Opposition coalition wins control of one of Lebanon’s largest unions

Activists say opposition victories in syndicate votes may be a prelude to parliamentary elections next year

An alliance of independent and opposition candidates has won control of one of Lebanon’s largest trade unions, a stinging rebuke to the country’s established political parties.

The coalition, known as Naqaba Tantafid, or the Order Rebels, won a landslide in a follow-up election for the Syndicate of Engineers and Architects’ President and Council of Order, an executive decision-making body.

It followed a decisive victory in last month’s election for the guild’s General Assembly.

The opposition list, led by Aref Yassin, won in a landslide. Mr Yassin secured 5,798 votes of the 8,700 cast for the presidency.

Nine other members of the list won election to the council, giving the opposition coalition an overwhelming majority on the syndicate’s 16-person council.

Activists from the opposition groups that make up the list appeared extremely confident as polls closed, cheering and hollering as results were drip-fed to a large screen set up outside the syndicate’s premises.

Capturing control of Lebanon’s professional and trade bodies has become a vital tactic for Lebanon’s opposition groups since October 2019.

The control of unions serves as a means to apply political pressure on the government and established parties that operate on the national level.

The Syndicate of Engineers and Architects is one of several unions in Lebanon to wield significant power. It must approve all building permits in Lebanon, with the exception of those in the country’s north.

It also has major influence over building regulations, powers that mean the organisation is often courted – and dominated – by political groups with interests in the construction sector.

Yet activists supporting the list told The National the Engineering Syndicate polls were also a measuring stick of dissatisfaction with the political elite before parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.

“This is the first test since the financial collapse of the last year, to really measure the amount of people that are really resisting the current establishment,” said Ziad Abs, an activist with ReLebanon, one of the groups that make up Naqaba Tantafid.

“It’s a message for the establishment themselves, that people are fed up, that people don’t want them any more,” he said.

“People want to see change. It’s time to move away and give a chance to the younger people with real vision and hopes for this country.”

The election campaign’s final days and hours were plagued with accusations of dirty tricks, Mr Yassin, who is Shiite and from the south, was accused of being Hezbollah’s candidate of choice.

He rebuked the accusation at a debate held on the evening before voting opened.

Fraudulent text messages were sent out early on Sunday, an apparent bid to deter turnout, Naqaba Tantafid said.

“All they have is these dirty tricks, rumours about our candidate for the president of the syndicate, but the people will see through them,” said Mr Abs.

The Beirut Bar elections of November 2019 were seen as the first victory over the political classes, one month after popular protests erupted across the country.

Melhem Khalaf was elected, despite being an independent candidate and with a number of established political parties running against him.

Since then, similar victories were made by independent or non-aligned groups in student elections on campuses across the country. Last month, the Naqaba Tantafid list swept the Engineering syndicate’s general elections, winning 221 or the 283 seats up for grabs – with a record turnout.

Updated: July 18th 2021, 6:06 PM
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