A goat costs $100
Azzam al-Djassem waited until the last moment to vote on Sunday in the closing round of Lebanese legislative elections hoping that the price would rise. What was he selling? His vote, together with those of his 100-member family. Taking shelter from a broiling sun, Djassem and his cousins enjoy the shade under a booth which they erected for the elections. Djassem says he refused offers between $5000 and $7000 for the 100 votes which he family represents. A goat costs $100, explains Djassem, and my vote is worth more than a goat.
Accusations of vote-buying have overshadowed the final round of the Lebanese elections as it did the other three rounds. On Sunday, voting in northern Lebanon will determine the attribution of 28 seats in parliament in the first election in 30 years without a Syrian military presence. An anti-Syrian slate organized by Saad Hariri is squaring off against a slate composed of pro-Syrians and the ferociously anti-Syrian General Michel Aoun, a Maronite.
Both camps have denied vote-buying in the coastal city of Tripoli but numerous voters interviewed by Reuters said party militants offered them cash for their votes. Most asked to remain anonymous, but Mohammed, 35, says he is poor and unemployed. He voted for Saad Hariri in exchange for $50 and gasoline coupons. It makes me want to scream. I have to wait around for the elections to get a paycheck, a few freebies and some new clothes.
Daniel, a 20 year-old, says Hariri supporters offered him the same sum. But Daniel plans on voting for Suleiman Franjeh, a pro-Syrian Christian. Unemployment is high in Lebanon, where the national debt tops $34 billion. Development in the region around Tripoli lags behind that of Beirut.
European Union election observers say they witnessed several attempts at vote-buying last week in Mt. Lebanon. Djassem says he, his brother and cousins spent a month helping familiy members to sell their vote. Both camps offered me money, says Djassem. But even with a deal with one of the parties, there's no problem in breaking the promise and voting your preference. I have a legitimate right to this money, given all the crappy jobs I've had to work and my current unemployed status. His brother, Hossam, who smuggles candy and cigarettes from Syria for sale to Lebanese distributors, holds the same philosophy. Take the money, then vote for whoever you want. No one has done us any favors, and we don't owe a thing to anyone.