Friday, 24 April 2009

June elections—runners and riders

The AFP reports:

Some 587 candidates have thrown their hats into the ring for the June parliamentary election.

Three Armenians have already been selected unopposed in seats in Beirut and the Christian stronghold of Metn east of the capital after rival candidates withdrew, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud said at a press conference.

This gives two seats to the opposition, led by the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and one seat for the current Sunni-led ruling majority, ahead of the June elections.

Candidates can still withdraw before June 7 but their registration fee will not be reimbursed.

* * *

Meanwhile the New York Times is pushing the idea that the elections are nor legitimate as most votes will be bought. I get the feeling that despite being accurate, this story is overblown as the pro-Israeli newspaper is worried about the outcome, and so wants to begin muddying the waters.

Here's the report:

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

The payments, according to voters, election monitors and various past and current candidates interviewed for this article, nurture a deep popular cynicism about politics in Lebanon, which is nominally perhaps the most democratic Arab state but in practice is largely governed through patronage and sectarian and clan loyalty.

Despite the vast amounts being spent, many Lebanese see the race — which pits Hezbollah and its allies against a fractious coalition of more West-friendly political groups — as almost irrelevant.

Lebanon’s sectarian political structure virtually guarantees a continuation of the current “national unity” government, in which the winning coalition in the 128-seat Parliament grants the loser veto powers to preserve civil peace.

Still, even a narrow win by Hezbollah and its allies, now in the parliamentary opposition, would be seen as a victory for Iran — which has financed Hezbollah for decades — and a blow to American allies in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So the money flows.

“We are putting a lot into this,” said one adviser to the Saudi government, who added that the Saudi contribution was likely to reach hundreds of millions of dollars in a country of only four million people. “We’re supporting candidates running against Hezbollah, and we’re going to make Iran feel the pressure.”

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