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MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
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New poll body short on time to prepare for June 16 elections
From left, Minister Mohammad Safadi, Cabinet Secretary-General Suheil Baugi and Minister Marwan Charbel arrive to attend the Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Monday, May 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
From left, Minister Mohammad Safadi, Cabinet Secretary-General Suheil Baugi and Minister Marwan Charbel arrive to attend the Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, Monday, May 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: The Cabinet’s endorsement Monday of an electoral supervisory committee to oversee parliamentary polls next month comes too late for the body to effectively prepare for polls, elections experts said.

Lebanon’s caretaker Cabinet gave a green light for the formation of the Supervisory Committee for Electoral Campaigns – even as Parliament continued mulling an extension of its mandate for at least a year.

Monday’s approval of a new committee and the transfer of $14.6 million to the Interior Ministry to prepare for elections effectively removed the legal barriers that were preventing next month’s elections.

But Khalil Gebara, an election expert and a member of the 2009 supervisory committee, said he doubted the newly appointed committee could be functional in just two weeks time.

“I really doubt that in two weeks the [supervisory committee] will be able to deliver its duties,” Gebara told The Daily Star.

For one thing, the committee’s key tasks would be difficult to implement, Gebara argued.

“Two weeks before elections is a short time for the [supervisory committee] to be functional and be able to monitor the media and campaign finance,” added Gebara, who is also a lecturer at the American University of Beirut.

Another elections expert who asked to remain anonymous agreed that the period of time was likely too short for polls to be organized.

But the expert said the government’s approval of the committee was affirmation that the elections could go ahead under the 1960 law, even if they are postponed.

The first such committee was created in Doha in 2008 after rival political parties reached a compromise over an electoral legislation by altering the 1960 law. Several months afterward, the government established a nine-member electoral supervisory committee to oversee parliamentary polls in 2009.

The committee, a key part of Law 25 of 2008, is comprised of a group of former senior judges, lawyers and election experts. The group, along with the Interior Ministry, is tasked with monitoring campaign finance, media advertising and making sure that polls are held on a single day across the country.

According to its formation rules, the head of the committee should be a retired judge and a former member of the Higher Judicial Council, the deputy head should also be a retired judge and a member of the Shura Council.

Two committee members should be lawyers and former members of the Beirut Bar Association and the Tripoli Bar Association, while two others should be members of the National Audiovisual Council.

The committee should also be comprised of three election experts.

In 2008, former member of the Higher Judicial Council, Judge Ghassan Abu Alwan, was appointed to chair the committee that supervised the 2009 polls.

When contacted by The Daily Star about the committee’s role and effectiveness in monitoring elections, Alwan refused to comment.

On Monday, the Cabinet appointed Nadim Abdel-Malek as the head of the new supervisory committee and Andre Sader as deputy head.

The Cabinet also appointed Salim Qusta, Khaldoun Naja, Ghada Hallawi, Othman Majzoub, Khalil Hindi, Atallah Ghasham and Simon Haddad as members of the committee.

Similar to 2009, a fixed campaign budget ceiling per candidate was set at LL150,000,000.

However, the Cabinet raised the ceiling of candidate-per-voter spending from LL4,000 to LL6,000, a decision that drew criticism from experts.

“The campaign ceiling in 2009 was considered to be high when there was two months for elections. Today, the ceiling is much higher for a period of two weeks time,” said Gebara.

“In 2009, the [supervisory committee] had more than six months to prepare for its operations and it received a lot to criticism, I wonder what a committee that has two weeks time to prepare for polls can do,” he added.

Because a portion of the $14.6 million allocated to the Interior Ministry would go to the Supervisory Committee on Electoral Campaigns, the Cabinet approved a ministerial request to rent a building near the Interior Ministry from which the committee would run its operations.

The mandate of the supervisory committee lasts one year, in the span of which its members get full salary benefits in the first nine months and half their salary in the remaining three months.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 28, 2013, on page 3.
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