Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's announcement that he will "personally" go to Baalbek and Hermel on election day to support his party's list has not affected the mood of the region's Shia opposition, opposition candidates said.
It has instead strengthened their determination to proceed with their own list for the May 6th parliamentary elections, they said, noting that Shia opposition to Hizbullah in the Baalbek-Hermel region has been growing fast.
The stage is set for an electoral battle between the Hizbullah-Amal Hope and Loyalty list and the Dignity and Development list led by former Shia MP Yahya Shams, in alliance with the Lebanese Forces and the Future Bloc.
The Dignity and Development list includes five Shia candidates.
Nasrallah stated he intends to be in Baalbek-Hermel on election day to motivate people into casting their ballots, An Nahar daily reported Tuesday (March 27th).
"Shall I see a low turnout on election day, I will personally go to the villages and towns in Baalbek and Hermel in order to support the lists of Hope and Loyalty," he said, according to the newspaper.
"I am not joking, and my words are not out of encouragement."
Free to make choices
Nasrallah's recent announcement "only strengthens the citizens’ determination to move forward with their choices", said Sheikh Abbas al-Jawhari, who is heading an electoral list in the Baalbek-Hermel district that stands in opposition to Hizbullah's platform.
Al-Jawhari has been a vocal opponent of Hizbullah's intervention in Syria's conflict.
"If [Nasrallah] wants to campaign door-to-door and neighbourhood to neighbourhood, it would have been better if he had done that before to see how those [people] are living and the poverty he has left them in," al-Jawhari told Al-Mashareq.
"But he only wants them to hear speeches that call on them to defend [Syrian president Bashar] al-Assad, and these factors have led citizens to reject his policy," he added.
The narrative of resistance will not win Hizbullah a victory this time, he said, "because people have seen how they walked into the mud of Syria".
"The day will come when [Lebanon's Shia] rise for our national dignity in order to establish a state of citizenship, justice and respect for religion, that does not use religion as a pretext for interference in the state's affairs," he said.
Hizbullah is betting on the votes of the Shia community, he said.
But the party will be disappointed on election day, he added, because disadvantaged and impoverished members of the community "will vote against them behind the polling booth curtain".
"The person who receives $500 a month while seeing others around him spending millions and building villas, palaces and tourist resorts, will rise up behind the curtain and vote against them," he said.
"They want to tell the party that they are not sheep," he added.
Ballot box will decide
"Our battle is democratic, and we have the right to ally ourselves with any other ideology or sect, because we are against fanaticism and hatred, and for the unity of the people," said Shams, who heads the Dignity and Development list.
The ballot box will "decide who will represent the region", he said.
Shia voters do not appear to have been swayed by Nasrallah's words, he added, because "there is hunger and misery" in the region, and "because they realize we are fighting a battle against hunger and poverty".
Dignity and Development list candidate Mohammad Hamiya said his campaign office in the town of Taraya "was hit with stones, but the losses were limited to smashed glass and torn up posters bearing my picture".
"Nasrallah’s talk of coming to the area was unnecessary, because he is welcome in the area that has embraced him, so the door is open," he told Al-Mashareq.
Nasrallah, however, is disconnected from the people and the elections, he said.
"We are a group who saw a serious deficiency in development, and in responding to people's demands related to their livelihood. We are competing to serve our people, while he is not," he said.