Lebanon’s government stressed on Wednesday that it would make sure that the parliamentary elections, including the vote of expatriates, would be transparent, saying ambassadors and consuls will supervise the electoral process abroad.
“All the means of transparency and monitoring are available…I hope that we will stop the questioning, which has no basis and no reason, and only harms the expatriate,” Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil told reporters on Wednesday following a Cabinet session chaired by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Bassil added: “We are all responsible for this national achievement because for the first time the expatriates participate in the polls and they should not be swept in a cheap political debate.”
When asked about reports saying the Foreign Ministry has leaked expatriates’ data, the minister said: “Not only the Foreign Ministry has this data, but some of it is also available at the Interior Ministry and with embassies and political parties.”
Following the cabinet session, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said the government held discussions to protect the electoral process.
“Both the Interior and Foreign ministers spoke on how to protect the elections and there is a determination by the Council of Ministers to monitor and protect the electoral process,” Riachi said.
Interior Minister Nohad Mashnouk said there would be no problems with the expatriate vote as the boxes will be sealed with red wax and sent by DHL to Lebanon.
“The delegates can be present at polling stations, although there is a lack of space. There will be cameras in all polling stations [abroad] to ensure that the voting process can be seen in Lebanon on the day of voting,” the minister said.
For his part, Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh said the government discussed the transparency of the expatriate vote because, despite trusting the ambassadors, the diplomats cannot be in all polling stations.
“The Interior Ministry cannot send observers to 140 stations. We prefer to send employees from Lebanon who have a connection with the electoral supervision body. These are among the problems facing this hybrid law,” he said.
A European Union Election Observation Mission will remain in Lebanon at the request of Lebanese authorities in order to support credible, transparent and inclusive parliamentary elections in May, a statement by the EU said Friday.
A team of nine analysts, who have been in Lebanon since March 27, will stay in the country until the conclusion of the electoral process. They are tasked with preparing a detailed report on the process that will be presented to Lebanese authorities and all relevant stakeholders.
The analysts will be supported by a further 50 people – both long-term and short-term members – who will act as observers.
The short-term observers, a team of 36 people, will specifically be assigned to observe expat voting on April 27 and 29, the EU statement said. According to figures from Bassil, around 85,000 expat Lebanese have registered to vote from overseas in the upcoming elections.
The EU sent teams to observe the previous two elections in Lebanon, which were held in 2005 and 2009. Each of those observation missions were also made at the request of the Lebanese government.
Elena Valenciano, a member of the European Parliament, will serve as chief observer of the mission, the statement said.
Valenciano was appointed by Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who has said that these elections will be the “key for the future of Lebanon,” especially given the increased participation of woman in the race.
A record 111 women submitted their candidacies to the 2018 elections. While representation is still weak, considering women make-up around half of Lebanon’s population, the 2018 numbers constitute a considerable improvement on the 2009 elections, which had only 12 women running for office.
The May election will also see the first-time application of an electoral vote law based on proportional representation, which – according to many election experts – betters the chances of both female and independent candidates securing parliamentary seats.
“[Lebanon’s] stability and economic growth are key for the entire region and for the European Union. … EU [Election Observation Mission] will make an important contribution to this electoral process,” Mogherini was quoted as saying.
In the statement, Valenciano noted that the elections will serve as “an opportunity to strengthen Lebanon’s democracy with EU support.”
She said that previous EU EOM recommendations have proved successful in incentivizing political consensus among various political parties.
“I am confident that the 2018 EU EOM will provide an appreciated contribution to enhancing further the quality of the electoral process,” Valenciano said.
The election will mark the first time a generation of Lebanese electors, some nearly 30 years old, will have ever casted a ballot.
Despite the flood of young voters, lack of alternative options and the country’s deep-seeded sectarian politics will likely result in a similar parliament with few exceptions.
“These elections do not seem to give much hope to reformers basically because the electoral law that was tailor made to the advantage of an existing political establishment,” Bitar said, referring to the new proportional electoral law passed last summer.
“There is very little possibility of breakthrough even with this new electoral law. People who want to challenge the current establishment find themselves stuck because clientelism is the name of the game. The current political parties have an extensive patronage network and have basically divided the spoils,” he explained.
Lebanon’s last election was held under a 1960s voting law allowing each sectarian group a particular number of parliamentary seats based on a quota per district. Candidates, however, could be elected by all voters regardless of sect.
The current electoral law, which was passed last June, came after months of heated debate. The new proportional representation law is a first for Lebanon since its independence in 1943.
Despite its novelty, most regard it as a reshuffling rather than a significant reformation on the previous electoral law’s inadequacies.
For independent candidates, proportional representation will do little in improving their chances to attain a seat after all.
Bribery and corruption bonding political parties to their sectarian groups are far too strong in Lebanon for new contenders to rise to the top, Bitar pointed out.
When livelihood of voters heavily rely on handouts from political parties, democracy becomes nearly impossible, he said.
Hilal Khashan, professor of political studies at the American University of Beirut and author of Inside the Lebanese Confessional Mind, held a similar point of view.
Taking it a step further, he likened the strategies of the current political establishment to a “cartel,” as “there is nothing unusual about the coming parliamentary elections.”
“The majority of contenders are the scions of all the same political parties. Plus, major politicians are in the process of bargaining among one another because Lebanese politics is all about accomodation,” he lamented.
The Lebanese professor also pointed to the extreme difficultities for independent candidates to succeed in the elections given the existing structure.
“Lebanese ruling politicians are an elite cartel. Despite their divisions, they have a vested interest in protecting their ranks. It is extremely difficult for an independent candidate or a newly rising block from civil society to make or break the mold,” he noted.
While all agree that elections will not lead to radical progress for Lebanon, Makram Rabah, a political analyst and lecturer at the American University of Beirut, viewed the elections as positive despite all their deficiencies.
“While it would only be a small step in Lebanon’s long-winded journey toward democracy, the election is necessary,” he concluded.
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