Sunday, May 31, 2009

The key battles: Saida

One of the most interesting electoral battle occurring outside the Christian areas is in Saida. The city of Saida is fascinating because although it is majority Sunna the dominant Sunni political organization, the Future Movement, does not have political dominance over the city, as yet.

For all the talk of a war between Sunni and Shia in Lebanon, this Sunni dominated city (84% of registered voters) currently has an incumbent MP Ossama Saad who is pro-Hezbollah and affiliated with the opposition coalition of March 8. Thus, Saida may illustrate the true nature of Lebanese politics which is less directly concerned with confession but more to do with networks of patronage and family connections/history in a given area that then becomes intertwined with confession. Saida also represents a district where a class struggle becomes more directly involved in the electoral process. With Ossama Saad making himself out to be a man of the people and emphasising direct contact with the people, while the Future Movement candidates Bahia Hariri and Siniora by their prominent political national roles obviously cannot offer this.

Ossama Saad, who inherited his parlimentary seat from his brother who died in 2002, has never faced an election before, as in 2005 the two Sunni seats were allocated to Saad and Bahia Hariri in an agreement. A lot has changed in Lebanon since the last proper election in Saida in 2000 and Future, along with many anaylsts, expect to win both Sunni seats in Saida. However, Ossama Saad does have significant support in Saida especially among the trade unions and it will be a tightly run contest. Saad is not at all pleased that Fouad Siniora is challenging his seat in this election and has made clear that he will not make it an easy contest. The possibility of violence in this district has been raised by analysts.

Saida in detail

Currently, the candidates running in this district are:

Future Movement (March 14)
Bahia Hariri, the sister of assassinated former PM Rafik Hariri
Fouad Siniora, the current Prime Minister and former confidant of Rafik Hariri

The Popular Nasserite Organisation (PNO) (March 8 affiliated)

Ossama Saad, brother of deceased former MP Mostapha Saad and son of PNO founder Maarouf Saad who was assassinated at the beginning of the civil war.

The voters in Saida are split between the Future Movement, the Popular Nasserite Organization (PNO) and Jamaa Islamiya. Saida was previously part of a larger district but now has its own district with two Sunni seats agreed at Doha. The historical particularities of Saida have meant the political landscape has been divided between the political and family heirs of assassinated former PM Rafik Hariri (Future Movement) and Mostapha Saad (PNO) (both pictured left).

Future have been involved in intense negotiations with Jaama Islamiya, with reports stating that the Prime Ministers office was used for the negotiations that could lead to complaints to the Constitutional Council post-election. The result of these negoitations was a seat in Beirut District IIIwas given to the Jaama Islamiya by Future to ensure that Jaama tell their supporters in Saida to vote for Future. The giving away of one seat in Beirut III by Future Movement to Jaama Islamiya can be seen as the Movement ensuring that those in the Sunni community sympathetic to Hezbollah and March 8 are marginalized, while other opponents are given more room often at the expense of their own supporters. This has also occured in Tripoli and has been quite a painful process for the Future Movement.

Mostapha Saad (pictured on the right) has made clear his anger that Future has decided to field two candidates for this district and not, as has been traditionally done, leave one seat empty. A media storm was whipped up when Siniora announced his candidacy and Ossama Saad has ensured the pressure continues. Saad has warned of a fierce conflict during and after the elections.

While, the risk of violence is present in this district the voters of Saida will for the first time have a chance to express what kind of identity the city will have. Will it be a Future Movement city that would confirm the party as the representatives of the Sunnis in the South and position the city as a March 14 heartland? Or will the voters of Saida maintain the city as neutral with a candidate Saad who is sympathetic to Hezbollah and affiliated with March 8 balanced by Bahia Hariri?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council has arrived! Here is your essential guide from IFES:

The clear and present dangers

Some are still predicting that these elections will be violent because after all, as I have been told, "this is Lebanon."

The clear and present dangers to these elections are currently:

1. The Israeli maneuvers that will take place on 31st May-4th June - Hezbollah in particular are warning that these maneuvers mean "that the Zionist entity [is] getting ready for war."

2. The continued uncovering of Israeli spy networks - The uncovering of these networks is increasing the tension in Lebanon especially because some of the networks have been linked to political parties in Lebanon, such as the spy Ziad Humsi to the Future Movement. So far 30 Israeli spies have been arrested the latest being an army colonel. Lebanon has officially complained to the UN about these spy networks.

