There was a major election here in Beirut on Wednesday, and the results are about as unclear, and as contested, as the 2000 US presidential election (here, March 8 coalition is the opposition, including Hezbollah, Amal and Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement and March 14 is the anti-Syrian ruling coalition, including Hariri’s Future Movement and Geagea’s Lebanese Forces):
Thursday saw a significant rise in tensions between the two camps in the build-up to the announcement of the results, with each side chanting political slogans and applauding their national political leaders, and booing those of the other side.
Security and riot police … increased from the previous evening, this time prepared for potential clashes.
…The announcements came to an abrupt halt after a skirmish broke out between the two camps, and with the March 8 coalition slamming the results as illegitimate.
Immediately after the skirmish, Mohammad Hamadeh, leader of the Commoners Party and a March 8 coalition member, told The Daily Star that ballots had been tampered with.
“The results are wrong because there is a big problem with the number of votes placed,” he explained. “Cheating has taken place. Our candidates inside [West Hall] confirmed that there were a lot more votes in the ballot boxes than there should be, meaning that the results are inaccurate.”
“Even though we won, despite the cheating that occurred, we feel the obvious tampering that occurred needs to be investigated, as it does not make the elections just,” he added.
Judging from the Daily Star’s coverage, you could be forgiven for thinking that these were city or even national elections. They’re not. In fact, the elections were student elections at the American University in Beirut.
Political group violence is not unheard of in student elections, where college politics are a microcosm of Lebanese politics in general, with coalitions and parties mirroring their national counterparts. Last year, there was a serious bout of political/sectarian violence on the campus of the Lebanese American University. It is commonly believed that this is the reason why elections were suspended at that university.
These elections are a big deal, and political parties invest a fair amount of effort in winning them. On election day, it’s impossible to get onto campus without an ID, and armed security details guard school entrances. And what results there are sound like announcements of which party took which state in the US:
Both sides agreed the March 14 coalition won the School of Business and a majority of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. It was also agreed the March 8 camp won the Faculty of Medicine and Nursing, and a majority of the Faculty of Engineering.
Who won this year at AUB? Your guess is as good as mine.