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Shamaluna: A new political discourse or a new face?

Several days have passed since the Shamaluna coalition of independent groups closed its primary elections website, with the names of the winners to be announced on February 27. An estimated 4,000 voters cast their ballots in these internal elections, and the official list of the alliance’s parliamentary candidates will be announced by the end of March.

A total of 11 candidates are running in Shamaluna’s primary elections: Rabieh Al Chaer and Layal Bou Moussa in Batroun; Kozhaya Sassine and Riad Tawk in Bcharre; Chaden El Daif, Michel Douaihy, Gistelle Semaan, Paul Al Tabar, and Fadi Jelwan in Zgharta; and Simon Bachawati and Jihad Farah in Koura.

The North III district includes ten Christian seats divided as follows: Two seats for Maronites in Batroun, two for Maronites in Bcharre, three for Maronites in Zgharta, and three for Orthodox in Koura.

Shamaluna is a political coalition of four groups in Bcharre, Zgharta, Koura, and Batroun that “decided to confront the governing ‘system’ and all the affiliated political parties in power.”

The coalition will be facing off against multiple traditional political parties in this district, including the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Lebanese Phalangist (Kataeb) party, and the Marada Movement.

The conditions for running

Individuals who were affiliated with or supported any traditional political party or movement in the past 12 months were not allowed to run in Shamaluna’s primary elections, as stipulated by the coalition’s conditions for Candidacy.

Why 12 months was selected as a timeframe as opposed to something longer, candidate Michel Douaihy said the coalition was attempting to encourage those who left traditional parties to stay politically active.

“We took this decision to encourage people that truly left traditional parties to still engage in political life, because Shamaluna is not an exclusive party,” said Douaihy, who is a professor of political science.

Some of the candidates currently running for the primary election have previous ties to ministers and political parties.

The mechanism of selecting candidates

The selection of candidates was initially divided into two stages, according to Douaihy. 

“The first stage was inviting certain experts or activists, and the second was electing the general assemblies of the four groups that make up Shamaluna,” said the candidate.

He refused to name those who were invited to participate in the primaries.

“After naming potential candidates, a committee in every minor district of the North III district studied the files of the candidates. The names of those moving on to the second stage, which is the internal elections, were then confirmed,” said Douaihy.

The process behind internal elections

Shamaluna’s bylaws for the primaries, specifically Clause A of Article 2 in Chapter 1 (Voting System and Constituencies), adopts the preferential voting system. 

In one electoral round, voters use numbers to organize the candidates according to their preferences. They must vote for at least one name, and the ballot is done in secret.

Clause B of the same article dictates that candidates in the Koura and Zgharta minor districts win on condition that they earn more than 25 percent of the votes and that candidates in Bcharre and Batroun win on condition that they earn more than 33 percent of the votes.

Clause C of the bylaws also states that the winners in each district are in principle the coalition’s candidates for the parliamentary elections. If backed by 75 percent of its members, the administrative committee reserves the right to remove a candidate should they commit violations that infringe upon the agreement that they signed or that directly oppose the coalition’s values.

In the event that a candidate with the highest number of votes is removed, then it is within the administrative committee’s right to take the decision on how to fill the vacancy left.

Possible alliances

“We’ve been clear from the beginning about not forming alliances that do not reflect us and that we would not ally with anyone who was part of the political class, even if they weren’t as involved in it as others,” said Douaihy.

When asked about the possibility of winners from the primaries not running for the parliamentary elections, Douaihy said it is a possibility.

“We might be forced to form alliances in some minor districts with other individuals who are similar to us and who do not have links to the ruling class,” said the candidate. “They might provide some added value.”

Gistelle Semaan, running in the primaries for the Zgharta minor district, was recently announced as a parliamentary candidate for the National Bloc. Secretary General Pierre Issa previously announced that the National Bloc met with the Kataeb party, a gathering in which the importance of certain sovereign, national and developmental guidelines were emphasized and the necessity of working to address the crises that the nation is going through was addressed.

It is known that the Kataeb and the National Bloc have a shared history, joining the National Liberal Party under “The Tripartite Alliance” during 1968’s parliamentary elections—in which they won 30 seats out of 99.

The general policies of Shamaluna

The general policies of the alliance are split under multiple themes. Politically, Shamaluna values undivided sovereignty, strengthening the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers, a democratic political approach, inalienable public and private freedoms, maintaining the Lebanese constitution until the issue of sovereignty is resolved, and foreign relations in Lebanon’s interest.

Economically and socially, the coalition strives for a productive economic system, necessary economic reforms, a social system that guarantees equal opportunities, the restructuring of the public sector, a fair tax system, a modern education system, and comprehensive planning.

As for local development, they aim for sustainable productive sectors across the country—the establishment of policies that encourage productive investments in local sectors.

Shamaluna also strives for expanded decentralization as the coalition believes it can contribute to balanced development and brings decision-making closer to the people. Finally, the coalition advocates for environmental protection as a national duty.

But sovereignty, a new economy, and the confiscation of illegal weaponry are all goals that multiple traditional and independent parties strive for, so what’s different about Shamaluna?

“Not only is there a big difference in how we define sovereignty, but also in the way of confronting the issue,” said Douaihy. “We feel that traditional parties deal with this issue as a way to get to power, but we have a holistic approach through creating a peaceful political Lebanese resistance rather than pitting one sect against the other.”

Breaching the ruling class

When asked about whether the 4,000 voters who registered for Shamalouna’s primaries are capable of inducing change, Douaihy seemed hopeful.

“I don’t know, but there is encouragement for Shamaluna in the North III district,” he said.

At the same time, Shamaluna is being criticized in its electoral districts. “Shamaluna is bringing a new discourse and approach to politics, which worries traditional parties,” said Douaihy. 

Winning seats in the parliamentary election will depend on two factors, according to the candidate: “The first is the other electoral lists and how the votes will be distributed among them, while the second is how people will cast their votes.”

Douaihy ended on a high-note, saying there is a serious possibility of breaching the traditional political structure if the electoral lists resemble those of the 2018 parliamentary elections.