Tag Archives: elections

Election Musings – US and Lebanon

Yeah, I’m not going to get on a soapbox about which candidate to vote for in the US general election.  If you don’t know who you’re voting for by now, nothing I can say will change your mind.  Just vote from an informed position, please.

We’ve heard a lot this election cycle about voter fraud and seen a lot of fingerpointing on both sides from individuals who say the other side is trying to rig the vote or keep individuals from voting.  Within my own state, there is an investigation into the actions of Colin Small, accused of throwing away voter registrations in Harrisonburg, VA.  I am not going to speak to this much, only to point out that anyone from any party who attempts to sway the vote should be ashamed of themselves.

Despite the problems we may or may not be having in the US, other countries face even more problematic election challenges.  While on my study visit this summer, one of the major problems being discussed in Lebanon was election reform.  We spoke with many associated with the political system, including many members of youth movements, and nearly everyone agreed that election reform is vital for Lebanon’s continued status as a republic in the Middle East.  Currently, there is no official ballot system in Lebanon.  If you can write down who you wish to vote for on a sticky note and get it to a polling place, you can vote.  Sounds relatively egalitarian, right?  Vote for who you want and ignore who you could care less about.

Except it’s not that simple.  Political parties within Lebanon make a habit of printing their own ballots, conveniently including and excluding individuals running for certain offices.  They pass these ballots out to key people within communities, telling them to circulate the ballots to their friends and neighbors.

The entire system is rigged so they know how many ballots go out and how many come in.  If they do not all return on election day, party members return to these voter’s homes demanding to know why they did not follow through with their “requests.”  If they do all return, you are rewarded.  Forget secrecy.  If you vote for the “wrong” candidate on these ballots, it’s easily traced back to you or your neighborhood.  Forget “free elections” when coercion is part of the system.

Is the US system flawed?  Probably.  I haven’t done enough research to really know.  Here’s some interesting info from PolitiFact.  Yes, I was born into a privileged station where my right to vote has never been questioned (citizenship for generations on all sides of the family), and I am grateful for the position I earned from zygote status.  But what I do know is that I am incredibly lucky to live in a place where my vote is between me and that little lever machine (and G-d, I suppose).

Reformers in Lebanon are asking simply for a ballot system that is free, fair, and systematic.  It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.  I doubt the legislation will pass in time for the 2013 general election, but I do hope that it can happen soon.

Day 4 (June 26) – Meetings with Former MPs, Political Parties, and Businessmen

Day 4 was another long day of meetings and food. In the morning we met with the Beirut Trader’s Association. There, we discussed a lot of economic issues, including problems for women (only 30% of the workforce) and youth (25% of which are under the poverty line). We learned a lot about the banking system as well as how the government spends its money. I will elaborate on all of this during my year of blogging for my fellowship.

After that, we had lunch and then a meeting with the youth director for the Democratic Renewal Movement, a political party focusing on non-partisan engagement with youth (primarily–anyone’s allowed in). One of the biggest issues we talked about was collective memory. Many of today’s youth were born after the Civil War, and given there is no standardized history text about that period, many children and youth have very little education in what happened. There seems to be a country-wide need to move on, to move forward, and unfortunately, that in some ways has led to a generation ignorant of the war their parents went through.

We also discussed problems with elections. Election reform is a huge topic of conversation in the United States at the moment, but after hearing a discussion of how elections work in Lebanon, “hanging chads” don’t seem to be nearly as problematic anymore. Apparently, there is no standard for the ballots used to elect members of parliament. A sticky note with your votes scrawled on it counts! So many political parties will print their own ballots, with candidates conveniently missing, and hand them out in communities. For instance, they would give me twenty and ask me to hand them out to my friends. If all twenty are not back in the ballot box, they come to me after the election and there are… problems. This is one of the common themes of government corruption that we have discussed since arriving here.

Our final two meetings were with former members of parliament, who are also board members for the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation. One of the individuals spent a lot of time explaining the economic situation in Lebanon, while the other spent time discussing Muslim-Christian dialogue. As Lebanon is a country with democratic elections, and yet also a confessional society, many votes will split on religious lines. One of the biggest divisions is on the issue of Syria. For instance, there are those in Lebanon (some Christian, some Muslims – mostly Christian) that seem to prefer a secular dictatorship/autocracy over a democracy that will bring Islamists to power. This is quite telling for a country that has prided itself on being a democracy since the 1940s.

So that’s what we learned. I’ll update soon.