FRI 18 - 10 - 2019
Date: Mar 31, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
International actors spend millions on Lebanon polls
BEIRUT: Working in the background as Lebanese institutions prepare for the upcoming May 6 elections, international actors have contributed millions of dollars toward untangling voting procedures and ensuring that the elections meet international standards. “Historically, the United Nations Development Program has been supporting Lebanon in the elections,” UNDP country director Celine Moyroud told The Daily Star. “So [ours is] a long-standing engagement.”

The approval of a new electoral law introducing the proportional system, however, prompted the United Nations’ development agency to provide additional electoral technical assistance and advisory support to Lebanese citizens and institutions.

“Candidates who may want to take part in the elections must know what the setup is ... and voters must understand the new law and its implications,” Moyroud said.

As part of the Lebanese Elections Assistance Program, or LEAP, the UNDP spent over $11 million of EU funds in 2017 to prepare the ground. Alongside boosting awareness, activities sponsored by the UNDP include enhancing the capacity of the mandated institutions to resolve electoral disputes, as well as supervise and monitor election campaigns in an effective, transparent and credible manner.

The U.N. agency has come under fire from the head of Parliament’s Finance and Budget Committee Ibrahim Kanaan and Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Hasan Fadlallah, who called for the Central Inspection Department to assess the government’s annual contribution, which Kanaan claimed to be too high. Figures taken from the UNDP website that detail the Lebanese contributions between 2011 and 2017 tally an annual average of $14 million.

Alongside the UNDP, the British Embassy also launched a democracy program dedicated to the upcoming elections at a cost of $4.9 million, according to figures provided by the embassy.

To increase female participation in elections, the embassy is funding activities organized by both the U.S.-based organization the National Democratic Institute and the Lebanese group Women in Front.

Gina Chammas, an accountant and candidate running for the minority seat in the Beirut I electoral district as part of the independent list, al-Wafa li Beirut (Loyal to Beirut), said workshops financed by the U.K. and organized by Women in Front have been instrumental in giving her and other women visibility.

“They helped us by pushing the media to host women,” she said, adding that a lack of female presence in national media is “a major problem that is still ongoing.”

Additional support provided in the workshops included pointers on how to dress to convey a professional image, how to prepare for an interview and how to formulate concise but effective answers.

Being part of a group also made Chammas feel less alone as a female candidate and gave her additional strength, she said.

Additionally, the U.K. is funding the Take Action campaign, aimed at increasing the participation of voters between 21 and 29 years old, using a variety of tools to engage the first-time voters through comics, concerts and eye-catching social media adds.

Maher al-Ghadban, a member of Take Action, told The Daily Star that in Lebanon “voting only contributes to benefitting specific parties.”

“But with a higher participation, the elections do reflect the public opinion,” he said, adding that a blank vote can be cast if there is no candidate reflective of the voter’s position.

“We are making them aware about all the options,” Ghadban said. “People are feeling more optimistic about voting.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2018, on page 2.

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