money can buy the voice … or vouchers

Sunday night, 10:30 pm, at a restaurant made electoral headquarters in Achrafieh, a Christian stronghold of Beirut, a cry of joy rang out. Hundreds of activists present successfully welcomed Jihad Pakradouni, an independent candidate, who is registered on the Lebanese Forces list, to the legislative elections. For Leila, “Something will definitely change in his election because we need new faces who can defend us against Hezbollah and solve the economic crisis” he said, convinced. Nearly a third of the votes were counted. Preliminary results suggest that Jihad will be elected. It was officially 48 hours later.

A few hundred meters away, at the Beirut Madinati headquarters, a competing Beirut I constituency list, the mines were disturbed. “But what do they need? The second explosion? » question of an activist from the opposition social ecologist party when announcing the turnout. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 41.04% of the approximately 3.9 million voters went to the polls to renew the 128-member Parliament. They are 48.68% in 2018.

“Poison in the president’s chair”

These elections are the first since “Thawra”, [révolution en arabe], the autumn 2019 protest movement. And many of its actors sought to make the street uprising change through the ballot box. Especially since three years ago, the Lebanese pound has fallen against the dollar. At the same time, the prices of basic necessities and food, as well as medicines or fuel exploded. Nearly 80% of the population today lives below the poverty line.

Since the explosion, many people have lost hope. Many left the country. And in this very affected area where the memories of the civil war are still present, those forced to stay are terrified, report by Tarek Ammar, candidate on the Beirut Madinati list. When I talk to voters, they often tell me, “I voted for you in 2016. But this year, I’m sorry, but it’s not your time yet. It’s time for bandits. You, you can’t fight Hezbollah, only the Lebanese Forces can do that.

The first results confirm the predictions: While Hezbollah and its allies seem to be losing their majority, the Lebanese Forces, a party and former Christian militia, are gaining seats across Lebanon. For Paula, in her sixties, the salvation of Christians was at stake: “We Christians want to stay at home and not live like in Iran. With the Lebanese Forces, Hezbollah will not be able to return to Achrafieh”, he says. Still in the electoral district of Beirut I, Nadia, in her forties, is also advocating for change: “Previously, I voted for the Courant Patriotique Libre (CPL: party of President Michel Aoun, an ally of Hezbollah). Michel Aoun is very good. Then he became president and he became evil. I don’t know, there must be poison in the presidential chair that has entered his veins. ” he joked, before explaining that he took part in demonstrations against all kinds of politics in October 2019: “But I am very optimistic. Change is needed, but gradually. This is why I voted for the Lebanese Forces ”.

$ 300 votes and Hezbollah weapons

A concern that Jihad Pakradouni seems to have considered: “What is important to me is to be with the strongest sovereignist party in Lebanon because I think the battle that must be fought is sovereignty and therefore the disarmament of Hezbollah”, he explains. Future MP added: “I think the only real problem in Lebanon right now is Hezbollah’s weapons.” This Franco-Lebanese businessman decided to enter politics after the explosion in the port on August 4, 2020, which killed 215 people. Jihad Pakradouni is not, however, a novice to the matter. He has been a member of Kataeb, one of the traditional Christian parties since 1992. His father is a minister, he is on the Lebanese Forces list.

However, in the context of economic stagnation, community discourse is no longer sufficient: “To encourage voters to vote, we give them fuel vouchers or arrange a taxi for them”, Jihad Pakradouni admits. Yesterday, the ballet of cars and taxis funded by political parties did not stop in front of the polling stations. Other candidates are full of imagination to convince voters. Fouad Makhzoumi, for example, offers appointments at beauty salons. CPL, for its part, sent an SMS with free bread distribution points, on a day of shortage: “Today you need us, tomorrow we need you”, end of message.

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And even if the touts were present in front of polling stations this Sunday – a vote to trade between 50 and 300 dollars according to some observers, “Vote buying is not the main form of corruption. Since September 2021, there has been an explosion of services provided to the population by political parties., reports Ali Sleem, executive director of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE). According to their observations, the most widespread service is the distribution of vouchers in supermarkets, donations of milk powder for babies-not available last summer and autumn in Lebanon-or even fuel for heating or fuel. In Lebanon, 55% of the votes were bought in the last election according to the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies (LCPS). This year, there is no indication that the situation will get any better.

Vote money to pay the bills

To collect votes, a tout interviewee a few days before the election explained: “There are people who love money. There are people who can no longer afford their children’s education. Those denied access to the hospital due to lack of resources. And finally, those who don’t have enough ways to eat. For every 100 dollars to help them a little! »On the final ballot, candidates asked voters to film themselves at the voting booth to prove that they had indeed voted for them. This year, phones were banned at polling stations. Some take advantage of this. Like Jihane, an accountant at a deli: “There were people working for Jean Talouzian who came to us at home. We told them that of course we would vote for him and he promised us money. But we voted for the Lebanese Forces because they still couldn’t verify.” Jihane declined to say how much he would receive but assured: “We have postponed the deadline for all invoices to next week so we can pay them with the money promised”he explained.

Due to an untimely power outage, the counting continued at night from Sunday to Monday … in the dark. Meanwhile, market confidence is declining. The Lebanese pound is rising. As for the new parliament, very polarized, it is likely to be difficult to appoint a government that is likely to initiate reforms. A question of habits in Beirut.

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