BEIRUT: International monitors and local electoral NGOs gave conflicting reports Sunday regarding the severity of issues facing Lebanese voters at polling stations. Speaking at Al-Amir Shakib Arslan School in Beirut’s Verdun, Chief Observer of the European Union’s Election Observation Mission Elena Valenciano said the day went “without major incident.”
The EU team, made up of 131 observers, deployed around Lebanon and visited 355 polling stations, Valenciano said.
“We considered [the polling stations] well-organized with a positive ambiance, despite some minor incidents,” she said.
“We saw huge participation from the political parties, which helps the transparency of the process,” she added, noting the positive involvement of female observers and civil society organizations.
Valenciano also emphasized “the very important role of the Internal Security Forces and the Army who maintained peace and helped people access polling stations.”
Access to the polling stations was one of the most significant problems documented by the EU team.
“There were problems for people with reduced mobility and the elderly,” Valenciano said.
“Approximately 55 percent of polling stations observed problems for the elderly and handicapped, and it’s something that all observers highlighted,” she added.
A number of independent observers used social media to document problems faced by those with limited mobility – including images of some people being carried up stairs by Internal Security Forces personnel, other voters and Civil Defense volunteers.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said that the most significant violation of voting protocol reported was a new method of vote buying.
“The introduction of the preprinted ballot, which ensured the secrecy of the vote, made vote buying more difficult,” said Ammar Abboud, an electoral expert and board member of LADE.
As a result, he said, “The party electoral machines resorted to taking the voters by hand and claiming that they were handicapped in order to take them to vote ... and if we were to take a statistical sample, a state of emergency should be issued in Lebanon because such a high percentage of the Lebanese population is suffering from a handicap of some sort.”
Abboud said this was “the only way for party machines to secure that votes went in their favor,” and that parties had resorted to such tactics because “all the major parties had problems mobilizing their political base and the electorate.”
Valenciano also said the EOM “had reports of certain cases [of voters being accompanied to the ballot box], but it’s not a huge issue, it’s not widespread.”
Also observing the day’s events was a smaller team from the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
The NDI team had not collated its findings before The Daily Star went to print.
Les Campbell, part of the mission’s leadership, said the NDI’s 31 observers had been split into 15 groups. The teams were deployed to all electoral districts.
While the NDI mission was unable to observe as many polling stations as the EOM, Campbell said there was close coordination with the EU team to ensure they could work as efficiently as possible.
“They were told to spend at least a half-hour at each site,” Campbell said. “The idea was not to get quantity but quality.”