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Cablegate: Lebanon: Electoral Reform Needed Now, Politicians

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PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0889/01 1651124
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 131124Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2255
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2508
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 2808
RHMFISS/USCENTCOM SPECIAL HANDLING MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 000889

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR DRL/FO, NEA/FO, NEA/ELA, NEA/PI
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID KDEM LE PGOV PHUM
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ELECTORAL REFORM NEEDED NOW, POLITICIANS
AND CIVIL SOCIETY SAY

SUMMARY
--------

1. (U) Lebanese politicians and civil society
representatives came together for the first time to discuss
their support for electoral reform in Lebanon at a June 11
conference cosponsored by the GOL and UNDP. Caretaker
Justice Minister Charles Rizk read remarks from President
Michel Sleiman, in which Sleiman called for a number of key
reforms to be voted on and adopted by parliament. Most
participants agreed that work needed to begin immediately if
the reforms were to be launched before the spring 2009
parliamentary elections. Given the short lead time, however,
expectations are low that an independent electoral commission
would be in place within the next 12 months. Many attendees
also felt that the Doha Agreement had a negative impact on
the prospects for proposed reforms such as a female candidacy
quota, extending the right to vote to include Lebanese
emigrants, and improving access for those with disabilities
before next year's planned election. End Summary.

2. (U) The Charge, accompanied by Poloff and Polstaff,
attended the June 11 National Conference on Electoral Reform
hosted by the UN Development Program, the Civil Campaign for
Electoral Reform, and the GOL's National Commission on the
Electoral Law (NCEL). The event, held at the Phoenicia
Hotel, was informative and attended by a number of Lebanese
parliamentarians, caretaker cabinet, and civil society
representatives.

PRESIDENT SUPPORTS
ELECTORAL REFORM
-----------------

3. (U) Caretaker Justice Minister Charles Rizk opened the
conference by reading a speech from President Michel Sleiman.
(Note: Rizk noted to CDA that although he had penned the
address, Sleiman had approved "every word." End Note.)
Rizk's speech affirmed many of the same themes outlined in
Sleiman's May 25 inaugural speech, in which the President had
called for the adoption of an electoral law that "provides a
sound basis for representation, strengthens the relationship
between voter and representative, and ensures the achievement
of the people's choices and expectations."

4. (U) In the June 11 address, Rizk called for "electoral
reforms that would ultimately help to secure the election of
a political majority that is able to rule and is confronted
by an elected minority in accordance with what is adopted in
all the democratic countries, and the representation of all
religious sects according to a distribution that is specified
in advance by law." Rizk,s speech praised the work of the
National Commission on Electoral Law (which developed most of
the reforms outlined in the draft electoral law submitted to
the GOL before the July 2006 war) and he affirmed his support
for the reforms. Most notable among the proposed reforms is
allowing Lebanese residing abroad to participate in the
election process, setting a minimum quota for participation
by women in party lists of candidates, controlling campaign
expenditures, forming an independent body to supervise the
election operation, and lowering the voting age to 18.

NECESSITIES FOR
SUCCESSFUL 2009 ELECTIONS
-------------------------

5. (U) Dr. Ziyad Baroud, a member of the NCEL, said that the
reforms outlined by Rizk and proposed by the NCEL would need
to be adopted now so that preparations could begin for the
2009 parliamentary elections. Most importantly, this
includes the establishment of an Independent Electoral
Commission that would prepare for the election cycle and
would be charged with preparing for, administering, and
supervising parliamentary elections. Baroud argued that even
without the establishment of the independent commission
(which some politicians argue can only be established through
a constitutional amendment), the GOL still needs to begin
preparing for next year's elections immediately.

6. (U) He said the selection process for election monitors
from the civil society community should begin as soon as

BEIRUT 00000889 002 OF 003


possible, as well as the selection and training of polling
station workers. A pre-printed ballot with the names and
photos of candidates is another of the commission's
suggestions. Each candidate and campaign should have equal
access to the media and the electoral process should take
place on one day, as opposed to the two to three week period
in which elections typically occur (Note: Each district
typically schedules elections on different Sundays over a
two-three week period. End Note.)

7. (U) Automation of electoral machines and transparency in
polling stations are also a must, according to Baroud. He
added that parliament has to vote on all of these reforms,
and that it will also have to provide a budget to be used for
training and purchasing new equipment to be used at polling
stations.

