Emory Report
July 6, 2009
Volume 61, Number 34


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July 6, 2009
Lebanon elections overcome many hurdles

Deborah Hakes is media relations coordinator for The Carter Center.

Lama Naja represents hope for Lebanon’s political future. A politically independent young person in a country full of strong political passions and fierce party loyalties, she instead voted on June 7 for the people she thought may keep their campaign promises.

“My friends and I debate politics all the time,” she says. “They think I’m some sort of alien for being independent, but many of the people my age follow leaders who shouldn’t be leaders. I ask them, why are you following this person who does not do what he says he will do?”

Lebanon held successful parliamentary elections on June 7, the results of which were accepted peacefully by both sides. The Carter Center deployed 60 observers from 23 countries to assess voting, counting and tabulation processes, led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Prime Minister of Yemen Abdul-Kareem al-Eryani.

While the process did fall short of several of Lebanon’s international commitments, most notably to protect fully the secrecy of the ballot, it was conducted with enhanced transparency and in accordance with Lebanon’s new electoral law and regulations. The 2009 electoral process also provided an important foundation for additional electoral reforms, to which civil society and political leaders have already committed themselves.

Naja hopes that one of these reforms will be to end Lebanon’s complicated system of assigning parliamentary seats based on the religious affiliation of a district. She is also encouraged by the presence of international observation groups like The Carter Center.

“That’s how I sense the difference between 2005 elections and 2009,” she says. “People are paying attention to what happens and will push for reform.”

The Carter Center issued several recommendations for electoral reform in its preliminary statement on June 8, one of which is to use standardized, pre-printed ballots for future elections.

“The lack of official pre-printed ballot papers, together with the use of the family code in the voter registry, undermines secrecy of the ballot by allowing for the creation of unique ballots that can be linked to particular voter or set of voters,” says David Carroll, director of The Carter Center’s Democracy Program.

On election day, political representatives handed the party-sponsored ballots to voters as they entered a polling site to vote. The ballots are tiny — many just a couple of inches long — with just enough room for their candidates’ names. Although blank paper is also provided as an alternative for voters to write their preferences, most choose not to do so.

These and other intricacies of the electoral process pose challenges to observer groups like The Carter Center.

“Our overall assessment will address how the election was run based on Lebanon’s electoral laws and its international obligations,” says Carroll. “Our long-term observers are still monitoring the post-electoral processes and we expect to release a final report in the coming months.”

Ultimately though, it is up to the Lebanese to change their country, not outsiders. “People here are ready for change,” says Naja.