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BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s crucial legislative elections on Sunday are set to go to a wire, candidates and party supporters have been accused of trying to buy their way to victory by offering cash bribes undecided voters.
A Shia voter in Beirut’s second constituency told Arab News he was offered $300 if he and his family agreed to vote for a particular businessman.
The man, who asked to be identified only as Mohammed, said: “Followers who campaign for their parties call me every day asking me who I will be voting for. I don’t know how they got my number. Some offer ration cards, others money, either to vote for them, or even to boycott the elections or to vote blank.
Mohammed, who has no ties to the Amal movement or Hezbollah, said he was unlikely to vote. “All the ruling parties had the opportunity to deliver on their promises, but they left their people mired in their misery. We will not re-elect them.
Electoral corruption has long been a problem in Lebanon, despite laws prohibiting the practice, but it has become more widespread and visible with the collapse of the national currency and deteriorating living conditions.
Now, if black market currency rumors are to be believed, the exchange rate will plummet ahead of the election as parties attempt to buy votes using US currency.
A money changer, who declined to be named, told Arab News: “Election spending is expected to increase over the next few days as parties try to buy the most votes, through bribes. -de-vin”.
Residents of Beirut reported money changers stopping passers-by on the street to ask if they wanted to exchange their dollars.
Many believe that the outcome of the election will depend on undecided voters or those in desperate need of money, who will end up voting for the highest bidder.
Lebanese electoral law states: “During the period of the electoral campaign, the provision of services or the disbursement of funds, including obligations and expenses of candidates, are prohibited.
Nadim Abdelmalak, head of Lebanon’s election monitoring commission, said recently: “The commission has not received any complaints from any party regarding electoral corruption.
However, according to the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, the rapid deterioration of living conditions reinforces the presence of corruption, especially with around 80% of the population facing poverty due to the country’s economic crisis.
The unemployment rate is also approaching 40% amid the national currency’s record collapse against the dollar, while a freeze on bank withdrawals and the withholding of depositors’ funds also threaten household budgets.
Ihab, a taxi driver and voter in Beirut’s second district, said that “he doesn’t mind receiving help from any voter list.”
Many voter lists offered gas and food vouchers. “They even offered to pay the generator bills and they are now offering to hire my car to transport voters for payment in dollars. I accepted, but I will not vote for anyone.
LADE said it had evidence of candidates distributing baby milk in northern Lebanon, while others donated solar panels to light roads.
Samer, a voter from Zahlé district, said that “as the electoral battle in the region escalates, bribes will double and this will manifest itself on election day. Those who vote in the morning will be less bribed than those who vote in the afternoon.
Corruption appears to be commonplace in electoral districts where competition is fierce, notably Beirut I, Beirut II, Zahlé, Keserwan, Jbeil, Batroun, Koura, Bcharri, Zgharta and Chouf Aley.
However, the fight seems less fierce in the regions controlled by Hezbollah and the Amal movement.
Mayssa, from Baalbek-Hermel district, said: “A Hezbollah group visited our house in the southern suburbs of Beirut and asked for the number of voters in the family. They assured us that transportation will be available from Beirut to the neighborhood. They didn’t offer anything else. »
With fuel prices at crippling levels, most parties are offering voters in remote areas gas vouchers to cover their travel costs to polling stations.
The cost of refueling a car often exceeds 500,000 Lebanese pounds ($300), meaning voters in remote villages may face a $600 bill to vote.
Salam, who works in a hotel in Beirut, said: “Hezbollah is convinced that it will win the elections. That’s why they don’t push us to vote for them, even though I’m hesitant to vote because I don’t believe in anyone anymore.