Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon election

INEFFECTIVE ELECTION MONITORING IN LEBANON HIGHLIGHTS URGENT NEED FOR INDEPENDENT BODY

Issued by Transparency International Secretariat

In the wake of recent Parliamentary elections in Lebanon, Transparency International calls for an independent electoral supervisory commission and dramatic improvements in the election monitoring process to prevent cabinet ministers from abusing their power when running for Parliament. (Which effectively took place with minister of interior running in the election)

From the current administration, 16 out of 30 cabinet ministers ran for Parliament.

On Sunday, 6 May, 2018 voters in Lebanon took part in the first Parliamentary elections in nine years.

As part of the electoral process, a new Lebanese law permitted cabinet ministers to run for Parliament while still holding office, an unusual allowance that did not apply to other public officials, who were required to first resign their posts.

The new law set a considerably high spending ceiling for political candidates, allowing them to spend large amounts of funds on campaign activities.

Preliminary results show that 12 ministers won. The list includes the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, and the Minister of Interior and Municipalities, the latter of whom is directly involved in managing the electoral process. This would be a clear-cut conflict of interest, according to Transparency International.

“A level playing field is essential for fair and democratic elections. It is crucial to guarantee that official candidates do not abuse public resources for partisan purposes,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International.

“Electoral authorities shall be independent to assure the integrity of the whole electoral process, which includes the disclosure and accountability of political finances, campaign rules, information for voters, voting procedures, vote counting and proclamation of winners. Fair, equal and free elections are the basis of democratic legitimacy.”

During the recent elections, the Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA), the national chapter of Transparency International, conducted field observations in key electoral districts to observe the electoral process. The organisation found a series of electoral law violations and examples of mismanagement, including those related to campaign advertisements and the use of public facilities and institutions in electoral activities.

In addition, LTA, which closely follows the performance of the Supervisory Commission for Elections (SCE), the country’s primary electoral supervisory body, also expressed concerns with the commission’s significant lack of independence from government influence and its limited resources.(The chief of this commission declared that the law didn’t provide it with any latitude for control, except in advertising)

“Throughout the elections, LTA has actively pushed for greater transparency from the SCE and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities,” states Badri el Meouchi, chairman of LTA.  “However, the SCE is currently operating with such inefficiency and poor transparency that they’ve introduced an unfair advantage for candidates and hindered the ability for civil society to monitor the electoral process.”

Specifically, LTA discovered a lack of transparency in the way the SCE operates, particularly its failure to publish financial reports from candidates.

In some cases, guidance outlining what candidates could and couldn’t do was delayed or only clarified weeks after candidates launched their campaigns.

In addition, although the SCE is legally tasked with the role of improving voter education, in actuality, all efforts were executed by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities only a few weeks before the elections.

As a result, a significant number of votes were ultimately rejected due to voter errors on pre-printed ballots.(About 40,000. There are claims that instead of a blank vote that would increase the cut-off line in favor of the traditional leaders, they preferred to express their displeasure with a cancelled vote)

Transparency International and LTA call on the government of Lebanon to significantly improve transparency around campaign financing and regulations, including communicating about relevant spending ceilings for each district, publishing financial reports and account information from candidates running for office and making the voting results from every polling station publicly available.

LTA calls on the government of Lebanon to prohibit incumbent government ministers from running for future Parliamentary elections.

For any press enquiries please contact

Jen Pollakusky/Michael Hornsby
E: press@transparency.org
T: +49 30 3438 20 666

Calling into Question Hezbollah’s Electoral “Takeover” 
Sami Atallah, LCPS executive director. May 2018
On May 6, Lebanon held its first parliamentary election in 9 years (after deputies twice extending their tenure).
To average Lebanese citizens, the results cannot be described as anything other than anti-climactic. Turnout for the election was low despite voters casting their ballots according to a new hybrid proportional representation system, under which turnout is usually higher.
Only a slightly higher number of women will enter the next parliament 6 compared to 2009.
New, independent groups were not able to propel more than a single candidate to victory.

Despite all these issues surrounding the elections and its results, some foreign observers and domestic actors have reduced the outcome to an abrupt and final Hezbollah takeover of the country. This interpretation is both misleading and largely misses the point of what Hezbollah has in fact gained.