3. Political rhetoric - Although there have not been too many fiery speeches, as the election draws closer politicians may try to galvanize support by upping the political rhetoric. Thus, far the only highly controversial speech has been the Nasrallah comment that May 7 "was a glorious day" that created anger and disbelief, even among those that are pro-the resistance.

4. Clan violence/political violence related to the elections - In the Bekka the first 'election related' death has occurred with a clash at a Future Movement office the cause of the clash is not known. It is likely that these kind of clashes are tied up in the local family disputes that is manifested also into political affiliation. However, the risk of family feuds developing into election related ones is a danger.

Will calm reign?

The Der Speigel report - This report illustrated the calm political climate at the moment. This explosive report stated that it had received information that Hezbollah was responsible for assassinating of PM Rafik Hariri . If this story occurred last year would there have been such a calm and calculated reaction by the two coalitions? A match was struck but has been promptly blown out by all sides. Hopefully this is a sign that these elections will pass without too much trouble.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Freedom and Resistance Day

Some pictures I took from Freedom and Resistance day . Here is a Hezbollah view of what the speech was about.

Main point of the speech: Der Speigel report is an Israeli plant and accusation. We are friends with everyone in Lebanon special focus on the Druze and Walid Junblatt. Basically more conciliatory speech than the previous two that Nasrallah has delievered.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hezbollah and the Hariri Tribunal

Just two weeks before the elections Der Spiegel journalist Eric Follath claims to have uncovered - from unnamed sources "close" to the International Tribunal - that Hezbollah are responsible for Hariri's assassination:

"SPIEGEL has learned from sources close to the tribunal and verified by examining internal documents, that the Hariri case is about to take a sensational turn. Intensive investigations in Lebanon are all pointing to a new conclusion: that it was not the Syrians, but instead special forces of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah ("Party of God") that planned and executed the diabolical attack."

This allegation of course has been strongly rejected by Hezbollah that see this article as a smear and nothing more. Those that also see this article as rubbish are coming up with interesting details that have been listed by Syria Comment. One of the most interesting facts is that this article appears to be very similar to a Le Figaro article in 2006, according to Syria Comment.

The Der Spiegel article gives fascinating detail about one particular character that is central to the allegation of Hezbollah's involvement.

A reckless plotter Abd al-Majid Ghamlush in the attack, Follath claims, unraveled the network when he phoned his girlfriend on one of the "hot phones":

"Ghamlush's recklessness led investigators to the man they now suspect was the mastermind of the terrorist attack: Hajj Salim, 45. A southern Lebanese from Nabatiyah, Salim is considered to be the commander of the "military" wing of Hezbollah and lives in South Beirut, a Shiite stronghold."

Leaking Tribunal

What should be most worrying is that this leak has occurred at all.

It is unfathomable as to how at such a sensitive time in Lebanese politics and just after the four generals release that such a prominent leak could occur; especially two weeks before an election Hezbollah are expected to do well in.

If the Tribunal can not keep its own house in order how can it solve one of the most complex murder mysteries of modern times? Further to this, how will it be able to substantiate the claims that Hezbollah was involved with the assassination of Hariri with the claims out in the open?

If of course Follath fabricated this story then of course that is its own story. However, Der Spiegel is not a mickey mouse publication and apply high standards to their journalism. Follath is part of their investigative journalism team so it really is a Der Spiegel report. Some are pointing to Follath's book on Mossad to show his ties to the Israelis but no real allegations show an obvious bias.

Political Ramifications

In terms of the political effect that this news story has had: Israel has already jumped on the chance with Israeli FM Liberman calling for an international arrest warrant to be given to Nasrallah.

Of greater importance for Lebanon's internal stability is the wise choice thus far of the Future movement to not comment on this article. Although some are suggesting that the Future Movement may have planted the story to dent Hezbollah's chance of getting elected. There is no proof of this. Hani Hammoud, a spokesperson for MP Saad Hariri, refused to comment on the Der Speigel report.

“We do not comment on any media or other kind of reports if the source is not the Special Tribunal,” Hammoud said.

This report will turn the heat up on this election in terms of political rhetoric and the possibility of electoral violence. While the international tribunal now has to continue its investigations in an even more politically tense and suspicious environment. Has this leak sent the International Tribunal into oblivion rather than anyone else?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Biden tying aid to votes

Vice-President Biden is in town and among the tabouleh surrounding his visit he has said nothing new. The policy that US will tie aid to votes was reiterated and the standard we support no one expecpt for the people that we support.....

