By Wassim Mroueh
Thursday, January 06, 2011
BEIRUT: The Constitutional Council is unable to curb the influence of illegal campaign spending or the impact of sectarian and religious loyalties on voters without a new election law, the head of the council said Wednesday.
“It is very difficult to control spending under the current electoral law,” Issam Suleiman told a news conference at the council’s headquarters in Hadath. “It is also very difficult for those filing a challenge to parliamentary polls before the Constitutional Council to provide tangible evidence [of illegal spending].”
Suleiman said the current electoral law “legalized illegal spending” during electoral campaigns, due to built-in deficiencies in the legislation, such as the selective lifting of bank secrecy.
“Despite putting a cap on spending on electoral campaigns … the current electoral law did not set up an effective mechanism to monitor such spending,” Suleiman added.
He highlighted the necessity of drafting a modern electoral law that would reduce the influence of campaign spending, and the impact of sectarian and religious loyalties on voters.
Established in 1993 during the tenure of former President Elias Hrawi, the Constitutional Council is tasked with examining the constitutionality of the country’s laws, if challenged, as well as ruling on challenges to parliamentary and presidential polls if filed before it.
Suleiman stressed the need to grant the council wider prerogatives to enable it to play the role that the body does elsewhere.
He noted the council was unable to look into any law and study its constitutionality unless concerned sides challenged it before the council.
“We consider that the prerogatives of the Constitutional Council are at their minimum, compared to the prerogatives of constitutional councils in other countries,” Suleiman stressed.
Sulemian was joined by his nine colleagues on the council at the news conference, which was held to review the body’s achievements since its members assumed their posts in June 2009.
“We decided to put political struggles aside … and stand at an equal distance from all groups along with preserving and enhancing the independence of the Constitutional Council,” Suleiman said, announcing the release of a 700-plus hardback book detailing the council’s rulings and activities for 2009-10, including the 19 challenges to the 2009 parliamentary poll results, none of which was accepted by the council.
“We think it is necessary to issue a book at the end of every year, which includes along with [council]’s decisions, opinions based on a scientific and legal methodology, and studies in constitutional jurisprudence, to enrich constitutional jurisprudence and interpretation,” Suleiman said.
He said the release of the book was part of the council’s policy of “openness,” which involves outreach to people interested in constitutional law, faculties of law and political science in Lebanon and Arab countries, and constitutional tribunals and councils in the region and abroad.
More than 600 pages of the book are in Arabic, while an English brief on the council and a number of French texts and summaries make up the rest.
Suleiman announced that graduate and Ph.D. students who are preparing theses related to constitutional law could have access to the latest specialized reference sources at the council’s library.
Highlighting efforts to activate the council’s presence in the region and internationally, Suleiman detailed a number of Arab and international meetings and conferences that the council took part in during 2009 and 2010, along with others to be attended in 2011.