Lost in this maze of analysis is the fact that the party which scored the biggest win, an anti-Hezbollah party. is the Lebanese Forces (LF) with a block of 15 deputies. (Very wrong claim. It is the Tayyar of President Michel Aoun with a block 29 deputies).

The LF managed to double their number of seats from eight to 15 and expanded their representation from five districts in 2009 to thirteen in 2018. By snatching ten Maronite seats, they have deluded the Free Patriotic Movement’s (FPM) claim of being the party which best and most powerfully represents Christian interests across the country. (Apparently, Samir is catching the math fever of counting wrong lately)

At the other end of the spectrum, the current prime minister’s party, the Future Movement, saw its bloc dwindle from being the largest with thirty-four seats to twenty. The loss of five Sunni seats weakens the prime minister’s leadership in the Sunni community as his party controls only 17 out of 27 Sunni seats. In Beirut II district, his party lost five out of the eleven seats, four of them to Hezbollah and Hezbollah-allied parties.

Although the FPM (the only party that participated with 43 candidates in all 15 districts) increased the size of its bloc by two seats to reach twenty-nine, making it the largest bloc in parliament, its victory is not as ironclad as claimed by Gebran Bassil, the FPM’s leader. The party controls only thirteen Maronite seats, six fewer than in 2009. The party was also compelled to nominate eleven non-party members to ensure victory in various districts.

Hezbollah, where all foreign eyes are trained, gained one seat.

Although Hezbollah and its allies won a seat in Zahle and Beirut II, it lost a few seats in Baabda and Baalbeck, its own backyard.
Hezbollah victory rests not in the size of its bloc but in sweeping all twenty-seven Shiite seats with the Amal movement, which itself grabbed seventeen seats.
(Mind you that the tacit agreement Parliament allocate to the Parliament  27 Shi3a, 27 Sunni deputies and 10 Druze and othe Muslem minorities. All the Christians sects have 50% of the seats or 64)

It secured victory for five Sunni MPs who provide it with cross-sectarian cover. In terms of the popular vote, Hezbollah and Amal lists garnered 35% of ballots cast in 2018. While a large section of its constituents willingly support it, Hezbollah’s success lies in its organizational capacity to mobilize voters on election day.  (Hezbollah candidates garnered 72% of the Shi3a voters)

Indeed, Hezbollah, Amal, and other smaller parties hold one-third of parliament seats. Adding the FPM to their camp would numerically give them the upper hand in parliament.

But the nature of politics in Lebanon dictates that Hezbollah and their allies will not simply run roughshod over the country using the parliament.
For one, President Michael Aoun’s agenda may deviate from that of Hezbollah now that he resides in Baabda and is entitled to name a share of the government’s cabinet posts. He will likely be keen to preserve the state and its institutions, possibly to a degree than might not be convenient for Hezbollah.
Two, the contemporary iteration of the FPM reached an agreement with the Future Movement only last year, according to which Aoun was elected president and in return Hariri headed the government. In the last year and a half, this relationship evolved in such a way that both parties worked closely on several issues.
Even electorally, Hariri called on his supporters in Batroun to give their preferential vote to Bassil, who has struggled to win a parliamentary seat since 2005.

The tension between the FPM and the Amal movement will further complicate the FPM’s relationship with Hezbollah in the coming weeks, not the least because it remains unclear whether the FPM will endorse Amal leader Nabih Berri’s candidacy to become, once again, the parliament speaker. (Chairman of Parliament since 1991)

All signs point to anything but smooth sailing in the formation of a government, a process which could very well last late into the summer if political haggling and wrangling is employed to full effect. (Hezbollah is Not about to let this kind of delay and has his own pressure means on Berry and allies)

Hezbollah’s largely coherent bloc will strengthen its bargaining position and it will be able to veto nominations and laws that are not to its liking, (same with the largest block of the President.

The nature of the political system will force Hezbollah to engage in wheeling and dealing with other parties (as it has done for decades now?). Its ability to control the state is constrained by rival parties as well as the confessional quota of the country. Also, it is not in the interest of Hezbollah to try to dominate the political scene for two reasons.

One, pushing too hard may antagonize other political groups to Hezbollah’s own detriment. Engaged in Syria, Hezbollah would likely not want to aggravate the domestic situation. This could lead to instability which is something to be avoided domestically for its own sake.

