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Cablegate: Lebanon: Election Law Draft Goes to Parliament

VZCZCXRO2649
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #1413/01 2701459
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261459Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3178
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 2983
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 3196
RHMFISS/USCENTCOM SPECIAL HANDLING MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 001413

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA, NEA/PI
ALSO FOR IO ACTING A/S HOOK AND PDAS WARLICK
P FOR DRUSSELL AND RRANGASWAMY
USUN FOR KHALILZAD/WOLFF/SCHEDLBAUER
NSC FOR ABRAMS/YERGER/MCDERMOTT/RAMCHAND
OSD FOR EDELMAN/LONG/STRAUB/DALTON
AID/ME FOR LAUDATO/BEVER/SCOTT
DRL FOR DAS BARKS-RUGGLES/BARGHOUT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL KDEM PINS LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ELECTION LAW DRAFT GOES TO PARLIAMENT
WITH SOME, NOT ALL, REFORMS INTACT

SUMMARY
--------

1. (SBU) IFES officials briefed PolOff on last minute
changes to the draft electoral law submitted by the
Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee to
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on September 24. The draft
law states that elections should take place in one day but
notes that elections could occur on two days for "security
reasons." In addition, the draft law allows for certain
civil society groups to participate in monitoring the
elections, but does not mention allowing international
observers. IFES officials thought an EU mission would
probably be allowed in, while any U.S. mission would not.

2. (SBU) The Committee did not offer a recommendation on the
issue of reducing the voter age from 21 to 18 and allowing
municipal mayors to run for parliament without having to wait
for a two year period before running to become an MP, instead
wanting parliament to make its own decision on these items.
Out-of-country voting will have to wait until the 2013
parliamentary elections, according to the Committee. In
addition, the following recommendations made it into the
draft law: creation of an supervisory body to monitor
candidates' campaigns; pre-printed ballots; campaign finance
and media regulations; and use of ID cards or passports for
voting. The parliament will begin considering the draft law
on September 27. End Summary.

SUPERVISORY COMMISSION ON
ELECTION CAMPAIGNING
-------------------------

3. (SBU) In a September 25 meeting, International Foundation
for Electoral Systems (IFES) Researcher Chantal Sarkis and
Policy Analyst Karma Ekmekji briefed PolOff on last minute
changes to the draft electoral law which was submitted to
Parliament on September 24. Concerning the establishment of
an Independent Election Commission (IEC), Sarkis said the
draft law calls for the creation of a Supervisory Commission
on Election Campaigning (SCEC). The SCEC would focus on
regulating candidates' campaigns, as opposed to facilitating
the entire election which would have been the role of an IEC.
The overall coordination responsibility will remain with the
Ministry of Interior.

4. (SBU) Sarkis noted that Minister of Interior Ziyad Baroud
asked that the Committee add a requirement that the
Supervisor Commission regulate the dissemination of electoral
polling information. According to Sarkis, Baroud wants the
SCEC to establish guidelines for how polls are conducted and
how they are reported in the media. Baroud also wants a
deadline to be set beyond which polling information could not
be publicized. Baroud also asked that a clause requiring the
SCEC to provide voter education, be removed from the text,
instead placing the responsibility in the hands of the
Ministry of Interior.

5. (SBU) The Independent Electoral Commission was supposed
to be headed by the Minister of Interior. Baroud asked that
a retired appellate judge head the Supervisory Commission,
Sarkis added. The rest of the commission would be composed
of two additional retired judges, three former heads of
Beirut and Tripoli Bar Associations, two media experts and
three "senior experts in election-related matters." The
Minister will be allowed to attend meetings but will not
vote. Decisions will be made by an absolute majority and the
cabinet is required to appoint commission members within
thirty days of the law's passage.

ONE DAY ELECTIONS,
NOT LIKELY
-------------------
6. (SBU) According to Sarkis, the draft law would require
that elections be held on one day countrywide (past elections
have been held on four consecutive weekends). However, the
draft law also includes a caveat that the cabinet can decide
to hold elections over two days for "security reasons."
Sarkis noted that "security reasons," could range from an
large scale outbreak of violence to a lack of resources on
the parts of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) or the
Lebanese Armed forces (LAF) to provide security for the over
five thousand polling stations. Sarkis said one-day
elections would be key for fair elections to occur and urged
the USG to persuade GOL security agencies to come up with a
plan to provide security. (Comment. The head of the ISF has
told us that he does not have sufficient personnel for
one-day elections for all of the ISF's responsibilities,
which include guarding ballot boxes. By contrast, the
Defense Minister has told us it can be done, with the LAF
assisting the ISF with security duties. End comment.)

RIGHTS OF OBSERVERS
-------------------

7. (SBU) Only civil society groups that have been active in
election observation for at least three years can apply for
accreditation to observe the 2009 elections. However, there
is ambiguity about the participation of international
observers. Sarkis noted that the cabinet will have to
approve international monitoring missions, as their presence
is considered a matter of national sovereignty. The EU has
already notified Baroud that it wants to send a monitoring
mission to Lebanon, and the cabinet likely will approve that.
The GOL is in need of EU funding to help facilitate the
elections and the EU sent a mission to Lebanon in 2005,
according to Sarkis. She said it would be unlikely for the
cabinet to approve any U.S. observation missions, noting that
the March 8/Aoun opposition would try to block such a
request.

MAYORS RUNNING FOR
PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS?
------------------------

8. (SBU) The controversial issue of whether municipal mayors
can run for parliament was not addressed in the draft law.
The current law states that municipal officials and mayors
must have been out of those positions for a minimum of two
years before running for parliament, Ekmekji said. A waiting
period is also placed on other public officials, but the wait
time is less than six months.

