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BEIRUT: Lebanese parties have rushed to submit their candidacies for the upcoming legislative elections to the Interior Ministry, with the March 15 registration deadline soon approaching.

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, 84, has presented his candidacy for another four-year parliamentary session, alongside members of the ruling party.

Nominations were previously limited to independent candidates and representatives of the civil movement.

The number of registered candidates rose to nearly 100 on Wednesday evening, with expectations for more applications soon.

On May 15, voters will vote for their 128 MPs, who will be preceded by officials working on the elections casting their ballots on May 12.

On May 6 and 8, Lebanese voters residing abroad will vote.

The cost of holding the elections is estimated at $15.5 million.

The electoral battle will really begin in April with the start of registration on the lists under which the candidates will present themselves.

Political jostling and increased engagement are expected once alliances are broken and the battle to prevent ruling parties from securing a parliamentary majority begins.

About 3,970,000 voters will participate in the upcoming elections, including some 225,000 voters living abroad, most of whom are expected to vote for representatives of the October 17, 2019 revolution.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah announced some of the party’s candidates on Wednesday evening, with some “younger generation candidates” adding to the list of MPs currently in office.

The Amal Movement is expected to announce the names of its candidates in the coming days. According to leaked information, Berri will retain a significant portion of current MPs, especially those who are being prosecuted for crimes related to the Beirut port explosion.

Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party Secretary General Ali Hijazi has submitted his candidacy to run in Baalbek-Hermel district.

This party is considered an extension of the Ba’ath party in Syria. Hijazi was recently elected secretary general and is considered an ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime.

The Lebanese Forces Party continues to announce the names of its candidates at party celebrations, while the Free Patriotic Movement is working to finalize its list of candidates. Meanwhile, the Progressive Socialist Party has yet to announce its candidates, with party leader Walid Joumblatt saying political conditions are not conducive to changes in his parliamentary bloc.

Smaller parties are waiting for news of big-power deals and understandings to determine their place on electoral lists.

Hezbollah seeks to consolidate its alliance with the Amal movement in all electoral constituencies and also hopes to ally itself with the FPM in every constituency where it can convince its voters to support the movement.

However, confusion still reigns on the Sunni scene, since the leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, announced his retirement from political life and asked party members not to stand in the next elections under the name of the movement.

Some supporters of the Future Movement have vowed to boycott the elections, while others have demanded that the movement resume its work and not leave the political arena to Hezbollah and its allies.

Several traditional Sunni community political leaders have announced they will not stand for election, including former Prime Minister Tammam Salam, while former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has insisted on not boycotting the elections.

A source from the Future Movement told Arab News: “Some think we should stay out of the system because neither our presence nor our absence can make a difference; the proof is how Hariri was stabbed in the back by all the ruling parties.

“Furthermore, Hezbollah would have no Sunni cover for any of its figures if we boycotted the elections.”

The source added: “Others believe that boycotting the elections would allow other parties to disrupt Sunni political unity.

“We need a limited number of candidates and we need to vote widely and efficiently.

“They insist that since Hariri never asked us to boycott the elections, we should not take such hasty decisions, especially since most state institutions are not yet constitutionally controlled by the government. Hezbollah.

“We must stop talking about treason, this is what best serves Lebanon.”

A source at Dar Al-Fatwa, the country’s top Sunni religious authority, expressed concern that Sunni votes could end up dispersed in the confusion.

“We are concerned that Sunni religious parties are succeeding in filling the void, especially if they do not adhere to the logic of the state and tend to adopt the logic of the militias,” they told Arab. News on condition of anonymity.

Candidates from civil society were among the first to submit their candidacies, albeit timidly.

However, this civil movement, with all its groups, has not yet finalized its candidacies or publicized in which constituencies it plans to fight the ruling parties.

Election expert Walid Fakhreddine said: “There are a large number of candidates in all regions, especially those where Hezbollah alliances predominate. Announcement of candidates was delayed in order to complete negotiations; that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Fakhreddine pointed out: “Candidature has been delayed because the electoral law requires each candidate to pay 30 million Lebanese pounds ($20,000), non-refundable if they choose to withdraw their candidacy.

“In addition, candidates are having problems opening bank accounts for election campaigns in accordance with the law, and work is underway to resolve this issue before March 15.”

Sharon P. Juarez