Jabs For Votes: Lebanon's Oligarchs Turn To Covid Bribery
Faizan Hashmi 6 days ago Thu 10th June 2021 | 08:30 AM
Beirut, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 10th Jun, 2021 ) :Lebanon's cash-strapped leaders are bribing their base with free Covid-19 jabs ahead of next year's elections, in what observers say is the latest variant on an old corruption trick.
But with state resources stretched to their limit by a severe economic crisis and international aid dwindling due to a failure to deliver promised reforms, politicians are turning to Covid jabs to stock up on political capital.
"Political forces are trying to directly or indirectly make themselves a part of the equation with regards to the vaccine campaign, primarily because it is a profitable investment," said a member of the state-run National Vaccination Committee who spoke on condition of anonymity.
More than 7,000 people received at least one dose of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, said spokesperson Abdel Salam Moussa. Tens of thousands of new jabs are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, he told AFP.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by President Michel Aoun, and its Christian rival the Lebanese Forces, have also distributed jabs through private initiatives organised by members or affiliates.
Last month, he said he would provide "20,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be distributed free of charge".
Antoine Habchi of the Lebanese Forces provided jabs for 1,600 people in the eastern region of Baalbek. "The funds were raised from the diaspora," he told AFP.
The Lebanese government, with the help of international agencies, provides free jabs of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine on a priority basis.
It started its vaccination campaign in February, but the rollout was initially slow, forcing many, including political leaders, to turn to private suppliers providing Sputnik doses.
Firas, a former insurance broker, had registered along with his wife for state-sponsored vaccination.
But when a political party offered him free jabs, he chose not to wait for the government.
"I have been unemployed for six months. How would I have afforded vaccines for two people?" said the 52-year-old, who declined to name the party that sponsored his Sputnik dose.
The powerful Hezbollah movement, an Iran-backed party that boasts major welfare institutions, including several hospitals, says it is not distributing vaccines.
According to a 2019 report by Transparency International, nearly one in two people in Lebanon is offered a bribe in return for their vote, while more than one in four receives threats if they do not comply.
With traditional party leaders going up against a revitalised opposition in elections next year, vaccine handouts could be "exploited for political ends," said Julien Courson, the director of the Lebanese Transparency Association.
But vaccines aren't the only honey pot.
Political patrons are stepping in to ease the blow.
People with a surplus of a certain medicine will be matched with those who are in need, he said.
Services include a shopping card for discounted food items sold at select discount stores.
"Lebanese clientelism is failing because the political system does not have material resources to dispense to sectarian leaders," said Khashan.
"The pervasive poverty attests to the failure of the system and the inability of confessional leaders to provide for their impoverished followers."