Paula The Rebel
Prestige issue 290, June 2018
An iron woman in a velvet glove
Paula is a gifted woman, holding many talents from her family. Her grandfather was the Emir of Zeitoun in Armenia. We met her after her election to the Lebanese parliament, always excited and filled with contagious energy. She wishes to bring behind her the Lebanese youth thirsty for change. Will she manage to break the taboos? … the unspoken and the deals under the table? … Paula dreams of a better world. Is it utopia? … Will she succeed alone? … «Willingness is power,»it is said. But it is also said«One hand alone cannot applaud». What does the future hold for her? Let’s keep our fingers crossed, because we all dream of a better world.
Only a powerful will can move mountains …
MP Paulette Sirakan Yaghobian, aka Paula Yacoubian set the bar very high.
Journalist at the age of 17, very rapidly a TV star and currently you live your first elected MP experience. What are your impressions? I feel that I have a very heavy responsibility. Many in Lebanon did not expect to see a female MP elected outside the closed circle of existing and predominant parties for decades. Only Najah Wakim broke the tradition in 1972 in Beirut. It is necessary to create a real and effective opposition. The «temporary» opposition present in existing parties is variable and depends on the interest of each party. I was the only candidate for Koullouna Watani to be elected, whereas we could have had four deputies, if Lebanon formed a single constituency with a proportional vote. Achrafieh is just the beginning of our expansion.
Has your success been easy or did you face people who rejected your candidacy? My election campaign was very hard. I managed to make a breakthrough between the existing parties, despite the difficulty of access to the media, not to mention the official organizations under the leadership of the state and the money spent to attract votes. I was the victim of gossip, lies, even aggression on my supporters. My competitors wanted to spread everywhere the rumor that the vote for the Civil Society is a useless vote. I want to tell them that the only useful vote is for the opposition. Given the small percentage of participation, I think that our efforts to deliver this message did not reach the desired outcome, not having enough budget to get into the media. The only useful vote in Lebanon is the sanctioning vote, to force the state to improve its performance.
You were the only journalist to succeed among all those who came forward. What is this success due to? Was it the trust of voters or to the fact that you are Armenian? Being Armenian has nothing to do with my election. I had 20% of the Armenians votes. I came right after a Tachnak candidate and I passed the second party candidate. I even got votes in all the polls of different denominations. Nevertheless, with my patriotic and unifying slogan, «Together let’s continue. A united people for a strong state,» I was expecting greater participation.
«To monitor and request reporting will be my role in Parliament.»
What are the reasons, in your opinion, that led the voters to vote for you? The fact of being a figure known to the general public has enormously favored my election. I have invested all my knowledge and all the available social networks, to make the electors aware of our cause and our comprehensive program.
Paula Yacoubian or Paulette Sirakan Yaghobian… which name do you like the most? Although Paulette Yaghobian is the name on my identity card, Paula is the name that resembles me the most, because since my childhood, everyone called me simply Paula.
Which memory of the elections has most marked you? The propaganda made about me to the Armenian voters who asked me surprising questions. A ferocious and untruthful campaign was conducted, even threatening people who supported me. I felt that the people really need awareness.
You have interviewed almost all political figures, with whom you established friendly ties. You know the backside of the political scene. What made you change roles and run for office? It is true that I interviewed many politicians, but the bonds of friendship were not always there. I criticized the policies of different parties and they too attacked me. I criticized while still hoping to make reforms from within. To change the way people think. We are a democratic country in form only. My decision to embark on the political path was taken following the famous fraudulent discussions around the closure of the dump of Bourj Hammoud between 2015-2016.
What is your electoral program? What are your priorities? My role in Parliament will be to monitor and hold the state to account. Koullouna Watani is the first anti-establishment movement, a current of opposition, awareness and responsibility. We have proposed a comprehensive national coalition program at all levels, a plan to train a citizen able to work in the interest of his country. The electoral law has not proven effective and needs to be changed. I presented a project contrary to the orthodox law of 2011. 64 Christian deputies will vote for the Muslim deputies and vice versa, with a single constituency, but with a better representation, fairer and more equitable. Thus the political discourse will no longer be sectarian, but national and unified, to end up as a productive country. Obviously this will happen in two or three successive stages. Among my priorities are also the awareness campaigns that I had been conducting for fifteen years and that I would continue to conduct in schools and faculties, keeping the same speech. The actual presence on the ground is also one of my priorities, if the cause we defend is of public order.
What is your action plan for young people? We have a huge responsibility to these desperate young people addicted to their smart phones. The country bends under the burden of the 100 billion debt, it is deprived of regular electricity, and the governors abuse brazenly of their power and are accountable to nobody. In my opinion, these elections will end the «class of war». Educating young people to get out of their silence is certainly essential, but insufficient. It is crucial to make them aware, they should go on the ground to demand a better performance of the public service. There is no accountability in Lebanon. It’s a culture that needs to be developed.
«My credo is united people for a strong state.»
You refuse an electoral list where the woman is not represented … Lebanon is at the bottom of the list of countries in terms of representation of women. It is important to give qualified and independent women the chance to be on the list of candidates at least. Diversity is essential. It’s time for a gifted woman to take part in governance. And the Lebanese woman is capable of great achievements. Until now the Europeans distinctively encourage the woman enormously to be in power.
Are you going to join a coalition? I refuse to be part of any coalition. By the way, I would like to respond to those who made rumors that I asked for a «privileged» registration number for my car. This number does not interest me.
Are you an ecologist? Do you plan to work in this area? How? I have worked with a number of green organizations. Ecology is a matter of awareness. I supported recycling projects and collaborated with municipalities on «Boost upcycling». I will continue to work for the environment even though I feel that my work in this area has not had the desired impact. Good news: I think I can manage to close the quarantine dump, which is three years old. I committed myself in front of the municipality to go with the young people on the ground and to remove garbage. These will be buried in the landfill provided for this purpose.
«An eligible candidate must have nerves of steel, breath, boldness, as well as the gift and ability to cope to lies and abuse of power.»
The strengths of an eligible candidate, according to Paula … An eligible candidate must first have nerves of steel, breath, daring. Then, have the gift and the ability to deal with lies and abuse of power.
A promise made to your constituents that you are sure you can honor … I promise you never to reconcile allegiance to power and opposition. That opposition will be solely opposition and allegiance only allegiance. You can not be part of the power and be an opponent.
What are you going to miss most about journalism? Frankly, not much. In Lebanon, information is linked to power. The word is no longer effective. The real sanction is through elections, pressure in the ballot box to tell politicians that’s enough. Everyone complains but the much-needed change never takes place.
What do you apprehend most? I fear that I can not live up to the expectations of my constituents. I would not like to disappoint them. That’s why I work hard and in the smallest details. Interview Conducted by MARCELLE NADIM
Location: Smallville Hotel Badaro
Hair: Pace & Luce, Samer Hafi
Makeup: Dania Kassabieh