Saturday, March 17, 2007

 Drapeau du Liban (Ratio 2:3) The president of the Lebanese University has announced that elections suspended following clashes on various campuses earlier this year will now proceed. "Since the conditions that led to the delaying of the elections have changed, and since all the students insist that elections should be done in a democratic atmosphere, elections will be resumed at the Lebanese University on March 19," Zuhair Shukor said on Thursday.

Student representatives of the political parties are now preparing electoral campaigns, taking into careful consideration that any confrontation on campus could have serious repercussions for the political situation at large.

But early signs of problems are already arising, as the differing camps debate whether or not the polls should take place.

"From the start we thought the elections should never have been cancelled," the president of the Free Patriotic Movement Youth Council, Fadi Hanna, told The Daily Star. "If the university and the government had played their roles properly, then the elections would have taken place, because they would’ve taught students that fighting is not the answer. But they didn’t – they did not teach anyone to stop the violence.

"Our role as a party is to remain far away from clashes, as we feel that democracy is carried out through voting, not through fighting," he added.

But Samir Achi, a youth leader for the Future Movement, is concerned about the resumption of the elections.

"I think elections should not take place due to the political situation in the country," he told The Daily Star. "The confrontation happening between the people outside of the campuses will be reflected inside the universities. Especially in today’s situation, and the problems we’ve had since December 1, students are not to exercise their right of freedom to vote because they have been affected by activities around them."

Achi said student elections at LU were based on an unfair electoral system, in which minorities and independents are marginalized, leaving them without representation in the student council. He pointed out that problems have arisen in prior elections at LU.

"In certain areas, such as the Hadath campus, there have been a lot of problems, such as interference from outside, mostly from Hizbullah," Achi alleged. "Last year ballot boxes were stolen from one campus in order to change the results, and every year during the elections we usually have four or five of our supporters injured because of Hizbullah or Amal."

Hizbullah youth leader Bilal Lakis said anyone accusing Hizbullah of aggression should provide evidence. "If there is any evidence, let them show it," he said. "All parties, especially in Hadath, are free to express their opinions, and none of the parties bother the others."

He said elections should proceed as planned. "Despite the tensions in the country, elections are important, and no matter what, universities should be an arena for interaction between students," he said.

Bilal Tay, youth leader of the People’s Movement, seconded Lakis’ support for elections. "I think it’s a good idea the elections are happening, because it is a chance for the students to become more active in both political and student issues," he said.

Achi said students from the Future Movement have opted not to attend classes since clashes on campuses in January, in order to prevent any potential attacks or confrontations.

No official decision will be made until all the March 14 counterparts have been consulted, he said.

Another concern shared by parties on both sides of the political fence is the role of the university administration in elections. Achi, Tay, and Lakis all agree that reforms need to be implemented in order to make the elections more legitimate.

"Security at the campus does very little to prevent confrontations from happening, and we cannot trust the university administration or the president of the university because of lack of security, biased behavior and no restrictions," said Achi.

Tay said the behavior of the administration was not objective and neutral throughout the elections. "The problem is that the president of the university and the administration do not fulfill these obligations," he said. "There are no repercussions for clashes. The administration does not punish students who participate in confrontations; moreover they protect those who cause trouble, because they tend to belong to the same party."

Lakis said the university administration had not performed flawlessly during previous elections.

"The administration should play a certain role, and security forces should also be present this time around," he said.