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Flying to Beirut

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

I am going to be blogging this week from Lebanon, where parliamentary elections take place on Sunday. I will be there as part of an election observation team put together by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, better known as NDI.

When I was in Lebanon a few weeks ago as part of a preparatory mission, there were rumours circulating that some Lebanese parties were going to fly in expatriates from places like Canada to help enhance their prospects.

Since I’ve come back, I’ve talked to many Lebanese Canadians about these rumours — everyone from cab-drivers to the (many) Lebanese dads on my son’s soccer team. Everyone had heard the rumours. Some dismissed them as nonsense; many insisted they were true, but were hard-pressed when asked if they knew anyone personally who was getting a free ticket. I have met a couple of people who have told me they re-arranged summer travel plans, already underway, to make sure they made the vote, but they weren’t getting any help from anyone they said.

Now, the CBC is breaking a story that suggests that there may be some truth to the rumours.

This may seem like a preposterously expensive way to win an election, but there are a couple of reasons why it might make sense. First, the races for an estimated 85-90% of the seats in Sunday’s elections are considered to  have been settled already through a process of inter-party bargaining which produces agreed-upon “slates” of candidates. Second, there is some ambiguity (I am told) about whether such subsidies would be covered by the new campaign finance laws.

Interestingly, almost all the remaining 10-15% of seats at issue are in Christian areas. Therefore it might be possible to concentrate the subsidies on people whose votes would likely make a difference. Of course, Canada’s Lebanese population is disproportionately Christian (compared with Lebanon”s).

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton. He is a former Middle East correspondent for the Globe and Mail, a former director of NDI’s Palestinian program, and a frequent participant in election observation missions in Africa and the Middle East.