Trans­parency group calls for elec­toral re­forms

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Abby Sewell

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.

The Lebanese Trans­parency As­so­ci­a­tion called for sweep­ing changes to en­sure trans­parency and fair­ness in the elec­toral process.

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