ENFEH, Lebanon: The campaign for this weekend’s by-election for a parliamentary seat in Koura swung into its final stages Thursday, amid visits by politicians and accusations of influencing the polls through campaign spending.
Members of March 14 parties have been stepping up their visits to villages and towns in Koura, which on Sunday will see the Lebanese Forces candidate, Fadi Karam, face off against Walid Azar, of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and backed by March 8 groups. Two other minor candidates are also in the race.
Ahmad Hariri, the secretary-general of the Future Movement, visited the town of Enfeh on his second day in the region, to drum up support.
“The by-election is taking place amid the Arab Spring in most Arab countries,” Hariri said during a visit to the town of Enfeh. “We won’t let the election take place under hegemony and orders from abroad. Thus, we call on all people in Koura to vote heavily for the March 14 candidate, Fadi Karam.”
In answer to accusations that Sunni voters in Koura were receiving bribes to vote for Karam, Hariri called the charges “insulting to the Sunnis in all Lebanon.”
He said that past attempt to buy votes in Koura, and the “money spent by Hezbollah in the 2009 elections,” failed to have any impact.”
“We were victorious without paying, and we won the majority,” Hariri said.
During another stop on his tour of the qada, Hariri said that the SSNP’s Azar “is directly the candidate of Bashar Assad.”
Hariri and his team also paid a visit to the Enfeh residence of Koura MP Farid Makari, the deputy speaker of Parliament, to coordinate efforts in the run-up to the election.
For his part, Zghorta MP Suleiman Franjieh accused his March rivals of outspending his team in the by-election by more than 10 to one.
“We don’t have the financial capabilities that they have, and everyone can see this through the billboard campaign, which is worth more than $2.5 million,” Franjieh said after a meeting of March 8 campaign officials at his home in Bneshaii, Zghorta.
“”Our entire campaign is only going to spend $200,000,” Franjieh added. The Marada Movement leader also accused Samir Geagea, the head of the LF, of engaging in “incitement” that he predicted would be counter-productive.
“Every time, Samir Geagea comes around and incites people ... we thank them, because they have prompted people to return to their roots,” Franjieh said, implying that the SSNP, which is traditionally strong in Koura, would benefit.
Geagea also commented on the poll, saying that people should vote “according to their conscience,” during a meeting at his residence of Maarab.
For his part, the head of the Independence Movement, Michel Mouawad, visited the home of Karam in the village of Kafr Saroun, accompanied by March 14 figures, to emphasize the importance of the polls and rally support for their candidate.
In Beirut, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel chaired a meeting to prepare for the poll, saying it would be a “model” for next year’s general election.