DOHA AGREEMENT CHALLENGES
ELECTORAL REFORM
-------------------------

8. (U) Antoine Haddad, a member of the Democratic Renewal
Movement (part of the pro-government March 14 bloc), noted in
his address that because the Doha Agreement specified the
adoption of the small-district system, the issue of
redistricting for this election has effectively been killed.
(Note: One of the NCEL's primary goals was to redistrict
Lebanon based on a system whereby 77 of the 128 parliamentary
seats would be selected through the small district system, or
"qada," and the 51 remaining seats would be chosen by way of
the large district-proportional system, or "muhafazt." End
Note.) Therefore, in a district with a majority Shia
population, the voters would most likely be voting for March
8-Aoun bloc candidates, and in predominantly Sunni qadas,
voters would most likely be voting for March 14 candidates,
Haddad believed.

9. (U) The competition will be greatest in predominantly
Christian areas (and some Druze areas as well) where the
electorate may be equally split between those who support
either March 14 candidates or candidates of the March 8-Aoun
opposition, Haddad explained. He argued that it is these
districts that will decide the outcome of the upcoming
parliamentary elections. Therefore, the reforms, if adopted,
may only have an impact in improving the voting process in
these areas.

HIZBALLAH SAYS IT,S TOO
LATE FOR ELECTORAL REFORM
--------------------------------------------- -

10. (U) Dr. Ali Fayyad, President of the Consultation Center
for Studies and Documentation (and a member of Hizballah,s
Central Council), said the issue of electoral reform should
be taken up after the 2009 parliamentary elections occur.
Fayyad argued that the Doha Agreement made it impossible to
enact a number of the keys reforms. Only after the current
political crises ends would there be an opportunity for real
electoral reform, he argued.

11. (U) Fayyad criticized the current proposals for the
establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission, saying
that the proposed ten-person staff, comprised of only one
full-time director, would not be enough and that a much
larger staff is needed. He also believed that a
constitutional amendment would be needed for the independent
commission,s creation. Fayyad said that civil society
organizations have a right to monitor elections and re-check
election results but the NCEL did not define the
justifications that such organizations would need to make in
order to review the results. As it relates to the issue of
media regulations, Fayyad said the draft law proposed by the
NCEL only deals with electronic media, but that print media
is exempt from the regulations.

WOMEN'S QUOTA ALSO
HURT BY DOHA AGREEMENT
----------------------

12. (U) One of the original reforms espoused by the NCEL was
a requirement that there by a 30 percent female quota for all

BEIRUT 00000889 003 OF 003


party lists. (Note: Lists are part of the proportional
system. End Note.) Since the proportional system was not
included in the Doha Agreement, it will be difficult for
female politicians to run for direct election under the qada
framework, according to Dr. Arda Ekmekji, a NCEL member (and
only woman to sit on the 12 person commission). Women in the
audience also argued that female politicians would not have
the same means to finance their individual campaigns against
better financed male competitors.

13. (U) Dr. Fahmiah Charafeddine, vice-president for the
Committee on Women's Issues, also argued that there need to
be female election monitors and polling station workers to
check IDs and faces of veiled female voters for transparency.
The women in the audience also pointed out that no women
participated in the Doha talks and argued the Doha Agreement
did not take female voters into consideration.

EXPANDING PARTICIPATION
IS KEY
-----------------------

14. (U) Ms. Guitta Hourani, Director of the Notre Dame
University's Lebanese Emigration Research Center, noted that
Lebanese emigrants also need to be allowed to participate in
next year's election. Lebanese emigrants help to increase
trade and investment in Lebanon, and have provided over $6
billion dollars in remittances, according to Hourani. She
noted that this $6 billion is taxed by the GOL when it enters
Lebanon; therefore, if Lebanese emigrants are being taxed by
the GOL from abroad they should be allowed to vote while
abroad.

15. (U) Expanding the electorate to include Lebanese
emigrants will also require funding by parliament in order to
give Lebanese emigrants the tools to vote from abroad.
Expanding participation is the most important aspect, Hourani
argued. The independent commission, if established, or the
Ministry ofInterior, should work with the Ministry of
Forein Affairs to have Lebanese consulates and embassies
abroad facilitate voting for emigrants.

16. (U) Ms. Sylvana Lakkis, President of the Handicapped
Association, argued that many people are unable to
participate due to the inability to gain access to polling
stations, the majority of which are not
handicapped-accessible. In addition, many elderly Lebanese
voters are unable to acquire transportation to polling
stations.

COMMENT
-------

17. (U) The conference identified a number of key reforms
that are in theory supported by key players, including
Lebanon's President, parliamentarians, and civil society.
However, the GOL will have to begin now if it wants to have a
real opportunity to improve the electoral process in time for
next year's parliamentary elections. Given the fact that
political leaders are still focused on the formation of a
national unity cabinet and all parties will be seeking to
gain advantages for the 2009 elections, it will not be easy
to promote all of the reforms cited in the conference. End
Comment.
SISON

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