Monday, July 13, 2009

Spotlight: Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections

This interview of our spotlight series is with Ziad Abdelsamad of Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), an organization tasked with observing the June 7, 2009 parliamentary elections for Lebanon.

About election operations for 2009

LADE monitored the elections according to the article 20 of the elections law 25/2008 which says that “Civil Society has the right to monitor and to observe the elections.” This was the first time since its establishment in 1996 that LADE was officially accredited by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

LADE launched the operation on April 2, 2009 during a press conference announcing the readiness to start monitoring the campaigns, including public administration organizing the elections, the candidates and their obedience to the law and the norms, media according to chapter three of the law, and voters’ behaviors.

During this period, LADE issued three reports describing the process and giving a general analysis and overview on the whole operation including severe violations. It is worth noting that LADE documented and registered more than 240 violations - 45 were analyzed, verified and published.

LADE also opened 24 district offices and recruited 45 district coordinators and assistants. The aim of this national network was to establish direct contacts with the local communities, candidates and local authorities. In addition, LADE aimed to reach out to volunteers and to train them through these offices. Its initial target was to recruit 3000 independent volunteers and to train them on the law, methodologies, and techniques of observations.

LADE managed to recruit and to train 3200 volunteers by organizing more than 380 training workshops and to assign among them 2200 volunteer observers.

It is worth noting that LADE used the SMS technique for the first time in the region.

DL: What did your elections observers do? How were they
distributed across the country?

LADE: All volunteer observers were monitoring the election process to ensure the rule of law, and documenting all violations observed. As mentioned above, the targets were the administration, the candidates and their supporters, the media and the voters. Two types of observers were employed on E-day: mobile monitors (1700) whose job was to observe the elections in the polling stations and in their surrounding areas. They had to document all violations and immediately report by SMS the incidents to the central database operational room. The database analysts then analyzed the information and followed up on the critical incidents. As necessary, LADE did report to the Ministry of Interior through its volunteer present inside this public bureau.

The other type of observers were the fixed observers. 400 fixed observer who constituted a representative statistical sample, were present persistently throughout the electoral process duration in the polling stations. Their job was to provide a certain set of data at intervals during the day, from one particular polling station, where they were stationed from opening at 7 am to the end of counting. This representative statistical sample permitted LADE to form projections about the electoral process as a whole. (Why do we go back to critical incidents after talking about fixed observers?)

To assure the right of every citizen to vote, observers were distributed across the Lebanese regions mainly according to their electoral districts. Observers were organized into groups three and rotated then around predetermined three to five polling stations each, depending on factors such as the geographical size of the electoral district and the intensity of the electoral battle.

On the other hand, fixed observers were deployed in encoded and determined polling stations were carefully selected according to preset criteria.

DL: Did observers have previous experience in observing elections? What was the training like prior to Election Day?

LADE: Since elections took place on one day according to the new law, monitoring was made on a much larger scale while comparing it to previous years. LADE was able to recruit around 2500 volunteers, although the initial target was 3000 volunteers. Many of the volunteers monitored in previous elections. Thus, many new volunteers had no previous experience in election observation.

All volunteers, however, had to attend three workshops. The first workshop introduced participants to the new electoral law, highlighted the reforms that made it into this draft and re-enforced observers’ knowledge of the law generally, and those articles that directly affect the monitoring process.

The second workshop trained participants on the monitoring methodology as a whole, and the tools to be used by observers for monitoring electoral campaigns pre-election day (campaign spending and finance, campaign ads and media, etc.) as well as on E-day.

The third workshop explained the deployment strategy, and observers were thoroughly trained on the tools to be used in documenting violations on E-Day, most especially the new SMS technology, which was being employed for the first time in election observation in the Middle East.

DL: An article in The Daily Star stated that LADE had over 2500 volunteers to observe the elections and half of them were university students. How did these students come to volunteer? Did you recruit them from university campuses? Did they volunteer themselves? Did volunteers come from one particular university over another?

LADE: In order to be able to mobilize 3000 volunteer observers, LADE designated a recruitment officer. The recruitment strategy adopted and implemented was namely based on four pillars: 1) recruitment events or seminars held in universities; at the end of which application forms were available for interested participants; 2) recruitment through partner NGOs, who are members of the Lebanese Coalition for the Observation of Elections (CLOE); 3) recruitment through the 24 district offices covering all the electoral districts; 4) through the website, by filling an online application form.

Through this strategy, LADE was able to mobilize more than a thousand university students to volunteer to monitor the elections.

Moreover, CLOE, which includes 55 NGOs and 8 universities played an important role in recruiting and training, as they all hosted recruitment events for LADE or volunteered their premises for training workshops.

DL: Did volunteers tend to have experience living or visiting the US or Europe that may have contributed to their interest in election observation?

LADE: LADE started working since 1996. It observed 4 parliamentary elections (1996, 2000, 2005, and 2009) in addition to two partial elections 2002 (in north Metn) and 2007 (in north Metn and Beirut) and two municipal elections (1998 and 2004) in addition to one partial election in 2002, (that took place after the withdrawal of the Israeli occupation form the Lebanese occupied territories).

In all these periods, LADE used to mobilize number of Lebanese volunteering, including a few of the non-residents, but the large majority of the volunteers are resident Lebanese most of them had little to no experience traveling or living abroad.

However, LADE used the exchange programs with many of its partners in order to compile experiences and to improve the performance, many of LADEs members participated in observation teams abroad thanks to these programs. This helped in elaborating and developing new methodologies and efficient strategies.

DL: Could you talk a little about youth involvement in politics in general? Is there a lot of youth activism? Do you see a change in involvement in this generation compared to the last? Do youth volunteer for particular party campaigns, or is activism more along the lines of reform in general?

LADE: Youth play a major role among civil society organizations, including campaigns that Lebanon witnessed recently. This reflects a clear evolution in the work of CSOs in different cases and shows the readiness of the youth.

It is worth noting that young peoples’ concerns were not in a single campaign but one should mention that attention was with greater response to the campaign for electoral reforms. This emerged clearly in the “Civil Campaign for Electoral Reforms” (CCER), which is a campaign launched by LADE and many other CSOs to meet the reform efforts of the Lebanese government in 2006. Lowering the voting age was one of the main principles adopted by CCER. Although this reform did not pass in the current law, the process that needs a constitutional amendment has started and will be most probably implemented during the next municipal elections in 2010.

Young people are involved in other campaigns such the campaign for a new citizenship law, the campaign for a new civil code in Lebanon, beside many others.

DL: What lessons did you learn from the 2009 election observation experience? Is there anything that LADE will do differently next time around?

LADE: Many lessons LADE learned from this experience, since a new methodology was implemented for the first time according to the new reforms included in the law:

  • It was the first time that LADE monitored the elections in one day in all the country; this means that the deployment strategy should take into consideration the ability to cover all the district in one day.
  • Then it was the first time that LADE monitored the elections with an explicit recognition of its role in the law (according to the article 20). This led to the elaboration of a different strategy for coordination with the governmental and public organizers, the voters and candidates.
  • It was the first time the law includes ceiling for campaign spending and norms for media and advertising; consequently LADE monitored the campaigns led by the candidates starting two months prior to the E-day.

According to all the above mentioned, LADE learned a lot from this experience and will take into consideration a lot of the lessons learned and success stories. A comprehensive evaluation process is undergoing and a lot of recommendations should be adopted in order to improve the performance of the association.

Safadi Foundation USA thanks Mr. Abdelsamad for answering our questions and congratulates LADE for a job well done.

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