The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Transparency group calls for electoral reforms
BEIRUT: In the wake of Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections in nine years, a transparency group is calling for reforms to campaign finance rules, public access to information, election oversight and the favors that political campaigns can extend to potential voters.
The Lebanese Transparency Association, the national chapter of Transparency International, monitored campaign activities in the runup to May’s elections, as well as the administration of the election itself.
In a report released Monday, the group called for sweeping changes to ensure transparency and fairness in the electoral process.
In the first place, the group argued that the ceiling for campaign expenditures needs to be lowered dramatically, saying that the current spending limits are “in major breach of the principle of equal opportunity” between candidates. It also criticized the lack of public information about the candidates’ spending and other campaign finance data.
Current election law ties the spending limit for candidates to the number of registered voters in the candidate’s district and the ceiling for lists is tied to the number of candidates. Although the actual amount that each candidate and list spent has not been made public, LTA Executive Director Dany Haddad told The Daily Star that each candidate spent an average of $1 million over the course of the campaign. In total, he said all the candidates and lists may have spent as much as $700 million in the recent elections.
Haddad said an amount of $300,000 or $400,000 per candidate would likely be more reasonable, although he added that without reliable data on the actual spending, it is difficult to say what the limits should be.
The association’s report also argued that information about campaign spending should not be limited to the Electoral Supervisory Commission but should be open to the public. The group called for all campaign finance data to be published in an official newspaper and online within a month after the election.
Haddad noted that although current law does not specify that campaign finance information should be accessible only to the supervisory commission, that was the practice in May’s election. He said the group was unable to get information either from the commission or from the candidates themselves about the monthly reports the campaigns were required to file – including whether which ones were and were not filing them.
“As people monitoring the elections, we should know and have access to those accounts,” he said. “It’s important, it’s not published, and we didn’t have access to it.”
LTA says the ceiling for campaign expenditures needs to be lowered
And from a voter’s perspective, he said: “When people really know how much the candidates are spending, how they are spending their money, they can know who to vote for, why to vote for this person. When you know that someone is respecting the law and is transparent and willing to abide by the law, he could be a good candidate to vote for. Otherwise it’s not transparent and you really don’t know who you’re voting for.”
The group called for an amendment Monday to a section of the current election law that lists transporting voters from outside the country as an allowable campaign expense.
Given that expatriates are now able to vote from abroad, the group argued that political parties paying for plane tickets for Lebanese living outside the country to come to vote “constitutes a means of direct pressure on the voter and is unnecessary.”
Haddad told The Daily Star that bringing voters from outside the country “made a huge disadvantage between candidates,” as not all are able to afford such measures.
The LTA has criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission as lacking in resources and real independence: Monday’s report called also for establishment of a“permanent and independent elections administration body” with far reaching authority to monitor all aspects of elections and campaigns.