Biden, the highest US ranking official to visit Lebanon in 26 years, stated “We will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the shape of the new government”. Biden then did a lovely rhetorical circle by stating that “I do not come here to back any particular party or any particular person. I come here to back certain principles.”

Thus, the same dance between America and Iran is being played out in Lebanon. However, all we be pleased that the tempo is slower and although there is no love music the death metal has at last been put away.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

EU Media Monitoring

An interview with Mirella Marchese, the head of Media Monitoring as part of the EU Observation Mission.
What is the main objective of international media monitoring?

The main goal of media monitoring within election observation missions is to assess whether parties and candidates gain fair and equitable access to the media, whether political contestants are covered in an unbiased manner, whether the media adhere to regulations on coverage.

Will there be an interim report of media abuses or will reporting only occur after the elections?

In accordance with standard election observation missions’ methodology and in line with the principle of non-interference in the election process, media monitoring findings will be issued at the end of the campaign and will be part of a Preliminary Statement presented immediately after E-day. A more comprehensive analysis will be part of a Final Report normally issued within two months of the completion of the electoral process.

Are the qualitative and quantitative methodology used standardized for all countries or is the methodology tailored to each situation?

A standard media monitoring methodology used by an election observation mission would produce an analysis of the distribution of media time and space given to political contestants. The project aims to provide a clear and reliable observation of the distribution of time and space, based on the measurement of the precise amount of coverage received and its tone. The quantitative analysis of the amount of media coverage and the tone of the coverage constitutes the core of methodology adopted by every mission. However, same variables in the research design can vary according to the different contests. The media analyst will need to refine the monitoring methodology according to the media and political landscape, to the different kinds of elections and to the legal framework in a given country. The methodology usually includes a qualitative analysis, too. The qualitative analysis can focus on a range of different aspects including: instances of hate speech and inflammatory language, media coverage of voter education, the formats used to cover election issues.

What is the size of the media monitoring team?

A media unit of an election observation mission is usually composed of a media analyst and a number of national media assistants. The number of media monitors depends on the size of the sample selected for the analysis. The European Election Observation Mission to Lebanon is currently working with a media monitoring team of 14 media monitors. Our monitored sample includes 8 Lebanese TV stations and 4 newspapers.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"May 7 was a glorious day"

A lot of discussion has occurred regarding the two speeches that Hassan Nasrallah has given: the first on Friday where Nasrallah made the curious decision to focus his speech on the May events of last year and the second on Tuesday where he focused on the more expected subject of the upcoming Israeli maneuvers.

While the Tuesday speech mentioned nothing of real note in what was said Nasrallah was fiery in his delivery. It almost seems Hezbollah are bored with the current calm that is prevailing over Lebanese politics.

The Friday speech was particularly strange. Nasrallah decided to focus much of the speech on the events of May, which seems curious given that March 14 where having such a difficult time in galvanizing their supporters on the memory of last May. Nasrallah caused particular consternation by stating:

"I say that May 7 was a glorious day for the resistance in Lebanon. Consequently, May 7 has put Lebanon on the right track towards solution and pulled it out of the stalemate that was imposed on it. "

These comments also put Michel Aoun and the FPM in a very difficult position with its own position and Aoun stated that he "understood" why Nasrallah would make such a statement.

Many seasoned analysts, such as
Qifa Nabki and the Angry Arab, are at a complete loss to understand what on earth Nasrallah was trying to do in this speech. Angry Arab goes as far to say that this speech is giving weight to the argument that Hezbollah want to lose this election.

Oriente Lux believes that Nasrallah just wanted to make clear that Hezbollah was in the right during the May events. Explaing that Nasrallah wanted to make clear that May 7th (when Hezbollah undertook the military take over) should not be the focus by May 5th (when the cabinet decisions against Hezbollah's telecommunication network) was made.

Personally I think it was a case of over confidence and a political miscalculation, which to Nasrallah's credit are not frequent occurances. The result of his speech could be that he gets bums off seats and into voting booths for March 14. Those people that are not for the March 14 coalition but cannot tolerate Nasrallah stating that the ""May 7 was a glorious day" will now be more likely to put their vote in that booth or take the money being offered.

