‘Change has begun,’ says opposition candidate in south Lebanon, who is predicted to win

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Lebanon lebanonElias Jradeh, a 55-year-old eye surgeon, would be the first opposition MP elected in south Lebanon, which is dominated by Iran-backed Hezbollah and its partner Amal. Analysts say this would be the first time since the civil war ended in 1975-1990.

After polling stations closed at 11 p.m. on Sunday, four hours after polling stations closed, volunteers working on his campaign tweeted early numbers showing that Mr Jradeh had received the most votes on the opposition list running in his district of South 3.

MP Assaad Hardan of the Hezbollah and Amal list received almost four times as much. Mr. Hardan is the leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Group, a minor party most recognized for its flag, which looks a lot like the Syrian flag. Mr Jradeh had won a seat, according to the state-run National News Agency late Sunday evening.

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Hundreds of fans, mostly in their twenties, arrived outside his house in the village of Ebel Al Saqi, near the town of Marjayoun, soon before midnight on Sunday evening, screaming “rise up Marjayoun” and “revolution.” Mr Jradeh smiled as he greeted the audience, “You see, most of them are young.”

In contrast to the rest of the nation, where the opposition produced rival lists, South 3 was the only district in Lebanon to propose a cohesive ticket. Despite its high aspirations of capitalizing on people’s fury against Lebanon’s governing elite, nearly three years into the country’s economic disaster, mostly blamed on politicians, the opposition’s fragmentation considerably harmed its chances.

In South 3, Shiite opposition candidates are unlikely to get any seats. Heavyweight Shiite figures including Mohammad Raad, the president of Hezbollah’s parliamentary faction, were on the Hezbollah and Amal ticket. According to preliminary results, he received the most votes in the whole district.

Several Western governments have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization since it was the only civil war force permitted to preserve its weapons after the war ended in 1990. In Marjayoun, the opposition list’s headquarters kept a low profile, with only a few volunteers analyzing figures on excel sheets. Mr Jradeh’s counsel said that he stayed at home for security concerns.

In the region, opposition figures are frequently threatened verbally or physically. Cars passed by sometimes, waving Hezbollah flags and blasting loud party music. As his adoring fans yelled, “They took my money, they stole my goods, but Elias Jradeh overcame them all,” Mr Jradeh sought to keep expectations under check. “This is not a win,” Mr Jradeh said in an impromptu address. It’s only the start of our journey.”

In a country where politicians sometimes incite sectarianism to get votes, Mr Jradeh urged his constituents to assess him and other parliamentarians based on their accomplishments. “Those who create results are welcome,” he continued, “and those who don’t should be pushed aside.”

“It makes no difference who wins on our list. What important is that change has begun, according to Mr Jradeh. Mr Jradeh remained evasive when asked how he would operate as an MP with Amal and Hezbollah if elected. He said that he would work to “represent everyone” and “offer hope to future generations from all parties in Lebanon and in the south .”

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