BEIRUT: Gyorgy Holvenyi, the head of the EU’s Electoral Observation Mission, said on Thursday that about 200 observers will monitor the Lebanese parliamentary elections on May 15 and will do so with “all transparency and impartiality.”
Part of the team arrived in Lebanon on March 27 and will remain there until June 6, he told Lebanese President Michel Aoun.
Holvenyi said the observers will produce a detailed assessment of the election process, as was done during the previous electoral cycle. They will also monitor the voting process for expatriates in several European countries in accordance with the same standards and rules applied in Lebanon, he added.
Aoun said that “work is underway to overcome obstacles to holding the elections despite the difficult economic and financial conditions that Lebanon is going through, which could have been mitigated for voters if mega centers had been adopted.”
He blamed the legislative authority for this. The aim of the mega centers Aoun favors is to allow voters to cast their ballots outside the areas in which they are registered, meaning they would not have to return to their hometowns to vote. There were concerns among some, however, that if the creation of such centers was approved for the current election cycle it could lead to delays or postponement.
Aoun expressed concern that the rejection of the mega centers will result in low voter turnout because rising fuel prices as a result of the financial crisis in the country will mean additional expense for voters who have to travel further to vote.
A judicial source told Arab News that 45 judges in Lebanon have so far rejected the possibility that they will oversee the vote-counting process. Public Prosecutor Judge Ghassan Oweidat previously submitted a letter about this to the Ministry of Justice and urged the appointment of alternatives.
The source said: “The judges will refrain from participating given the economic conditions and the low wages they would receive for more than 24 hours of work.”
The source also expressed concern that “staff in public institutions could refrain from supervising the electoral process amid the low wages and long working hours.”
On Thursday, Aoun signed a law, approved by parliament, authorizing an extraordinary allocation in the 2022 general budget for the General Directorate of Political Affairs of the Ministry of Interior, the General Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to cover the costs of the elections at home and abroad.
The total amount is 620 billion Lebanese pounds ($31 million, based on the Central Bank’s Sayrafa exchange rate of 20,000 pounds to the dollar). It will be distributed as follows: 260 billion pounds for the Ministry of Interior, 300 billion pounds to cover the costs of issuing 1 million Lebanese passports, and 60 billion pounds to cover the expense of organizing polling in other countries for expatriates.
Political parties have been organizing special events in an effort to encourage hesitant or reluctant voters since the official electoral lists were announced. Despite this there is still widespread skepticism that the elections will take place next month as scheduled.
However, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Thursday: “Ever since the government was formed, we keep hearing people deliberately doubting everything we do in this country — as if they want to prevent Lebanon from rising once again and achieving financial, economic and social recovery.
“I call on all people to find common ground and steer clear of tensions.”
He added that that there is great hope attached to the elections, especially among the younger generation.
Political analysts believe that many people are questioning the realistic chances of the elections going ahead because of the prevailing poor living conditions in the country as a result of the financial crisis, and public resentment of a political elite that is once again standing for election under unconvincing slogans.
The financial situation has also created power supply problems across the country, which could disrupt the provision of electricity to polling stations and vote counting centers in all regions.
Mikati confirmed during a cabinet session on Wednesday that his government will not surrender “in the face of the difficult social and economic situation.” He stressed the need to invite all sections of society to cooperate to overcome the “difficult situation we are experiencing, and not spread panic and despair among the Lebanese.”
On Thursday, Medecins Sans Frontieres, also known as Doctors Without Borders, warned that financial pressures are forcing people to prioritize the purchase of food over healthcare in a country where privatization of medical services is rampant.
The organization, which has organized health projects in Wadi Khaled in northern Lebanon, one of the poorest parts of the country, said: “To avoid spending money, people delay seeking care until their health condition deteriorates and reaches a critical degree. Sometimes, it will be too late.”
Marcelo Fernandez, the head of the MSF mission in Lebanon, said: “With the increasing poverty rates, communities living on the edge of the poverty line are likely to neglect preventive care or try to treat diseases on their own.
“What we are witnessing in Wadi Khaled is a vivid example of that and people in fragile conditions are the most affected.”
The National Federation of Trade Unions and Employees in Lebanon has announced that it will take to the streets on Labor Day, May 1, in a comprehensive show of civil disobedience to protest against poor working conditions and the greed its says it said is manipulating prices and the black market.
Castro Abdullah, the federation’s president, said food prices have increased by 1,500 percent, while hospitals are failing to meet required moral and humanitarian standards.
He accused candidates standing for election next month of exploiting the prevailing conditions in the most horrific ways.
“The opposition forces that claim to confront the ruling authority and corruption are no longer concerned with the people’s suffering but are rather focusing on their own ambitions, claiming that change can only be achieved through parliament,” said Abdullah.