Two General Michels One President

Aoun after the 2005 election gained 70% of the Christian vote and subsequently feels that he has the right to be President. However, the President is not elected by the popular vote the Parliament elects the President. Or in the case of President Sleiman the big men of Lebanon are flown off to Doha and finally agree, after nearly going to war, that the head of the army General Michel Sleiman will be the next President. In the Doha agreement Sleiman was given a security portfolio and was given three ministers: the Defense Minister (Elias Murr), Interior Ministry (Ziad Baroud) and a Minister without portfolio (Yousef Taqla). After these elections Sleiman is likely to increase the number of direct supporters in the parliament as the number of 'independents' are most likely going to increase thus give Sleiman more power. It is likely then after these elections that Sleiman will gain more ministerial apponinments, maybe as many as seven, after these elections and will see Sleiman in a more political role rather than a security role.

This of course does not please Aoun and what has irked Aoun especially is that many of the 'indpendent' candidates are in what he sees as 'his' districts. Talking to an FPM supporter he posed the question 'why is it that in Jbeil, Metn and Kesrouan there are all these 'independents'? Why are there no independents running in Bcharre for instance?'

Aoun himself in a recent speech made clear how he felt about the issue of 'independents':

"The purpose behind this action is to dismantle the majority through efforts to infiltrate the lists of the Change and Reform bloc with a deputy in Jbeil called Nazem al-Khoury, a deputy in Kesrouan called Mansour al-Bon, a deputy in Metn called Michel al-Murr, a deputy in Baabda called Edmond Gharios and a deputy in Beirut called Nayla Tueni....I had hoped to see these five deputies joining us on the path for change and reform and not supporting a political group opposing us, for this group’s history is known just like everyone knows where it worked in politics, to whom it succumbed and where it got its support and money to buy new positions."

This intensified and more direct battle between President Sleiman and General Aoun is a good insight into how the post-election field might look like (ignoring Nayla Tueni who is a March 14 "independent" as opposed to a Sleiman "indepednet").While, al-Khoury is a former advisor to the President and formed his Jbeil Independent Decision list. March 14 are very much part of these independents, especially in the Metn, Baabda and Kesrouan. Thus, Aoun referring to the groups history. However, this is complicated by the uncomfortable relationship March 14 have with Sleiman, due to what March 14 perceive to be a lack of protection in last years May 7 th events and most importantly Sleiman being seen as a Syrian appointee. However, with Sleiman gaining his own political backing and March 14 are grudgingly wanting to put the best possible opposition to what looks like a electorally strong March 8, March 14 are accomodating Sleiman's indpendents.

Aoun is not so comfortable with Sleiman taking any of his support. Therefore, the electoral battle that is shaping up between Aoun and Sleiman is going to add yet another interesting dynamic to this election and the post-election landscape of Lebanon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zahle and the Politics of Tradition

Zahle a small but central town in the Bekka is becoming a center piece in the battle between March 14 and March 8 . The district of Zahle holds seven seats (two Greek Catholic, one Sunni, one Shia, one Greek Othordox, one Armenian Orthodox and a Maronite seat). The Greek Catholic dominate Zahle and what is making Zahle so interesting is that some of the population are finding it difficult to reconcile politics with tradition.

For some of the population of Zahle, especially the Catholic, that support March 14 they find it a difficult decision to vote against the traditional leader of the Catholics in Zahle Elias Skaff (who has aligned with the March 8 coalition). As one Zahlenian told me "my heart is with Skaff but my politics is with March 14." The numbers of such voters and how this sort of voter acts on election day will prove decisive in who wins the vital seats in the district. What is clear is that Zahle is going to have one of the most intense electoral competions in Lebanon. But March 8 are dominate in the area and in 2005 won all but one of the seats however, Araji who won the Sunni seat in 05 has moved over to the March 14 list from March 8.

The head of March 14 in Zahle Nicholas Fattoush recently released the March 14 list for Zahle Nicolas Fattouch and Antoine Abu Khater (Catholic seats), Elie Marouni (Maronite seat), Joseph Maalouf (Orthodox seat), Assem Araji (Sunni seat), Okab Sakr (Shia seat) and Chant Jinjinian (Armenian Orthodox seat). Of this list the Sunni candidate Araji and Catholic member Fattouch are the only incumbents. Elias Skaff, the head of the March 8 in Zahle, is still yet to release his list for the district but is expected to do so soon.

