SAT 23 - 11 - 2019
Date: Apr 6, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Expat voting process stirs controversy among officials
Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Ministers debated expatriate voting procedures during Wednesday’s Cabinet session while Speaker Nabih Berri said gaps in the vote law would need to be fixed by the next legislature. Berri spoke of his resentment over various “violations” taking place, including the “disbursement of funds in many electoral districts and regions,” according to a statement from his office, which did not elaborate. The speaker also called for a solution to these issues.

He reiterated that a “number of gaps have appeared so far in the electoral law and there is a need to develop the law, which will be [in the hands] of the next Parliament.”

After a majority of ministers in a previous session agreed on a road map going into the highly anticipated CEDRE conference in Paris on April 6, Wednesday’s meeting saw Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil defend the process for expat voting. “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,” Machnouk said after the Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail.

He played down concerns about the process as “mere illusion and fabricated to develop political problems.” Ambassadors and consuls will supervise the electoral process abroad “since 150 [Interior Ministry] employees are not available,” the Machnouk added, referring to the possible number of voting stations in countries around the world.

According to the new vote law, voting boxes abroad will be closed and sealed with red wax before being shipped to Lebanon via DHL.

Once here, they will be stored at the Central Bank and opened once the elections end.Machnouk appeared to be responding to comments made by Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh, who said that the Cabinet session included discussions on the transparency of expat voting and who will supervise the process. “We don’t have any doubts about the ambassadors, but how will they be able to monitor 140 to 150 voting centers?” Hamadeh asked. “We prefer to send staff from Lebanon who are affiliated with the electoral supervisory body,” he added, before criticizing the “flaws of this hybrid vote law.”

But Bassil was quick to fire back at Hamadeh’s comments, suggesting that the achievement of allowing expats to vote for the first time should be celebrated rather than tarnished “with cheap political [motives] and things that have not and will not happen.”

Responding to the idea of sending employees from Lebanon to oversee the process abroad, Bassil said, “We cannot question a Grade 1 ambassador accredited to represent Lebanon in big countries and place trust in another state employee more.” He added, however, that “all of them are employees of the Lebanese state and all of them are like each other and governed by law to run this process.”

“We have done more to ensure that there is transparency abroad and some of these things are not being done at home [in Lebanon],” Bassil added.

Nonetheless, he expressed his readiness for employees other than ambassadors and consuls to be deployed and supervise the process, “because if we are relieved of this, we would be grateful, as it is not part of our [Foreign Ministry] work to conduct elections.”

“I hope that we will stop doubting, which has no basis and no reason, because it only harms the expatriates. I think all the political parties have representatives abroad and will monitor and supervise this process, so let us not engage in a groundless questioning process,” Bassil said.

Another point of controversy concerns data on expat voters. No data has been released officially except the total number of voters who initially registered abroad. Bassil said any other expat voter data “should not be officially distributed because the expats may not want this.”

Meanwhile, Bassil, who also heads the Free Patriotic Movement, said that the Lebanese Diaspora Energy conference to be held Saturday in Paris was not political. At last week’s Cabinet session, Hamadeh and other ministers objected to the approval of Bassil’s travel to Paris to participate in the CEDRE conference and the LDE.

“I fully objected to Bassil’s travel at the government’s expense to [participate] in the LDE conference in Paris,” Hamadeh was quoted as saying by local media. “We’ve had enough of diaspora conferences that constitute an opportunity for party members of a certain movement to gather at the expense of the Lebanese Republic,” Hamadeh added, referring to Bassil’s FPM.

Another LDE conference will be held as soon as the elections are over, Bassil said Wednesday, rejecting claims that the state was funding these conferences. “We have private funding from advertisers and companies without the Lebanese state being responsible,” Bassil said.

Separately, Berri at his weekly bloc meeting with MPs spoke of a number of recent calls with international figures and with President Michel Aoun aimed at “confronting the dangers of the aggressive Israeli policy.”

Berri touched on recent provocative statements by the Israeli army’s chief of staff, as well as Israel’s continuous violations of Lebanese sovereignty, “including the incident of the Israeli drone crash in south Lebanon’s Beit Yahoun.” The drone crash Saturday was investigated by the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. A security source told The Daily Star at the time that the incident likely represented a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701. Between Nov. 1, 2017, and Feb. 19 this year, UNIFIL recorded continued “almost daily” violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel.

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