It’s been held as conventional wisdom lately that parties here in Lebanon are buying plane tickets to bring in their supporters from the Lebanese diaspora, since Lebanese ex-pats cannot vote abroad. Despite this commonly repeated allegation, I haven’t actually spoken to anyone who has been offered a ticket. My friend Ben, on the other hand, has done the leg work to confirm such stories. Consequently, he’s written a story on the practice:
It is legal in Lebanon for political parties to pay voters’ transportation costs to voting stations — whether it’s a $1 bus ride or a $1,500 plane ticket. But it is illegal to put conditions on the ticket — like stipulating whom voters should cast their ballots for. In Lebanon it seems this thin legal line been interpreted liberally. Or, from Halabi’s experience, simply ignored.
“I received a phone call from the local [FPM] representatives here in London,” Halabi wrote on May 28. “They asked if I was interested in flying back to Beirut to cast my vote. I met them a few days ago, got my ticket, and confirmed my outgoing flight.”
“They did test me a few times … to see if I knew whom I was voting for. I jokingly asked them to please not insult my integrity. Everyone else is giving in; I at least [am not] selling my vote,” she wrote.
Buying flights may be skirting the law, but unabashed, illegal vote buying is occurring elsewhere inside Lebanon. One voter in a hotly contested district north of Beirut told GlobalPost that one party had offered her and her five-person family $1,000 per vote.
“We know from previous years and now that vote buying is a common trend in Lebanon,” said Lynne Ghossein, program manager at the Lebanese Transparency Association.
Ghossein said Lebanon’s parliament passed a new voting law last year that was supposed to reform Lebanon’s electoral system. But political and ideological enemies proved perfect bedfellows when the reforms threatened to bring Lebanon’s voting laws up to international standards. Both the U.S. allied political parties — which present themselves as proponents of democracy and transparency — and the so-called Syrian and Iranian backed Hezbollah — whose leaders tout their party as the least corrupt in Lebanon — voted against key provisions of the electoral law.
* For those who don’t speak Arabic, the word for “plane” is tayyaara (طيّارة), with an emphatic T (ط), and the word for “movement” (as in the Future Movement or the Free Patriotic Movement) is tayyaar (تيّار), with a regular T (ت). The plural for each is tayyarrat, تيّارات and طيّارات respectively.