In Lebanon, the Covid vaccine is a new variant of clientelism.

Shocked by a popular uprising in the fall of 2019 and a lack of public resources due to the financial crisis, Lebanese political parties are adapting their old patronage methods and are now using Covid vaccinations to restore their health.

In a country in the midst of collapse, with 55% of the population below the poverty line, some believe that social parties are struggling to maintain or rebuild their popular base.

“Political forces are trying to interfere directly or indirectly with the vaccination campaign (…) The Covid vaccine is a profitable investment for them,” says an anonymous source at the National Vaccination Committee.

For decades, major Lebanese parties have bought votes for cash, public sector jobs, or hospital or school expenses.

Deprived of public funds due to financial bankruptcy of the state and international aid due to lack of reforms on their part, one of their new favorite weapons seems to be the system of “votes against vaccines”, unless they are one of them. legislative election year.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri launched the Future Stream vaccination campaign in early May.

“More than 7,000 people” have already received the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and “tens of thousands of new doses” are planned in the coming weeks, according to its media manager Abdel Salam Moussa.

Under the Free Patriotic Current (CPL), private initiatives were launched by members or relatives of the party founded by President Michel Aoun.

Former Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab rented a private hospital in the suburbs of Beirut for vaccinations.

As for the Lebanese Armed Forces, vaccination campaigns are being conducted by individual MPs. This is the case with Setrida Geagea in Besharr (north) or Antoine Habchi in Baalbek-Hermel (east).

“So far we have registered 1,600 people” for vaccinations, Mr Habchi told AFP, defending, however, any “political or patronizing” goal. “This is a health emergency,” said the elected official.

“And we don’t make any party or sectarian distinction” when people come to register, he adds.

– “What would I do?” –

For some Lebanese, this is a godsend, as the local currency has lost more than 85% of its value against the dollar, and vaccination of the population, although free, has been slow to emerge.

The Russian vaccine, imported by a private company, is sold to companies and associations in the local market for $ 38, or about 75% of the minimum wage.

In Beirut, Firas and his wife were able to use it for free last month thanks to the mercy of a local party. “I was unemployed for six months. How could I fund two vaccines? ” the 52-year-old former insurer asks.

The couple signed up on the national platform, but chose not to wait for fear of contracting the virus.

Likewise, about 60,000 people have already taken advantage of this mechanism out of about 900,000 residents already vaccinated, emphasizes Mohamad Haydar, adviser to the Minister of Health.

Powerful Shiite Hezbollah did not use any vaccination devices, a party source said on condition of anonymity.

However, since the start of the pandemic, the pro-Iranian formation has conducted several seduction operations at their strongholds: disinfecting public places, transporting patients to hospitals, or even burying Covid-19 victims.

“Hezbollah does not need to import vaccines as it can rely on the Minister of Health, who is himself a party member,” explains political analyst Hilal Khachan.

– Dead or translated? –

Thus, clientelism in Lebanon, instead of disappearing under the influence of the crisis it has fostered, is trying to bring about new changes.

According to Julien Courson, director of the Lebanese Transparency Association, these new forms of aid could be “used for political purposes” ahead of the “legislative” May 2022.

According to the nongovernmental organization Transparency International, in recent polls, 47% of voters received bribes for their vote.

Today, in addition to vaccines, some parties distribute grocery kits and drugs amid hyperinflation and shortages.

The CPL will launch a platform for drug exchange between supporters, says Marwane Zogbi, the party committee’s Covid-19 coordinator.

For its part, Hezbollah has introduced a card that allows discounts on many food items, some of which are imported from Iran.

However, despite this strong mobilization, the sides’ room for maneuver is narrowing, says Hilal Khachan.

According to him, the scale of the current impoverishment testifies to the “failure” of this sponsorship system.

This is why, he adds, parties seek palliatives and “continue to fuel confessional sensitivity” in the hope of staying in power.

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