Mr Hardan is head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a small party mostly known for its flag that resembles the Nazi swastika.

Figures seen by The National did not include the diaspora vote from Sunday May 8. The state-run National News Agency reported late Sunday evening that Mr Jradeh had won a seat.

Dozens of supporters, most of them in their twenties, gathered shortly before midnight on Sunday evening at his home in the village of Ebel Al Saqi, near the town of Marjayoun, chanting “rise up Marjayoun” and “revolution”.

“You see, most of them are young,” said Mr Jradeh, with a smile, as he welcomed the crowd.

The district of South 3 was the only district in Lebanon that presented a unified list, unlike in the rest of the country where the opposition presented competing lists.

The opposition’s fragmentation significantly weakened its chances despite its high hopes of capitalising on people’s anger against Lebanon’s ruling establishment, nearly three years into their country’s economic meltdown, largely blamed on politicians.

It remains unlikely that Shiite opposition candidates will win any seats in South 3. The Hezbollah and Amal list included heavyweight Shiite politicians such as Mohammad Raad, the head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary group. Preliminary figures show that he secured the most votes in the entire district.

Hezbollah, the only civil war militia allowed to keep its weapons when the war ended in 1990, is labelled a terrorist organisation by several Western countries.

The opposition list’s headquarters kept a low profile in Marjayoun, with just a handful of volunteers analysing figures on excel sheets. An adviser to Mr Jradeh said that he had stayed at home for security reasons.

Opposition figures regularly come under verbal or physical threat in the region. From time to time, cars drove by waving Hezbollah’s flag and blaring loud party music.

Mr Jradeh tried to keep expectations realistic as his enthusiastic supporters chanted: “They stole my money, they stole my things, but Elias Jradeh beat them all.”

In an impromptu speech, Mr Jradeh told them that “this is not a victory. It’s just the beginning of our path.”

In a country where candidates often stir sectarian sentiment to cement loyalty, Mr Jradeh called on his electors to judge him and other lawmakers on their achievements. “Those who produce results, they are welcome, and those who don’t, may they be set aside,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter who the winner is on our list. What matters is that changed has started,” Mr Jradeh told The National.

Asked how he would work as MP, if he were elected, alongside Amal and Hezbollah, Mr Jradeh remained evasive. He answered that he would strive to “represent everyone” and that he would “bring hope to generations from all parties in Lebanon and in the South.”

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