Mitch Prothero went to one of Aoun’s election rallies in the Metn last saturday and witnessed an interesting real-life materialisation of the precarious balancing act going on within the ranks of the opposition: ‘What remains unknown is how Mr Aoun, who easily won the Christian vote in 2005, will fare now that he is aligned with Hizbollah and Amal. In the campaign rally, before a crowded room at the upscale Forum de Beirut shopping centre in al-Metn, a Christian suburb of Beirut, it became clear that balancing his message of nonsectarian governance and battling corruption is often overshadowed by his partnership with a Shiite community that has perhaps the worst relationship with the Christians of any group in Lebanon. Managing the perception that he is aligned with a pro-Syrian, conservative Muslim community dedicated to armed resistance to Israel and the West remains a tricky balancing act of not just religious and political values but also of economic class and culture.
Dozens of teenage boys waved Hizbollah flags and chanted “Allah, Nasrallah, and all of Dahiya” about an hour before Mr Aoun was due to take the stage. An organiser from the FPM immediately saw the sectarian nature of the chanting and politically problematic images that might upset Christian swing voters in the election’s most critical district. But getting rid of the youths posed no easy problem. As they were hustled off the floor, an Aoun official confronted the teenagers in the car park as they continued chanting Hizbollah-themed slogans.
“You are acting in a terrible way. You must stop these slogans; you can’t chant about being Shiite here,” the frustrated official, who would not give his name, said to the group of teenagers. When he stopped yelling at them, the crowd once again began chanting: “We are all Shiite, We are the Shiite.” Now visibly annoyed, the official tried to force them further from the venue before the media noticed them.
“Just leave, go back to Dahiya; we don’t want you here,” the man shouted.
“Nasrallah, Nasrallah! No fear, No fear. All of Dahiya will turn into a Kalashnikov!” responded the group, pushing the rhetoric into even more dangerous territory.
“Back on the buses,” Aoun officials shouted. “We don’t need you here. They need you back in Dahiya!” As the teenagers were hustled onto the buses – charted by Amal and Hizbollah to bring supporters to Mr Aoun’s rally – one young man holding a Hizbollah flag in one hand and a drum in the other, denied there was a problem with the Aounists.
“We are leaving because Sayid Hassan [Nasrallah, leader of Hizbollah] is speaking tonight and they need us in Dahiya to get ready for it,” he sheepishly claimed before refusing to give his name and scampering away.
After packing them back on to their buses for a return trip to the Shiite section of town, the visibly relived organisers then returned to the rally, where about 500 people waved the orange flags of the FPM and waited for the general to speak. Only a handful of Hizbollah flags could be seen in the back of the room, waved by dignified older women in headscarves.’
Despite the precarious nature of the Aoun-Nasrallah alliance, the M14 forces are worried enough to spend untold amounts of money to get expat Lebanese to come over and vote. MEA is flying in up to 8 extra planes per day these days. Offered a free holiday to the homeland, many enthusiastically accept the offer – although how many will actually vote – and for which party – is not entirely clear. A friend of mine who works in Saudi Arabia, for example, accepted the ticket (from the Future Movement, although he is not specifically ‘with’ them) but is leaving the country again before the elections even take place…: ‘Corporate sponsors are paying for hundreds of supporters of the pro-Western Future Movement in Calgary and in other Canadian cities to vote on June 7, CBC News has learned. Dual citizens must be physically present in Lebanon to cast a ballot in its elections. “This is a big election, and it is a lot of people who [would] love to vote but they cannot vote because of funds … so those companies are making it easy for them,” said Faouzi Salem, a Future Movement co-ordinator in Calgary.”There [are] sponsors in the world who [pay] for those tickets … European companies, Middle Eastern companies who … they would love to see free Lebanon, independent Lebanon. They want to see democratic government in the future, so they’re dedicating all their supports.” (…) The majority of the 1.5 million people that left Lebanon in the last 30 years — including during the civil war from 1976 to 1990 — for Canada, the United States and Australia oppose Hezbollah, which is why there’s such an effort to have their votes counted, said Elias Bejjani, chairman of the Lebanese Canadian Co-ordinating Council in Toronto. (…) There are rumours in the Lebanese-Canadian community that the pro-Hezbollah side is also paying to fly supporters to Lebanon for the election. “The other side too, they’re doing the same thing, no? They’re taking people from all over the world,” said Salem. Marie-Joelle Zahar, a political science professor at the Université de Montréal and a former journalist who covered the Lebanese civil war, said the election could ring up record-breaking expenditures. “It is a phenomenal amount of money. This is shaping up to be the most expensive election of all times, anywhere, per capita. We’re talking something that will be more expensive than elections in the U.S. That is quite mind-boggling. There’s a lot riding on this election internally.”‘
Ben Gilbert has more on the subject of vote-buying here at GlobalPost.com.
And as a final trinket, watch this Youtube video featuring Sleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada party (basically a small local fiefdom in the north, allied with M8). It is called ‘Sleiman Frangieh politely addressing his civilised supporters ;-)’. No subtitles I’m afraid, but the general atmosphere is pretty clear without translation anyway… Franjieh is basically scolding his supporters for causing trouble with supporters of his opponents, among other things calling the local village population ‘30,000 donkeys’ and saying ‘leave the fighting to the Ouet (Lebanese Forces).