Lebanon's opposition wins Order of Engineers vote in latest electoral test

Opposition groups are trying to unite before parliamentary elections in 2022

Mandatory Credit: Photo by NABIL MOUNZER/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10744412g)
Lebanese Sarah Jaafar (L) and Paul Najjar (R) speak on their behalf and on behalf of the martyrs and injured in the port explosion on August 04, during a press conference under a tent in front of the site of the port explosion, Beirut, Lebanon, 14 August 2020. They demanded that the UN security council appoints an international investigation and international prosecution and punishment of this crime. According to the Lebanese Health Ministry, at least 160 people were killed, and more than 6,000 injured in the Beirut blast that devastated the port area on 04 August and believed to have been caused by an estimated 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse.
Press conference of victims of Beirut Port explosion, Lebanon - 14 Aug 2020

Independent and opposition-backed candidates secured a landslide victory against an alliance of Lebanon's traditional political parties in the first round of elections of the Order of Engineers and Architects.

The win is another successful electoral test for groups that want massive political change.

The list led by Paul Naggear, the father of a 3-year-old girl who died in a massive blast at Beirut Port last year that killed over 200 and destroyed thousands of properties across the capital, won control of three of the seven branches representing different engineering disciplines.

Dubbed the Order Rebels, the coalition took 221 of the 283 seats on Sunday with a record turnout of 8,000 voters. The contenders affiliated with the major parties retained the public-sector employees’ branch.

The Order of Engineers is one of the largest syndicates in Lebanon with over 60,000 members and plays a major role in setting and supervision of construction regulations.

Taking control of unions and syndicates has been a priority for opposition leaders as a means to apply pressure on the government to pass needed reform in the face of a dire economic crisis but also as a litmus test ahead of parliamentary and municipal elections.

Ahead of the vote, Mr Naggear called on members to back his list, saying “vote for my colleagues in the ‘Order Rebels' alliance, ...the only real list of candidates of the revolution against the criminal and incompetent ruling class."

A picture of Mr Naggear carrying his daughter Alexandra on his shoulder at an anti-government rally in late 2019 became a symbol of one of the largest protest movements to sweep Lebanon since 2005.

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets to protest against rampant corruption across state institutions, marking a shift in the national mood against the ruling class.

But despite the political elite’s failure to enact long-awaited reforms, the movement lost momentum after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s Cabinet continues to serve in a caretaker capacity 10 months after resigning over the Beirut blast, leaving Lebanon without a fully functioning government that can commit to reforms sought by the international community before providing financial support.

Since then, opposition groups have been trying to unite before a parliamentary election next year, with the Order of Engineers’ polls marking the latest successful attempt at closing ranks.

More than 20 opposition groups came together to contest the elections against an alliance of major political parties, including the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and the Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah.

Traditional political parties and opposition groups will face off in the second round of elections on July 18 when engineers will vote to elect the Order's head and council members.