Skaff himself is completely confident of his victory in his families traditional heartland. Skaff stated that the relationship between his family and the Zahle community goes back a 100 years and would not be broken now. There is concern about violence in Zahle after an incident between two men that shot at Kataeb supporters that led to two being killed. Skaff strongly denies that these men had anything to do with him despite Kataeb allegations that they were his bodyguards. "These murderers had nothing to do with me but these people came up with their conclusions and continue to mislead people," Skaff said. As to the prospect of violence in the upcoming election Skaff stated that he did not think there would be any problems and was fully confident of complete victory.

In such a tight electoral race that Zahle will no doubt have bodies such as the Constitutional Council will of course be vital. Skaff stated that he thinks that if no agreement can be reached then the President should impose the decision. "You cannot have the elections without the Constitutional Council," Skaff stated.

Zahle also has a female candidate running for the Catholic seat. Magda Baradi is running as an independent in the Zahle seat but has many prominent billboards all around Zahle and outside. It will be interesting if Baradi can break through in this traditional political town.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A comprehensive guide to media in Lebanon

The risk of violence

The risk of violence in Lebanon is an ever present threat and with the prospect of a tightly contested election many are scared of the prospect that the electoral competition could become violent. Recently there have been a few minor secutiry incidents but it has not gripped Lebanon as some media reports have suggested. The main incidents have been shots fired while prominent candidates were delivering speeches and the break in at Ibrhaim Kanaan's parents house (Kanaan has posted pictures of the damage).

There have been several incidents of billboards being vandalized either by being ripped down (as with the FPM candidate pictured) or being burnt (as with the Future poster). However, as long as the frustrations are meted out on billboards not too many people will mind.

Human Rights

Human Rights Watch has released a report focusing on the areas of concern in Lebanon with regard to Human Rights and demanded that candidates for the elections make human rights part of their platform.

"Lebanese politicians need to move beyond their slogans of promoting ‘justice, reform and equality' and start explaining exactly how they plan to achieve these objectives," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "At a minimum, they should promise to put an end to torture and amend laws that discriminate against women and Palestinian refugees."

The report highlights five areas of human rights abuse that it perceives should be addressed by candidates and gives guidelines on how the candidates should act on these measures. The five areas are (in the order in the report):

1. Torture
2. The Disappeared
3. Women's rights
4. Migrant Workers
5. Palestinian Refugee's

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The saga continues

The cabinet failed yesterday to elect the minimum five members needed for the Constitutional Council as talks collapsed over the appointment of the governors of Beirut and Mount Lebanon and the general director of political affairs in the interior ministry. Sleiman, according to Now Lebanon, stated that the completion of the Constitutional Council “will be discussed by the Council of Ministers in ten days’ time in an extraordinary meeting, if need be.”

Interestingly showing how international observers presence can have an affect on the local political process Defense Minister Elias al-Murr stressed the importance of appointing the governors of Beirut and Mount Lebanon “because the international monitors [for the elections] consider the vacancy of these positions to be a major problem for the organization of the elections,” according to As-Safir.

More worrying though is that while the political deadlock continues over ensuring the elections are run correctly reports of violence are occurring. The FPM claim, "an armed gang stormed an office of the Free Patriotic Movement in Mazboud," and reports that "two Future Movement banners were set on fire in Beirut using Molotov bombs early" this morning.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Constitutional Council - The end of the saga?

The Constitutional Council (picture of the council before it disbanded in 05), or the lack of it, is Lebanon's biggest issue regarding the upcoming election. It is the only body that is able to decide on electoral disputes and ensures the constitutionality and legality of the electoral law. The problem is that since the Constitutional Council was disbanded in 2005 after the last elections the minimum of five judges needed for the council to function have yet to be appointed. However, there are glimmers of hope that there may be agreement on who will make up the council as the Council of Ministers discuss the issue today. It has been reported that Sleiman has stated that if the Council of Ministers cannot decide by consensus then the appoinments will be put to a vote.

As to who the members could be As-Safir reported that the opposition has decided on two of five members yet to be elected former minister Assaad Diab, a Shiite, and Greek Orthodox judge Salah Mukhaiber. Sleiman recommended Raymond Eid, a Maronite, while Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt was likely to name Druze candidate Suheil Abdel Samad. Siniora will decide the Sunni member.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Al Akhbar Predictions

Al-Akhbar has put together the predictions of the four top pollsters in Lebanon Jawad Adra, Abdo Saad, Rabih al-Hibr, and Kamal Feghali. Qifa Nabki has provided a excellent translation of the article.

