SAT 15 - 12 - 2018
 
Date: Apr 21, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon: The undemocratic aspects of elections
Sabine Darrous| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The large number of serving ministers running for the upcoming elections and the potential use of their official powers to serve their own electoral interests, as well as breaches of electoral expenditure rules, are issues to be addressed in the future, lawmakers say. Some 17 current ministers in the 30 member Cabinet are running for parliamentary elections on May 6, including top officials such as Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.

The current electoral law endorsed last year does not ban ministers from running for Parliament but recent accusations from NGOs and some politicians are highlighting possible issues of a conflict of interest and some have said it violates the principle of an equal opportunity between candidates.

“A reform is certainly needed to safeguard the electoral process in the future,” MP Ghassan Moukheiber told The Daily Star. “The future electoral law should clearly stipulate that no ministers are allowed to run for parliamentary elections while they are in office,” he added.

“This is what we call a pure conflict of interest and a violation to the principle of equal opportunities,” he said, in reference to allegations that ministers are clearly taking advantage of their powers to serve their own interests.

The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections warned Tuesday that officials were “repeatedly exploiting their powers for electoral purposes” and raised concerns over “widespread bribery” carried out by some candidates in a number of electoral districts. It also highlighted the “intensity of external interventions” in the electoral process.

MP Butros Harb voiced a similar concern to Moukheiber and asserted that officials were using all their power to benefit their electoral interests.

“They are turning their ministries into ... center[s] to offer employment services,” he said. “They are using their powers to influence people to vote for them and even resorting to threats if they do not do so,” Harb said, adding: “This is clear bribery.”

Harb recalled how Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who headed Cabinet in 2005, refrained from running for parliamentary elections and so did all members of his government. In 2009, Ziad Baroud, who was the interior minister responsible for supervising elections, also refused to run for Parliament as he said it would be considered a conflict of interest.

LADE’s report mentioned various violations and incidents that “threatened and undermined the democracy of the electoral process” such as Lebanese Diaspora Energy Conferences, led by Bassil, and the CEDRE donor conference for Lebanon.

“These were used as platforms to mobilize expats to vote for them,” LADE’s spokeswoman Haneen Chabchoul told The Daily Star.

She questioned why these events were scheduled to take place just weeks before the elections.

She said the ability of incumbent ministers to run for elections was a major loophole and that they should resign if they plan to run.

Commenting on foreign officials’ role in the election, she noted that the envoys of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in Lebanon had visited several regions either “to support specific groups or to block attempts by other candidates to swing the elections.”

Furthermore, Chabchoul pointed to the statement of the supreme leader of Iran who voiced his unequivocal support for Amal and Hezbollah in the upcoming elections.

“How can these elections be considered democratic in view of this flagrant intervention by external powers,” she asked.

Speaking about the Electoral Supervisory Committee’s inaction, Chabchoul said there is “a clear political decision to block its work by both the finance and interior ministries.”

She said that the government was “procrastinating in allocating funds” to this committee so it can carry out its duties.

“Until now, the committee has been unable to take a single action despite clear violations from candidates,” she said.

When contacted by The Daily Star, head of the committee Nadim Abdel Malak refrained from making any comment in relation to these accusations and allegations.

Chabchoul also spoke about what she called “bribery” and “illegal electoral expenditure” carried out by candidates in various districts, citing Fouad Makhzoumi, a prominent businessman running in Beirut II, whom she said has been “offering social services and assistance” in areas of education and housing.

“These kinds of services should stop around election times as it violates the electoral law,” she said, adding that Tawhid Party leader Wiam Wahhab has also expressed on a news agency website “his readiness to pay expenses” of Lebanese voters in Syria who wish to cast their ballot for him on May 6.

President Michel Aoun said Wednesday that sitting members of Parliament should not stand as ministers in future Cabinets.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Equality in Democracy conference in the northern Jbeil district, the president contended that such a move would strengthen the role Parliament plays as an oversight body for Cabinet.

He also called for strengthening the judiciary.
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2018, on page 2.


 
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