Election observers in Lebanon complain of violations and attacks | News

Sunday’s legislative elections were “marred by intimidation” and violence, according to local and foreign observers.

Beirut, Lebanon – The victory of more than a dozen anti-establishment candidates in Sunday’s legislative elections gave many Lebanese hope that the news would mark the start of a new effort to tackle endemic corruption and bring about lasting change in the cash-strapped country.

But while Prime Minister Najib Mikati called the elections a “victory” for Lebanon after the final results were announced on Tuesday, election observers said thousands of cases of corruption, violence and voter fraud in the polling stations had been registered, a reminder that the country’s entrenched political system still has operatives who do not wish to see change.

The European Union Election Observation Mission said tuesday that an otherwise “vibrant” election campaign was “marred by various instances of intimidation, including outside and at polling stations and on social media, and instances of campaign obstruction.”

“The elections were overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying and clientelism, which distorted equal opportunities and seriously affected voters’ choice,” said György Hölvényi, chief observer for the UN mission. EU, in a press release. Press statement.

Lebanese observers from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) criticized authorities and political supporters for some 3,600 “flagrant violations” they recorded on election day.

Representatives of political parties stood next to supporters as the latter cast their ballots, while some videos showed supporters of the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah party helping staff count the votes.

Ballot boxes that arrived from embassies and consulates abroad as part of the diaspora vote were sometimes broken and appeared to be tampered with, while many polling stations did not even have electricity.

But beyond the logistical problems, there was also violence.

“They threatened our observers, did not allow them to take photos of the violations and confiscated their cell phones,” LADE executive director Aly Sleem told Al Jazeera.

Sleem said party supporters even attacked the observers and forced them out of polling stations.

Journalists were not spared. Hussein Bassal, a photographer for Lebanese digital media platform Megaphone, said Hezbollah supporters beat him after he took pictures at a polling station in southern Lebanon.

“Everything was normal that day, but they got angry when they found out that one of my videos documenting violations was widely shared online,” Bassal told Al Jazeera.

Bassal said that as he was leaving a polling station, a man who identified himself as a member of Hezbollah approached him, took a photo and snatched his press license.

Bassal recalled that he tried to hide in the office of an opposition group in the region, but was then beaten by several men, before finally leaving with the help of Lebanese soldiers.

The attack left Bassal with bruises all over his body and an inflamed rib.

Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment on Bassal’s attack or other allegations against him. However, Hezbollah has previously said videos appearing to show Hezbollah supporters fighting with members of the Christian Lebanese Forces were inaccurate.

Sunday’s legislative elections are the first in Lebanon since widespread protests against the country’s mainstream parties and elites rocked the country in October 2019.

The economy has since collapsed, pushing more than three quarters of the population into poverty and suffering some of the highest rates of inflation in the world.

Many Lebanese point the finger at the country’s traditional sectarian leaders for financial mismanagement, corruption, nefarious profiteering and violence.

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