9. (SBU) Sarkis said the Committee wants parliamet to
decide whether or not to include this provision. Sarkis
noted that Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun has said
he would boycott the national dialogue sessions if this rule
was amended. Aoun opposes this reform because popular March
14 mayors would pose a challenge to some of his MPs currently
representing key districts in parliament, Sarkis said. In
addition, at least one March 14 leader, Samir Geagea
(Lebanese Forces) is thought to oppose this measure because
one of his MPs would be challenged, and likely defeated, by a
popular current mayor.

10. (SBU) Baroud publicly criticized the existing restriction
in the press on September 25, saying that such a clause was
discriminatory, and if maintained, should apply to cabinet
ministers as well.

PRE-PRINTED BALLOTS
-------------------

11. (SBU) In a significant change from current practice, the
law calls for pre-printed ballots. Ballots will be designed
and printed by the Ministry of Interior and will show the
names and photographs of candidates running in each district.
Ballot papers will allow candidates to be included in a
"list." As lists can be organized as late as thirty days
before an election, the Ministry of Interior will have a 30
day time-frame for the printing of ballots. Ballot papers
will be placed into transparent ballot boxes, and voters'
fingers will be marked with indelible ink and voting to
prevent fraud.

12. (SBU) Candidates would also be required to nominate
themselves sixty days before an election, and can withdraw
their names 45 days before election day. Candidates can also
choose to be included in a party list no later than 30 days
before election. Sarkis said this would be good requirement
because it would ban politicians from forming last minute
alliances.

13. (SBU) Sarkis noted that most of the political parties
have already asked the Ministry of Interior for copies of the
ballots ahead of time to distribute to their constituents in
order to "train" them on completing the new ballot. The
Ministry has refused and if this provision of the law is
approved, Lebanese voters will not see their ballots until
they enter the voting booth to cast their vote, according to
Sarkis. (Note: In past elections parties distributed to
voters ballots with their lists as they entered the polling
stations. The voter would take the completed list from the
person outside the polling station identified with a certain
party he or she favored, and would deposit the list in the
voting box. End Note.)

OUT-OF-COUNTRY VOTING,
NOT THIS ELECTION
---------------------

14. (SBU) The draft law recommends that out-of-country voting
take place in 2013, rather than 2009, and dodged the issue of
reducing the voter age from 21 to 18, instead stating that
voters must meet the voting age as it is in the Constitution.
(Note: Unless there is a change to the Constitution, the
voting age will stay at 21. End Note.) Therefore, the
voting age will remain 21 for the 2009 elections, unless the
parliament chooses to amend the Constitution to allow voting
at 18.

15. (SBU) Sarkis said in some swing key districts where the
confessional balance is mixed between Shia and Christian
voters, reducing the voter age would benefit the March 8/Aoun
alliance, because younger Shia voters would supposedly back
Aoun. However, in predominantly Christian districts,
reducing the voter age may benefit March 14, because,
according to Sarkis, the majority of younger Christian voters
tend to support Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces (LF) over
Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM). Sarkis noted that in
the university elections (an important political indicator in
Lebanon), LF candidates beat out their FPM rivals by
significant margins.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE
AND MEDIA REGULATIONS
---------------------

16. (SBU) Sarkis added that candidates will be required to
open a "campaign bank account." In addition, there will be
restrictions on funding sources, restrictions on items of
expenditure, and a requirement to report their accounts to
the Supervisor Committee. Candidates will have the right to
spend around $100,000, plus $2 per voter in their district.
Media outlets will be required to provide equitable access to
candidates and there will be restrictions on "media
endorsements" of candidates and a prohibition of hate speech.
The SCEC will monitor compliance with the regulations and
has the power to refer a case to the Court, which could issue
a fine, suspend broadcasting or even close an outlet.

MINISTERIAL BICKERING
AT CABINET MEETING
---------------------

17. (SBU) Minister of State Wael Abu Faour told us that
during the September 25 cabinet session a heated debate took
place, as Minister Ibrahim Shameseddin expressed his
opposition to the electoral law that will be discussed in
parliament on September 27. Shameseddin argued that the GOL
was not involved in the preparation of the draft law and,
thus, cannot defend its position in parliament. According to
Abu Faour, SSNP minister Ali Qanso expressed a similar
position.

COMMENT
-------

18. (SBU) Parliament is expected to take up the issue of the
draft electoral law on September 27. A number of contacts
tell us that a vote on the law will most likely occur on
Monday, September 29, as Speaker Berri has indicated that he
wants the new law voted on and passed before the Eid. We do
not expect some of the more controversial issues to make it
into the law that is passed, such as out-of-country voting,
lowering the voter age, and decreasing the wait period for
municipal mayors. In addition, the mandate for one-day
voting seems unlikely to pass due to a lack of resources
within the Ministry of Interior and its inability to provide
security. It is encouraging that some issues, such as the
creation of the SCEC, allowing voters to show their ID cards
and passports to vote, and pre-printed ballot papers have a
good chance of making it into the law, as do a number of the
reforms regulating campaign spending and the media. However,
we expect parliament to water down several of these articles
before approving it.

19. (SBU) From a political standpoint, it appears that each
of the two blocs got some of what they wanted in the draft
law. It is a hopeful sign that the Committee was actually
able to finish its work by its deadline and produce a draft
for parliament to consider. Now there will be pressure for
parliament to approve a law by the Eid deadline and not
disrupt the prevailing positive political atmosphere by
postponing action on the electoral law, the last remaining
item from the Doha Accord. For that reason, we would expect
that key controversial measures will not be changed now, but
will be left for consideration at another time. End Comment.

GRANT

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