The predictions:

March 14
Best Result = 71 seats
Worst Result = 48 seats

March 8
Best Result = 80 seats
Worst Result = 57 seats

The districts that the pollsters could not agree on were Saida, Batroun, Koura, Metn, Beirut 1, West Bekka and Zahle.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Electoral List

In every district the candidates of March 8 and March 14 are listed in an electoral list, that are often give exuberant names such as the Tripoli Solidarity List or The Will of Zgharta-Zawyi List. Once the list is finalised the names are put on a pre-printed ballot paper (as pictured above) and distributed to voters. This list can be a torturing process for the two coalitions where negotiations as to who is placed on the list can lead to painful internal disputes. This has already happened most prominently with March 14 and the withdrawl of Nassib Lahoud from the Metn, the reason Lahoud stated was that he would not be on an electoral list that he did not have a part in creating. While a lack of agreement between Nabih Berri and Michel Aoun over the list in the district of Jezzine is setting up an interesting political battle.

The various electoral lists have been dripping through and the hotly contested district of Metn announced, while in Beirut 1 March 8 have announced their list but March 14 are still waiting to announce their Armenian candidates. One of the most important districts in this election, in terms of competitiveness, is Zahle and neither March 8/14 are yet to announce their candidate.

In almost all the lists there is a dominate party, from either the March 8 or March 14 coalition, heading it but on the list there are usually many 'independent' candidates. Take for example the Change and Reform list in Jbeil headed by Aoun's FPM party. The list contains two FPM party members Simon Ramia and Walid al-Khoury who are both running for the two Maronite seats but for the Shia seat a non-FPM member Abbas Hashem has been placed on the Change and Reform List. Thus, Hashem is known as a Change and Reform MP and not an FPM MP.

Interestingly in Jbeil there is one of the few non-March 14 or March 8 electoral lists headed by a former adviser to the President Nazem Khoury called the Jbeil Independent Decision List.Other lists that are headed by 'independent' candidates are in Metn and Tripoli. In the Metn the 'March 14' list is headed by Michel Murr who is viewed as an 'independent' and the Tripoli Solidarity List headed by Mohammad Mikati also seen as 'independent' (both are major political/business figures in their respective districts). Independent at the moment is translating as aligned with the President.

Important Electoral Lists - Some lists are self evident as to whether it is a March 8 or March 14 list with the name of the party i.e. Future list. Some like those below differ:

Change and Reform List (March 8) - This is the electoral list headed by Michel Aoun's FPM (The Free Patriotic Movement).

The Will of Zgharta-Zawyi List (March 8) - Headed by Sleiman Frangieh head of the Marada movement.

Tripoli Solidarity List (March 14) - Headed by Mohammad Najib Mikati who is an 'independent' and while many on this list are also 'independent' this list is viewed as March 14 list as it has three March 14 candidates on it.

The Metn Salvation List (March 14)- Headed by 'independent' Michel Murr that includes 2 Kataeb candidates (M14), 1 Lebanese Forces (M14) and 4 'Independent' candidates.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Interior Ministry Announces 293 violations

The Commission for Monitoring the Elections issued its first report saying that 293 electoral violations were committed between April 14 and 28. "Violations include libel and slander (52 percent), accusations of treason (18 percent), intimidation (10 percent), provocation (5 percent), stirring sectarian feelings (5 percent) and other violations (10 percent)," the report said. Those media outlets committing the violations were not named but Minister Baroud warned that in second report this would change and the media outlets names would be submitted to the Constitutional Council. With the Constitutional Council still not up and running the ability to stop these violations remains institutionally weak.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Different Observor Same .....

The National Democratic Institute held a press conference to launch their observer mission with a pre-election assessment delegation. At the head of this delegation was Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State, who was accompanied by Joseph Clark, former PM of Candida and Kenneth Wollack, President of the NDI.

Not surprisingly this press conference was much the same as the EU observers press conference in the conclusions that the pre-election assessment drew. However, they did criticise the districts stating that the large discrepancies in registered voters meaning that the 'weight' of the vote differed from district to district. The delegation also stressed that although there was significant loop holes in the regulation of campaign finance the insertion for the first time into the election law set a significant precedent.

