TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Azzam al-Jassem delayed casting his ballot in Lebanon’s general elections on Sunday to the last minute, waiting “for whoever pays more” to secure his vote and those of his family.

Taking refuge from a merciless sun with his cousins inside a makeshift kiosk he rented for the elections, Jassem said he had turned down offers ranging between $5,000 and $7,000 for the 100 votes his family commands.

“Buying a goat would cost $100,” he told Reuters. “My vote should not be cheaper than a goat.”

Allegations of vote-buying have marred the last round of Lebanon’s general elections in the north, where more than 100 candidates vie for the remaining 28 parliament seats.

In Lebanon’s first election in three decades without a Syrian military presence, an anti-Syrian list backed by Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri is squaring off against an unlikely alliance of pro-Syrians and Damascus’ erstwhile foe, Maronite Christian former general Michel Aoun.

Both campaigns have denied vote-buying. However, many people Reuters interviewed in the coastal town of Tripoli said campaigners from both slates offered them money for their votes.

Most interviewees refused to give their full names.

“I am poor and unemployed,” said 35-year old Mohammed who said he voted for Hariri’s slate for $50 and petrol coupons.

“I feel like I want to scream. We wait for elections to get paid, receive presents and new clothes.”

Daniel, in his 20s, said Hariri supporters offered him the same sum, but added he would vote for candidates loyal to Suleiman Franjieh, a pro-Syrian Christian leader.


Unemployment is sky-high in Lebanon, where public debt is $34 billion and provinces are largely underdeveloped compared with the capital Beirut.

European Union election observers said last week they had witnessed several attempts at vote-buying in the third round of the elections in Mount Lebanon.

Jassem said he had spent a month with his brother and cousins helping their relatives issue voting cards to sell.

Both lists have offered to buy the votes he can secure, he said. Once a deal is sealed, however, he would vote for whoever he wants and he did not have moral qualms about his decision.

“The money is my legitimate right, in return for the rubbish jobs I had to do and in return for not being able to find work now,” he said.

His brother Hossam, who says he smuggles candy and cigarettes from Syria and sells them to wholesale merchants in Lebanon, echoed similar sentiments.

“Take the money and vote for whoever you want, that’s our motto,” he said. “No one has done us any favor, and we owe nothing to anyone.”