Murr’s up to his old tricks Lahoud
MP accuses interior minister of blackmail and abuse of power

Daily Star: Metn’s predictably heated electoral race exploded into a full-blown verbal war between Interior Minister Michel Murr and political rival Nassib Lahoud on Tuesday after the MP’s campaign portraits were abruptly torn off billboards on Tuesday and replaced by another candidate’s. The Metn MP blamed Murr, who doubles as minister of municipalities and rural affairs, for the development. The minister claimed the municipalities had decided to regulate the billboard industry during the election season. But given that Murr’s daughter, Myrna, heads the Union of Metn Municipalities, it was difficult for him to deny his influence. Contacted by The Daily Star, sources at two outdoor companies confirmed that some municipalities, such as Jal al-Dib’s, had urged them to avoid leasing out billboards for electoral purposes. But, they acknowledged, of the estimated 300-plus candidates, whose portraits had been posted long before Lahoud’s, only his were torn down. And if the municipalities indeed wanted the billboards spared from joining the country-wide jungle of campaign posters hanging from trees, electricity and telephone posts, why were Lahoud’s portraits replaced by those of Metn candidate Sarkis Elias Sarkis? Lahoud’s posters began appearing on Thursday, after his campaigners paid a $10,000 downpayment to an outdoor regie for a month-long lease of 200 billboards.
Soon after the work began, the media rep (anonymous at the request of industry sources and the MP) contacted Lahoud’s office to say it had come “under pressure” to remove 15 of the initial 50 displays of the MP and his slogan: “Voice of the Metn, the echo of Lebanon.” After much toing and froing, the regie boldly told Lahoud’s office it had to abort the job as it could not risk “destroying the business,” according to the MP. Early Tuesday morning, municipal workers were seen tearing down Lahoud’s portraits or covering them with Sarkis’ poster. Lahoud had been warning for weeks of irregularities in Murr’s electoral campaign. On Tuesday, after the poster developments, he took his case to Prime Minister Salim Hoss, handing the premier a petition detailing seven alleged breaches of the law, which he blamed squarely on Murr. The allegations were:
lcivil servants and security officers are being mobilized for Murr’s campaign lmunicipalities are being blackmailed into supporting Murr or risk the suspension of their financing from the municipal fund, which he controls lsecurity services have been recruited to intimidate voters known to be sympathetic to Murr’s adversaries lMurr’s private offices have been transformed into government departments to process personal-status documents
ladvertising agencies (as in the case of Lahoud’s billboards) are under pressure to deprive rival candidates of media exposure
lConstruction irregularities are being encouraged by blackmail, where licenses for undeserving applicants are being handed out in return for electoral favors As he emerged from the Grand Serail, Lahoud said the premier had promised to look into his allegations and take the necessary steps to halt the “intimidation, pressure and blackmail,” that the MP said contradicted Murr’s “free and honest polls” slogan. “I’m waiting for the premier’s response.” Murr’s retort was swift and scathing. “Advertising agencies lease these billboards from municipalities for commercial use. This means they are to be used for pictures, drawings and slogans of commercial commodities, not portraits of an elegant man,” Murr said. “A candidate is not a commercial commodity.” He claimed Lahoud was losing his patience against a formidable electoral foe, and counseled him to focus on offering services to his constituency, instead of seeking to score points with “distorted” media campaigns. Murr denied that he was blackmailing municipalities, boasting that he didn’t need to, since 39 of the 42 mayors and 70 of the 80 mukhtars in Metn were his friends and enjoyed “significant clout” among the voters. He admitted that some officers from his entourage were involved in the electoral campaign, but saw nothing wrong in that. “In the distant future, when Lahoud becomes an interior minister, there will be officers assigned to his entourage and he will then understand what their duties are,” Murr said sarcastically.  Asked to explain his differences with Lahoud, Murr said  they came from different schools of thought. But, more importantly, “he doesn’t like me, and I don’t like him.”