Two, assuming too much control of state institutions via ministerial portfolios may backfire, especially if they fail to deliver. (So far, Hezbollah didn’t care much on the “value” of the portfolio, as long as they are in the government to express his opinions and have a say on the decisions)

During the election, Hezbollah made several promises to fight corruption—reflecting unease among its constituents—but an anti-corruption battle is very hard to win in Lebanon. (It is harder than to fight a US military invasion on Lebanon, but Hezbollah has already constituted a special team for that purpose and is very determined in the decision to fighting all kinds of corruptions and robbing the State money)

In the sense that Hezbollah derives its power, not from the number of seats it holds in the parliament, but from its ability to mobilize its followers and partisans; its strong and consistent foreign backing; and its special relationship with state security and intelligence agencies, the party has fortified itself with this win. How the party uses this power, which it possessed prior to Sunday’s election, will determine the course of future events. (It had this power before the election since 2006)

To see the election outcome through the prism of an outright Hezbollah victory is reductionist and misses the point. Earlier this week, Israel carried out its largest military operation targeting Syrian soil in decades, action which comes on the heels of Trump declaring that the United States will no longer adhere to its commitments under the Iran nuclear deal.

The tacit argument being made by those touting the notion that Hezbollah has seized control in Lebanon, and explicitly by many Israeli political and military leaders, is that the Lebanese state is a legitimate target in any future conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Apart from engaging in lazy and incomplete analysis, there can be no other informed interpretation of attempts to promulgate the flawed assertion that Lebanon is now, suddenly, under the control of a single political party.

Granted, the majority in parliament among Hezbollah and their allies likely means that the party’s weapons will not be a focus of action in the legislature but that begs the question of whether they ever were in the first place.

Hezbollah’s accumulation and retention of arms stems from the signing of the Taef Accord, consecutive governments that tacitly approved of the party keeping their weapons, in addition to regional actors such as Iran supporting the party both materially and rhetorically.

So, where does this largely non-contextualized focus on Hezbollah’s electoral achievements leave us?

Indeed, Hezbollah has solidified its position in parliament. However, this is a marginal addition to its power given the unwillingness of MPs to fully exercise the parliament’s legislative and oversight roles.

No keen Lebanon watcher should gloss over the fact that their ability to dictate policy is limited by a range of factors, prime among them Lebanon’s confessional system and fluid party politics.

While the next ministerial statement will likely not denounce Hezbollah’s arms, let’s not lose sight of the fact that a regional consensus would first be necessary to level a final decision on that contentious matter.

Note: You may read  My report and analysis of Lebanon election https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2018/05/10/lebanon-has-a-new-parliament-after-9-years-of-tenure-extension-most-devilish-and-creative-new-election-law/

Lebanese Elections: Clientelism as a Strategy to Garner Votes

Sami Atallah and Zeina El-Helou, respectively LCPS executive director and researcher and development consultant. March 2018

Lebanon’s adoption of a proportional representation (PR) system is seen by many as a step in the direction of fostering a more representative system to select some of the most important decision makers in the country.

Members of parliament (MP) are constitutionally endowed with the authority to collectively elect a president, issue a vote of confidence to new governments, set national policies including the budget, and hold the government accountable using its oversight function, among other duties.

Yet, the new electoral law is being undermined by some of its most central tenets, which preserve clientielistic networks through, among other factors, requiring that a preferential vote be cast and the redrawing of districts in concert with the parliament’s confessional quota.

Taking all this into consideration, it behooves us to consider those power structures and tactics that underlie our elections.

It should also be recognized that as much as the electoral law is crucial to determining the outcome of an election, electoral behavior will have an equal say on the outcome, if not more.

More to the point, how parties and candidates manage their campaigns, mobilize and persuade voters, manipulate the media, shape opinions, and buy votes are largely ignored. (The law was delayed an entire year to include a few reforms, but no reforms were discussed or considered on the law)

Many of these tricks are unknown by the wider public. (For example, a candidate must be able to deposit $100,000 in a bank: a condition that excludes most of the people in this poor economy, and this requirement was never made public)

While this article will not highlight all the methods that parties and politicians employ to win elections, it does look into the clientelistic relationship that links parties and candidates to voters whereby parties or politicians provide services or jobs to voters in return for their political loyalty.

While some people vote based on their sectarian beliefs or ideological convictions, many others support one party or candidate over another based on the services provided to constituents or the cash handed out on election day.

