|Date: Apr 24, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Lebanon: Electoral supervisory committee dismisses concerns|
|Dala Osseiran| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Members of the Electoral Supervisory Committee held a news conference Monday to reassure the public of the body’s competence and determination to ensure the smooth running of Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in nine years. “There are no longer consequential obstacles hindering the functioning of the committee,” the head of the election watchdog, Judge Nadim Abdel-Malek, told reporters at a news conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamra.
Abdel-Malek added that the body’s budget had been approved after committee members complained that an ongoing failure to allocate the necessary funds had hampered their ability to do their job.
Committee member Sylvana al-Lakkis submitted her resignation from the supervisory body Friday, citing its “inability” to carry out its mandate. She did not elaborate.
“We are still trying to overcome some difficulties that Lakkis mentioned, but it won’t force us to resign,” Abdel-Malek said Monday.
He said that, after consulting with Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, he had contacted Lakkis and asked her to reconsider her resignation.
“There is no return from my resignation,” Lakkis responded in a statement following the committee’s news conference. She thanked Abdel-Malek and wished the committee luck.
The body will soon contact auditors to begin assessing candidates’ campaign spending, Abdel-Malek said. Candidates who exceed the expenditure ceiling will have their candidacies rescinded.
“But [this oversight] is not being done,” Haneen Chabchoul, a spokesperson from Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, told The Daily Star Monday.
She explained that a candidate is allowed to spend at most LL150 million ($99,240) on their campaign, in addition to LL5,000 for each voter registered on the electoral lists. There is also LL150 million ($99,240) for every candidate on the list that can be used as a group.
Committee member Atallah Ghasham defended the committee, emphasizing their independence.
“There is no guardianship over this body except by the law,” he said repeatedly as he fielded questions.
The committee works in coordination with the Interior Ministry, he said, but “Interior Minister [Nouhad Machnouk] has never attended one of our meetings or got involved.”
Machnouk is a candidate in May’s elections. “There is nothing in the law preventing ministers from running in the elections,” Ghasham said.
Article 19 of the electoral law states that the committee is tasked with monitoring media outlets to ensure that they comply with the regulations of the electoral competition.
“If we find that a media outlet is not giving airtime to a candidate or unequally covering them to limit their media outreach, we go after them,” Abdel-Malek said, “including media outlets owned by political parties.”
“We are the eyes and ears on the ground, we monitor what is happening but we can’t stop it.
“We can issue warnings and submit complaints to the Constitutional Council. We don’t have the authority to prosecute,” he added.
The committee has been under increasing scrutiny, with critics suggesting that the body has been rendered ineffective.
There has been a “clear political decision to block [the Electoral Supervisory Committee’s] work” by government ministries, LADE’s Chabchoul told The Daily Star last week.
A LADE official also noted that there was a “systematic political decision by the Lebanese government in all its components, represented by the interior minister and finance minister, to undermine the work of the electoral supervision body,” during a news conference presenting their report about increasing violations.