Lebanese voters see the crippling economic crisis that has afflicted the country as a reason to hold officials accountable in the upcoming elections. They hope for change, but reality suggests that there won’t be any forthcoming, writes our correspondent in Beirut.
“Electoral bribery is not new in Lebanon, and with the declining value of the currency and the deepening economic crisis, bribery will again be the basis in the upcoming elections and play a major role in buying consciences. This is well known in the country.” The head of the Lebanese Election Supervision Commission, Judge Nadim Abdel-Malik, says that his commission will not be able to combat the reality of bribery even though there is no lack of will and determination.
It is a case of historical fact that besets Lebanese society, and it is difficult to control, pursue, or end this practice. The elections are the first to take place after the popular uprising in 2019-2020. The citizens protested in favor of fundamental reforms to the political system. And yet, despite the dramatic collapse of the country’s institutions, electoral bribery remains a hinder to equal opportunities, fair results and a parliament reflecting the will of the people.
In fact, it looks as if the deteriorating living conditions have led to an increase in electoral bribery and its effect on influencing the behavior of Lebanese voter, according to election observers. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) has seen an increase in the frequency of electoral submissions and bribery compared with previous electoral cycles, according to its CEO, Ali Selim.
Bribes in Times of Crisis
Bribes and promises of benefits for voters occur in greater frequency now that Lebanon is facing a huge economic crisis. Four out of five citizens have been reduced to live in poverty, according to United Nations reports, while the unemployment rate has risen to above 40 percent. The Lebanese pound has plunged against major trading currencies – for instance from a previous 1’500 pounds per dollar to 27’000 pounds per dollar, according to the latest exchange rate.
LADE has noted significant offers for sanitary products such as napkins for women in the Bekaa valley, and the distribution of baby milk in the north of the country. Other candidates have donated money to get roads opened after snow storms, paid for the distribution of food rations, established lunch and dinner banquets, while others paid for the removal of garbage.
The Electoral Law Is the Root Problem
Even though it is well established that electoral bribery negatively impacts the integrity and transparency of the electoral process, affecting the will of the voters, while detracting from the principle of freedom of voting, the Lebanese electoral law includes a circumvention of the prohibition of electoral bribery.
Article 62 of the electoral law, which relates to electoral bribery, is divided into two paragraphs. The first states: “Prohibition of obligations and expenses that include providing services or paying amounts to voters, during the electoral campaign period, including, but not limited to, presentations and in-kind and cash assistance to individuals. charitable, social, cultural, family, religious, sports clubs and all official institutions.”
The second paragraph of the article however lifts the ban on the above-mentioned submissions and aid, “if they are submitted by candidates or institutions owned or managed by candidates or parties who have been presenting them in the same size and quantity on a regular basis, for at least three years before the start of the electoral campaign period, in this case, the payments and aid provided during the electoral campaign are not considered subject to the electoral ceiling.”
The head of the Lebanese Election Supervision Commission describes the second paragraph as a bribery legislation in disguise and stressed that the commission had repeatedly demanded the abolition of this paragraph. Abdul-Malik added that “for our part, we rely on the first part of the law to perform our oversight role on the basis of it, but on the other hand, we have not yet received any complaint in this regard, although we see the activities of all candidates, parties and associations, we see in-kind aid and hear about financial amounts and contributions, vouchers, services, and more.”
A Lot of Pessimism, and a Ray of Hope
The supervisory board has issued a clarification of the content of article 62, in which it considered that such submissions listed must be characterized by continuity and maintain a similar level in terms of quantities, quality and the resulting expenditures. The supervisory board is supposed to be the one that monitors such matters, said Salim, but after the recent amendments to the law, he sees that the committee now requires at least one year of work for the implementation.
The commission is formed six months before the day of the elections and its tasks end six months after the elections. “And between the two dates, years pass in which no one monitors aid and donations, and therefore no one who monitors. How do they ensure the quality of the submissions? And who confirms its continuity, according to what the law stipulates?” Salim asks.
The spectrum of the parliamentary elections is clouding the Lebanese atmosphere, politically, socially and economically. In countries where sectarian divisions are fierce, and their system based on the principles of consensus, balance and quotas for the various groups, the outcome of elections are heavily biased by the distribution of religious and ethnic adhesion. Activist Rana Al-Hayek believes that “the upcoming elections will not change anything, but will return the same class to power, and therefore it is null and void.” Her pessimistic outlook may be a reflection of how difficult the situation has become in Lebanon and doesn’t bode well for the future of its body politic.
In a quick tour of the Lebanese street, a large number of citizens indicated that their difficult conditions necessitated them to elect someone who would provide them with financial and personal services that would help them face the hardship. They were ready to re-elect the same class of politicians.
Not all have given up hope though. Akram Zaarour, a journalist in Beirut, asserts that “the upcoming election will witness an unprecedented popular momentum because the people will no longer be deceived by lies and bribes, and the difficulties they face have taught them a lot.”