BEIRUT (AFP) – With just days to go before Lebanon’s general election, mudslinging is at a peak as candidates trade insults touching on religion, corruption and even each other’s personal lives.
One candidate calling an opponent “a thief” on national television and another accusing a contender of spying for Israel, all is fair game in the battle pitting a Western-backed faction against a Hezbollah-led alliance supported by Iran and Syria.
“I would say that it’s crunch time, do-or-die, go-for-broke,” said Elias Muhanna, editor of the political blog Qifa Nabki. “You might as well sling all the mud you can before Sunday.”
And sling the mud they have before the June 7 vote — on billboards, television talk shows, campaign rallies and in private meetings secretly caught on tape.
One audio-recording broadcast on television has an official badmouthing the country’s Armenian community, whose main political bloc has decided to support Hezbollah’s faction during the election.
“F— the Armenians,” the official is overheard saying in the recording. “What do they have to do with us?”
Candidate Nayla Tueni, 26, was in the hot seat this week after a rumour that she had converted to Islam spread like wildfire.
Tueni, a Greek Orthodox who is seeking to fill the seat left by her slain father Gebran Tueni, was forced to go on air to refute the allegation, even displaying a document showing she had not renounced her faith.
Religion plays a key role on all levels in Lebanon and the country’s top government positions and the 128 seats in parliament are allocated along confessional lines.
The president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim.
Seats in parliament are equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
Mudslinging in the run-up to the vote has not been restricted to political foes with even allies slamming each other.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a member of the ruling majority, was recently red-faced over remarks he made during a meeting with religious leaders of his community during which he denigrated his Maronite Christian allies, calling them a “bad breed”.
Jumblatt later downplayed his comments saying they were unintentional and taken out of context.
With tempers running high, some political leaders have not spared their own constituents.
A video making the rounds on television and on YouTube has Christian leader Sleiman Franjieh, who is allied with Hezbollah, calling a group of his followers “dogs” and “donkeys” as he warns them to refrain from violence on election day.
“I have 30,000 idiots in this village, that’s what I have,” an angry Franjieh is seen telling a small crowd in his stronghold of Zgharta, in northern Lebanon. “If one of you dares raise his fist (during the election), you’ll have to answer to me.”