BEIRUT: Much work lies ahead for the upcoming parliamentary elections to gain credibility, D.C.-based non-profit the National Democratic Institute concluded at the end of its four-day trip Thursday. “While the elections law passed last summer represents a tremendous step forward ... there are several aspects that could be adopted between now and election day to help improve the integrity of the process and voter confidence,” Nicole Rowsell, senior adviser at the NDI, told The Daily Star.
The four-team delegation headed by Rowsell included NDI Vice President Shari Bryan, former President of the Independent High Authority for Elections in Tunisia Chafik Sarsar and Bulgaria’s former Foreign Affairs Minister Daniel Mitov.
Among the most prevalent issues, Rowsell noted is the widely known practice of buying votes.
“In a poll, we conducted between mid-December to mid-January to gauge voter expectations ... vote buying and service provisions to procure votes is widely expected by many stakeholders including voters, candidates and the elections authorities,” she said.
Recent meetings with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Interior Ministry, as well as candidates and leaders of established and independent parties led the body to believe such practices would continue, the representative of the delegation added.
“The issue of money and politics came up quite a bit,” she said.
“This is partially related to the history of past elections. But there are also loopholes and grey areas in the law where it is not entirely clear whether candidates are required to fully report what they’re spending on,” she added.
Still, some progressive measures being taken are worth noting, NDI’s assessment highlighted. In terms of voter education, Rowsell said that the Interior Ministry would be rolling out an awareness campaign within the coming weeks to inform voters of their responsibilities.
For the campaign to be effective, voters would have to be aware of how changes in the electoral law will affect how their votes will be counted, among other basic rules and procedures of casting a ballot, the NDI delegation said.
A statement released by the delegation Thursday left a series of recommendations for the government to improve in areas ranging from election-day administration to campaign finances.
“The institute recognizes that, ultimately, it will be the people of Lebanon who will determine the credibility of their elections and the country’s democratic development at this important turning point for the country against the backdrop of regional unrest,” the delegation’s statement said. – The Daily Star