Ineffective election monitoring in Lebanon highlights urgent need for independent body
In the wake of recent Parliamentary elections in Lebanon, Transparency International calls for an independent electoral supervisory commission and dramatic improvements in the election monitoring process to prevent cabinet ministers from abusing their power when running for Parliament.
On Sunday, 6 May, 2018 voters in Lebanon took part in the first Parliamentary elections in nine years. As part of the electoral process, a new Lebanese law permitted cabinet ministers to run for Parliament while still holding office, an unusual allowance that did not apply to other public officials, who were required to first resign their posts. Moreover, the new law set a considerably high spending ceiling for political candidates, allowing them to spend large amounts of funds on campaign activities.
From the current administration, 16 out of 30 cabinet ministers ran for Parliament. Preliminary results show that 12 ministers won. The list includes the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, and the Minister of Interior and Municipalities, the latter of whom is directly involved in managing the electoral process. This would be a clear-cut conflict of interest, according to Transparency International.
“A level playing field is essential for fair and democratic elections. It is crucial to guarantee that official candidates do not abuse public resources for partisan purposes,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International. “Electoral authorities shall be independent to assure the integrity of the whole electoral process, which includes the disclosure and accountability of political finances, campaign rules, information for voters, voting procedures, vote counting and proclamation of winners. Fair, equal and free elections are the basis of democratic legitimacy.”
During the recent elections, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), the national chapter of Transparency International, conducted field observations in key electoral districts to observe the electoral process. The organisation found a series of electoral law violations and examples of mismanagement, including those related to campaign advertisements and the use of public facilities and institutions in electoral activities.
In addition, LTA, which closely follows the performance of the Supervisory Commission for Elections (SCE), the country’s primary electoral supervisory body, also expressed concerns with the commission’s significant lack of independence from government influence and its limited resources.
“Throughout the elections, LTA has actively pushed for greater transparency from the SCE and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities,” states Badri el Meouchi, chairman of LTA. “However, the SCE is currently operating with such inefficiency and poor transparency that they’ve introduced an unfair advantage for candidates and hindered the ability for civil society to monitor the electoral process.”
Specifically, LTA discovered a lack of transparency in the way the SCE operates, particularly its failure to publish financial reports from candidates. In some cases, guidance outlining what candidates could and couldn’t do was delayed or only clarified weeks after candidates launched their campaigns.
In addition, although the SCE is legally tasked with the role of improving voter education, in actuality, all efforts were executed by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities only a few weeks before the elections. As a result, a significant number of votes were ultimately rejected due to voter errors on pre-printed ballots.
Transparency International and LTA call on the government of Lebanon to significantly improve transparency around campaign financing and regulations, including communicating about relevant spending ceilings for each district, publishing financial reports and account information from candidates running for office and making the voting results from every polling station publicly available. Furthermore, LTA calls on the government of Lebanon to prohibit incumbent government ministers from running for future Parliamentary elections.
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