Akkar (Northern Lebanon)On the way to Akkar, election campaign banners were spread in a governor showing signs of the absence of the state and the collapse of infrastructure in about 21 towns and villages, the last of which in Wadi Khaled overlaps with the Syrian land borders.
Historically, despite the storage of “green” Akkar – which covers an area of more than 775 km – natural resources and strategic facilities that were sufficient to promote it and Lebanon is relative, it has remained a forgotten peripheral governor who won the prize paid for neglect, security evasion and the activity of smuggling lines between Lebanon and Syria run by political and tribal influencers and major traders.
The people of Akkar therefore remained without development or services. Poverty, unemployment and school dropout rates increased, and some of its villages turned into slums and misery belts, and their situation worsened due to the spread of camps for the displaced Syrians.
This northern governor has 7 parliamentary seats, and 8 electoral lists representing a number of political forces, and some of them carry slogans of change, but Akkar, which once embodied the popular reservoir of the Future Movement, has sharpened manifestations of what can called “political clientelism”, and its struggle revolves around the election money it uses.Candidates only tool to attract the votes of voters.
The price of the sound is one million lira
In the town of Benin al-Akaria, a group of young men spoke to Al Jazeera Net about voice-buying activities spread by the governor.
These young people say that most of the candidates offer material and in kind bribes during their election rounds among the villagers, in exchange for the votes of the voters who go to the polls on May 15, for example those who pay one million. Syrian pounds (about $ 40) for each vote, or provide other services. The roads were paved, hospital and medicine bills were paid, or fuel was provided for free, after the Lebanese started exorbitant prices due to the lifting of subsidies on imports into it. dollars.
But Akkar is just one example of the phenomenon of electoral bribery in Lebanon’s various constituencies.
Money and pervert the law
The Lebanese are holding the 2022 parliamentary election in exceptional circumstances, not limited to serious political polarization, but because it is being held for the first time after a historic collapse that has hit the country since the end of 2019, and about 80% of the population in poverty, according to UN estimates.
Al Jazeera Net spoke on the forms of election spending with Ali Selim, the Executive Director of the Lebanese Association for the Advancement of Democratic Elections (LADE), and Julian Corson, the Executive Director of the Lebanese Association for the Promotion of Transparency “No Corruption “” (the national branch of Transparency International).
Selim and Corson continue the law’s crisis, as section 62 of the Electoral Act prohibits, in its first paragraph, candidates from providing services and in kind and cash assistance to voters during the election campaign period, and considers it illegal.
However, the second paragraph of the same article states: “It is not prohibited to submit applications and assistance from candidates, institutions and associations run by candidates or parties that have traditionally offered it in the same size and quantity on a regular basis for at least 3 years from the start of the election campaign period. “
This legal confusion – according to Salim – weakens the mechanism for locating candidates and parties, to determine whether they have been providing their assistance for 3 consecutive years, especially since the term of office of the Electoral Supervisory Board is one year, divided into 6 months before the election and 6 months thereafter.
He said that the distortions of the Lebanese economy due to the banking crisis had strengthened the dependence on cash (cash) instead of bank cards, which plunged Lebanon into the uncertainty of the movement of political money, and recalled that the electoral law did not removal of bank secrecy for the candidates, but only the opening of a bank account for the candidate’s election campaign, without supervision His other accounts and those of his family members.
$ 450 million
As the lira against the dollar collapsed, exceeding 26,500 lira on the black market, after the official dollar exchange rate (1507) was approved in the 2018 election, the law recently amended the election spending ceiling to be estimated at about $ 450 million for all to become. candidates, equivalent to about 21% of the state’s total expenditure, according to the International Information Center.
And legally, the election expenses of the candidates include everything related to securing offices and machines, holding parties, meetings, media campaigns, billboards, voters ‘travels, delegates’ expenses, and others.
Here Corson points out that the election ceiling has been formally codified, as each candidate lists an amount of money they are entitled to spend, but its value differs from one district to another according to its size, number and voters, and therefore ” this ceiling does not guarantee equal opportunities, as long as the law has not increased banking secrecy in exchange for accreditation. ” on the monetary economy and the absence of bank checks, “he added, adding that” the economic crisis has created a thriving environment for election chaos. “
In 2018, the Lebanese Transparency Association conducted a survey among a sample of 1,200 people, according to Corson, which found that 48% of them were suggested to either buy their votes for money or a service, or they know others who exposed.
In addition to money, there are many types of services provided to voters, such as vouchers for grocery stores or their provision in the form of auxiliary containers, payment of school installments, rental allowances for houses and shops, hospital and medical bills, payment of private electricity and fuel generators , or to use some voters to work as temporary delegates In exchange for work promises, and other offers that automatically affect voters’ choices and freedom.
Promote and buy votes
In exchange for pouring political money during election campaigns, there are traditional parties and currents in Lebanon that provide an integrated system of care for its embracing environment in its spheres of influence, in terms of services, health, education and various living matters, and many see it as a parallel presence of the state and its role.
This reality – according to Salim – forms a cover for the movement of electoral money that affects the choices of voters, because most of the submissions are by associations that are excluded from the electoral law of supervision.
He explains that LEED has been monitoring these phenomena since before the opening of the door for election candidacy, i.e. January 2021, and said that they are looking at all the help that the election candidates are currently offering to voters, and during and before the election campaigns and by their associations as a voting process.
With the election confrontation raging days before the polls, the real crisis – according to Selim – is in the behavior of local advertisements and media.
The law requires local media departments to send the Electoral Supervisory Authority a table of their prices per minute for candidates hosting.
But what has emerged with “Lead” is that the pricing schedule sent by most media outlets does not match the schedule approved with candidates promoting themselves without balance and equal opportunities, and although media coverage should be free, “but they are sold to candidates – specifically visual media – as investment spaces.”
25 thousand dollars
In 2018, for example – according to Salim – the price to appear at the peak time before the election was about 25 thousand dollars, and “it currently fluctuates up and down at this rate.”
He said the election campaign was legally supposed to be accompanied by the phrase “paid advertisement”, but what happens “is the creation of programs and propaganda tools that are not linked to this phrase, but in practice are paid for. . “
Salim believes that after the dissolution of state institutions and the increase in poverty indicators, bribery has become a behavior adopted by most traditional parties as they have the resources, and some new emerging powers use the same tools of those parties to to win votes.
Consequently, “the legitimacy of the election results begins with the tracing of the graph of voting activities,” because it is a behavior that perpetuates clientelism in exchange for the state’s inability to provide services to its citizens, and most powers adopt it in order to preserve the subordination of their popular bases and secure the votes of the electorate, by pushing them with their simplest life rights to strengthen their influence and control Even if her representation was distorted by bribery, ”according to Saleem.