Officials ‘exploiting power’ ahead of vote, Lebanon poll monitors warn

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  • The Lebanese government has invited several international and local bodies to watch over the electoral process.
  • Boutros Koussa said “Until monitoring bodies can control ‘the buying of votes,’ the voting process shall remain corrupt”.

BEIRUT: Thousands of Lebanese will head to the voting booths next Sunday to take part in the country’s overdue parliamentary elections — but many will also stay at home, blaming a lack of confidence in the political and electoral system for their ambivalence toward the vote.

The elections will be the first to take place in the country in nine years, but instead of universal excitement many Lebanese have become increasingly cynical.

“What’s the point of voting if we know it’s not going to make a difference,” Michael, a 25-year old engineer, told Arab News.
“It’s all rigged, the politicians at the top of the pyramid will stay in power, regardless of whether I vote or not,” he said.

Lebanese politics is dominated by sectarian divides, powerful clans and a confessional system that divides the main positions of power among the different religious groups. Nearly a quarter of the 128 seats are expected to be passed on from an older relative to another member of the family.

Just less than 55 percent of those eligible to vote turned out in 2009 and while it is impossible to gauge the figure this time, many young Lebanese told Arab News they would not be voting. They pointed to the failings of the government, particularly in providing basic services since the 2009 election. Others are highly skeptical because of the levels of corruption among public officials.

On the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2017-2018, Lebanon ranked 123 out of 137 countries in terms of ethics and corruption and 128 in the public’s trust in its politicians, with countries such as Nigeria and Zimbabwe sitting below it.

Earlier this month, Sylvana Al-Lakkis, a member of the 11-person Electoral Supervisory Committee, resigned due to the “inability of the committee to perform its duties,” she told local media. The committee’s role is to ensure the transparency and fairness of the electoral campaign.

The Lebanese government has invited several international and local bodies to watch over the electoral process, including the EU. Representatives have been monitoring campaigns both on the street and on social media, as well as financial activities since the beginning of the month.

“Our 24 long-term observers were deployed around the country on April 10 and they have been reporting their findings to us,” Jose Antonio De Gabriel, the deputy chief observer of the EU’s election observer mission to Lebanon, told Arab News.
“On election day we will have more than 100 observers, including short-term observers, on the ground.”

The EU previously sent election observation missions to monitor Lebanese elections in 2005 and 2009.

“We are making a modest contribution to this democratic exercise in Lebanon, which we do by measuring the process for the 2018 elections against the country’s own law and the international obligations that Lebanon has committed itself to,” De Gabriel said. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) is also taking part in the monitoring.

“On election day, we will have 1,200 short-term observers deployed, who monitor the process from the beginning at 7 a.m. until they close the doors, and of course they also monitor the count, after which we issue our reports,” Hanine Shabshoul, the communication and media coordinator at LADE, told Arab News.

Apart from deploying observers on the ground, LADE is also monitoring candidates’ official social media accounts and is developing a mobile application that allows observers and citizens to directly report any violations they witness.

Bodies such as the EU and LADE, however, cannot themselves order the arrests of violators; they can only issue remarks and recommendations to Lebanon’s Interior Ministry and Supervisory Commission for Elections.

“If there are any alleged violations, our observers report it to our analysts in our HQ in Beirut. We check and double-check the facts and then feed this into our overall analysis,” De Gabriel said. LADE issued a statement last month explaining how government officials were “repeatedly exploiting their powers for electoral purposes.”

Monitoring does not only occur for those in Lebanon, with a large Lebanese diaspora set to take part in the voting process for the first time.

“We will be carrying out observation of out-of-country voting on April 29 in 10 European countries, focusing in particular on Germany and France, where the biggest concentrations of Lebanese nationals (in Europe) are to be found,” he said.

France and Germany house 8,541 and 8,523 voters respectively, while the highest concentration of voters lie in Australia and Canada with more than 12,000 and 11,500 voters respectively, according to Information International, a Beirut-based research and consultancy firm.

While monitoring bodies will be going over the election process and highlighting any violations they see, many wonder whether enough is being done to prevent corruption from sinking its teeth into the election process and the results that follow.

“You can declare the elections corrupt before election day begins,” Boutros Koussa, a 38-year old car mechanic, told Arab News. “Until monitoring bodies can control ‘the buying of votes,’ the voting process shall remain corrupt,” he said.

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