Lebanon News

Poll registration at ministry ‘a mess’

Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, submits a request to run for elections at the Interior Ministry in Beirut, Friday, May 24, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: When the commuters stuck in their vehicles on an unusually congested Sanayeh Street asked the police in front of the Interior Ministry Friday why there was traffic in the area, they received an unexpected answer.

“People who want to run for next month’s parliamentary elections are submitting their files,” replied one police officer.

But the officer also got an unexpected response, as one commuter began to laugh.

“Why? Are there elections next month?” the middle-aged man asked the police from inside his vehicle.

This echoed the reaction of most who Friday passed by Sanayeh Street, – a five minute walk from Hamra – where dozens of reporters, lawyers and candidates could be seen entering and leaving the Interior Ministry.

Their confusion was justified given that most politicians were previously against holding parliamentary elections under the 1960 Law, the legislation under which an election would currently have to be held in lieu of any consensus over another system.

Despite the widespread criticism of the decades-old law and recent talks of extending the Parliament’s term for another two years, most incumbents in the Parliament filed their candidacies for the scheduled June 16 polls anyway.

Behind the Ottoman-era gates of the Interior Ministry, officials struggled to cope with the numbers of candidates pouring into the building from 8 a.m. onward. Many first-time applicants had questions and documents missing, but there were few officials available to give them answers or help them complete their applications.

A senior official at the ministry told The Daily Star that the last two days before the candidacy submission deadline are usually busy, but “nothing like this, this is a mess.”

“[In the past] we had people coming in the last minute to apply and we had a larger number of candidates show up ... but this is completely different, many of us are overwhelmed here,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Sixty percent of the candidates who have so far submitted their applications did so Friday, while the remaining filed theirs during a two-week period in April when the ministry briefly began accepting candidates.

Some 241 people applied to run for a parliamentary seat Friday, and according to officials who processed the applications, there is now more than one candidate running for every seat in Parliament.

Although most independent candidates submitted their files in person, the majority of those running on behalf of political parties did not show up at the ministry, choosing instead to send an official delegation to do it for them.

However, as delegation members and lawyers said, a last-minute decision by their political parties to go ahead with submitting their candidacies caused much confusion.

Eighteen Free Patriotic Movement members submitted their applications in at least two rounds. Some of these were left out in the morning due to a delay in processing documents necessary for a complete application, a delegation member said.

On the second floor of the ministry building, many candidates and delegations were waiting to hear their names read out loud so they could submit all their documents to an official in a designated room.

“I’ve been here since 8:30 a.m. and now its almost 12 p.m.,” said Tarek Jaber who came to submit the candidacy of Nabatieh MP Yassin Jaber.

“I had to go to the Finance Ministry to pay the application fee and come back and hand in the documents. ... This is truly a hectic experience, there are at least 150 people here waiting to go into that room,” Jaber said.

All candidates have to pay the application fee of LL 8 million before submitting their application to the Interior Ministry.

As in every election round, a huge number of independents also applied.

One of these, Maya Terro, spent four hours at the ministry. “I stayed there from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., [and] didn’t know why it was taking this long. It was like ‘Waiting for Godot,’” said Terro, referring to a play by British playwright Samuel Beckett famous for its long silences.

Terro was the winner of a two-monthlong reality show, Al-Zaim, that gathered 17 young Lebanese and forced them to face a series of politically themed challenges and prove their leadership skills live on television. The prize was the chance to compete in the elections as an independent candidate.

“Of course candidates will have to wait in long lines if you have people coming from around the country to submit their papers,” she added.

Nehme Mahfoud, the Private Schools Teachers Union head who led a weekslong strike against the government to approve a salary scale increase for teachers in the country, also submitted his candidacy Friday morning.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 25, 2013, on page 3.

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