In fact, this provision of services and even outright vote buying goes hand in hand with the majoritarian electoral system that was in place. That is, once parties agree on how to gerrymander electoral districts to their own liking under a majoritarian system, they only need to mobilize a certain number of voters from within these districts to be elected.

PR should in theory make gerrymandering harder, particularly with large districts in which every vote counts.

Such a system would make vote buying and the provision of services much more expensive, meaning political parties would be forced to develop new strategies to mobilize voters.

However, the new Lebanese electoral law has managed to sustain some key facets of clientelism, namely the preferential vote, relaxing electoral spending limits, inflating the number of registered election delegates, and permitting charitable organizations to offer quid pro quo services during elections.

With the support of Konrad Adenauer Foundation, LCPS conducted focus groups with voters in regions across the country, taking into account gender, age group, sect, income level, and the competitiveness of the district.

Some of the key findings are synthesized here.

For one, while most participants would like to vote for parties and candidates with national political visions, most opt for existing sectarian parties out of fear of other groups.

Hence, many participants made their electoral decision out of a perceived need to protect their own community based on the myth of being threatened as a confessional group— in terms of both physical and resource-based security—by other groups.

Two, citizens expect their MPs to provide them with targeted services, jobs, and other favors, especially since state institutions have failed in designing and implementing policies that make public goods available for everyone, such as jobs opportunities, free and quality education, and universal health coverage.

MPs, on the other hand, prefer to provide targeted goods to individuals and families rather than design policies that serve those communities and regions which are most in need.

According to focus group participants, politicians give high-value goods as rewards for active, long-term support from dedicated partisans, especially those who have leverage over large groups of voters. In some instances, politicians provide services to voters with influence, even if they are not party loyalists.

High-value goods mainly include jobs and scholarships, and to a lesser extent, payments for medical care.

Political parties also threaten to deny or withdraw these services from voters who fail or cease to support the candidate or party in question, especially in areas where residents are highly dependent on one powerful party to provide employment and educational or health services.

By comparison, low-value goods such as food and petty cash are distributed to weakly affiliated and persuadable voters with limited resources and significant material needs. These goods are sometimes provided on a regular basis, particularly if the party has a strong distribution system, but appear more frequently and in greater quantity in the months leading up to elections, as a form of vote buying.

Parties enlist community leaders such as mayors and mukhtars as brokers (who happen to be tribal elders in most of the cases, especially in rural and periphery areas) to identify and approach persuadable voters in their communities for the purposes of vote buying.

It is important to note that in most cases, services are not supplied voluntarily by parties, but are demanded by citizens themselves. Parties also target large families as they have more votes to deliver than smaller ones.

The former electoral law 25/2008 made these abuses ‘legitimate’ as it stipulates under article 59 that ‘financial donations including service provision or payment of money to voters such as in-kind and cash donations and support to individuals, charity, social, cultural, family, religious organizations or other, or sports clubs and all non-public institutions shall be prohibited during the campaign period, except for those granted by candidates or institutions owned or run by candidates who have been doing so on a regular basis for not less than three years prior to the commencement of the electoral campaign.

This counter-intuitive law not only legitimizes clientelism, but also provides an advantage to long-term clientelistic-based parties and candidates over newcomers to the system.

While some contend that clientelism does provide services to citizens when the state falls short in doing so, it is argued that the state—managed by the same governing elite—is prevented from doing so, giving political parties the opportunity to manipulate the election in their favor by effectively holding voters hostage. In this way, clientelism undermines both democracy and development.

For one, the notion that citizens are able to elect their representative or hold them accountable has been undermined as a result of this clientelistic network, where now it is parties that reward or punish voters for their vote choice.

This behavior has impacted development as the political elite have no incentives to provide or ensure development for the country since they managed to be elected by buying votes and providing some services to specific groups of people in their districts under a majoritarian system.

Clientelism cannot actually improve voters’ socio-economic condition beyond dolling out some cash or favors to voters, which provides only a temporary boost in income. In fact, we argue and it should be recognized that the opposite is true, namely that these campaign strategies impoverish people by denying them services that they ought to have access to as a right.

Note: I contend that we have No political parties in tiny Lebanon: they are all funded and directed by foreign State governments. The same goes to local news media.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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