There was of course a little extra stress on Hezbollahs (and other groups) weapons stating that they "threaten security". As the NDI observer mission is funded by USAID they are not allowed to talk to Hezbollah making it tricky to be an election observer. However, Albright stated that although they did not meet with Hezbollah they met with their allies (Albright met with Speaker Berri today) the Observers would meet with all those engaged with the electoral process.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Election spending

A lot has been made of the fact that huge amounts of money are to pour into Lebanon during the election period. The Election law has for the first time introduced campaign spending regulations.

There is a fixed ceiling at $100,000 for every district. Then there is a flexible ceiling that varies in each district that works on the basis of 4,000 Lebanese Lira ($3) for every registered voter in the district. The information for the spending can be found at the ministry website.

The elections on YouTube

While the traditional media is being monitored for the first time in this election. In the new media and in particular You Tube full scale slander on both sides is in full swing. I will leave you to search on YouTube the many videos made by supporters of March 8 and March 14 making fun out of each other. It is a testament to the freedom of media here that YouTube is still available!

YouTube - FPM advert

YouTube - Lebanese Forces Official advert

YouTube - Kataeb Official advert

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Quota for Women?

In 1953, Emily Ibrahim was the first Lebanese woman to present her candidacy for the parliamentary elections in Zahle. Ibrahim however was to withdraw her candidacy from the race of 1953 in what is a fitting illustration for women in Lebanese politics. Lebanon is 123rd out of 136 in terms of its international ranking of female representation in parliament. Women have gained the right to vote and be elected but have yet to gain the conditions needed to make female representation in parliament a reality.

Chantal Sarkis, The International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) Program Manager, articulated the dire situation of women in Lebanon’s parliamentary system, “Lebanese women parliamentarians have been branded as the women “dressed in black”. Historically, the most likely way for a woman to enter the political scene in Lebanon was to fill a post made absent by a male heir.” Sarkis went on to explain that, “in fact, since 1963, most of the women, with the exception of current MP Ghinwa Jalloul, entered into the Lebanese parliament because of their traditional and familial ties not because of their political or social affiliations.”

The first women minister was not until 2004. “When the government of Prime Minister Omar Karami was formed in November 2004, Lebanon Leila Solh, daughter of former Prime Minister Riad Solh and Wafaa Hamza, close to Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri were appointed ministers,” said Sarkis.

Chart of Female Candidates to the Parliament from 1953 to 2005

Nb. Of Female


Nb. Of Female











1963 (by election)






1965 (by election)











1 (appointment)













Source Lebanese Parliament

There has been a debate about introducing a quota system and most formally a quota was included in the Boutros Commission proposal for a new electoral law, this proposal was rejected. However, Sarkis explained that, “during the parliamentary sessions of September 2008 to vote on a new electoral law no concrete system was proposed and the reserved seat system was intentionally neglected due to the fear of adding another quota to the existing confessional and geographical quota.”

Sarkis argues that although the quota system was rejected the push for higher representation of women in parliament should not stop. “There are three different ways in which this battle can be fought: Reserved seats, Statutory gender quotas or Voluntary gender quotas.” The advantage of the voluntary gender quota does not require a law or regulation and relies on the will of the political parties. The best system Sarkis argues for Lebanon is the adoption of the proportional representation system or a mixed system combined with some positive actions policies. “Those policies could be statutory quotas controlling the gender balance of candidates’ lists for all parties and a rank-ordering system of the candidates. The statutory quotas would control the composition of candidates’ lists established by law or constitution. All parties’ lists running under the PR system would be required that women must constitute a minimal proportion of parliamentary candidates within each party,” Sarkis stated.

While the chance to implement such a strategy for the upcoming election has long since gone Sarkis is focusing on the 2010 municipality elections. “This should be the right time and place to implement a number of reformist steps starting with the women quota and ending with a radical change of the electoral system.”

EU Observation Mission

The EU officially launched their observation mission with a press conference and announcing that the 30 long term observers have been deployed around the country in two teams. A further 50 short term observers will be deployed closer to the election day. The EU mission has also launched a website with information on the mission. The final report of the mission will be published "shortly" after election day and posted on the website, the observation team will leave on the 21st June.

The Chief Observer is a Spanish Member of the European Parliament Jose Ignacio Salafranca Sanchez-Neyra who also led the mission in 2005. The Chief Observer called for need for the Constitutional Council to be established and deplored the fact that a universalized pre-printed ballot had not been introduced.

The main objectives of the mission are to:

Enhance public confidence in the electoral process
Deter fraud
Strengthen respect for human rights
Contribute to resolution of conflict