Election steal? Minister tells independent candidates ‘sue us’

From right: Independent candidates Elias Abou Mrad and Nadine Moussa at protest earlier this month. 

During a private meeting at his office today, Lebanon’s interior minister Marwan Charbel rejected a request that he declare victory of independent candidates in uncontested parliamentary races, candidates who attended the meeting said.

Charbel suggested the candidates “sue” the state, if they felt “their rights had been trampled,” attendees  said.

Some 49 candidates claim to have won parliamentary elections by default because Lebanon’s ruling political parities– embroiled in a fight over re-districting– failed to submit candidates by the election registration deadline of April 10.

Yet in an eleventh hour attempt to nullify such victories, parliament (which is dominated by the same parties who did not submit candidates) voted to cancel article 50 of the current election law, which calls for uncontested victories, when a candidate is not challenged.

In addition Charbel extended the deadline for candidate submissions, paving the way for hordes of establishment candidates to register today.

But the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), which monitors the polls, has sided with the independents, saying parliament’s amendment to the law was not published until April 13, and thus does not apply to uncontested victories two days earlier on the April 10 deadline.

“Everyone who submitted their candidacy on or before April 10 at 11:59 PM should win by default if their seats were not contested,” the managing director of LADE, Yara Nassar, told me earlier this month.

LADE has published a list of the 49 winners by default here.

When asked today about the discrepancy Charbel said his interpretation of the law was supported by “a consultation from a council of consultation,” without providing any specific detail as to what that meant, candidates said.

Take Back Parliament candidate Nadine Moussa, an attorney who claims to have won a seat in Metn challenged Charbel’s extension of the deadline, saying he had to justify such a move by providing exceptional circumstances, such as war or natural disaster, which would prevent candidate registration.

Taken aback by the suggestion, Charbel stood up and spoke animately saying his long experience in elections “since 1996” empowered him to take such extraordinary measures which were supported by the president and prime minister, Moussa recounted.

When another Take Back Parliament candidate, Elias Abou Mrad, noted government decisions were not effective until they were published, Charbel initially agreed. Thus asked if the candidate victories were still valid, Charbel exclaimed that  he was not in a position to announce such victories and urged the candidates to sue.

However early during the meeting, Charbel had noted that he was indeed empowered to declare uncontested victories and would do so next week, Abou Mrad said.  

“There was a total confusion and contradiction,” said Moussa.

She added that it was in fact the interior minister’s responsibility to compile a list of uncontested candidates and declare victories.

“He is imposing his own interpretation of the law,” said Moussa.

Moussa has brought a court case but says it may take months to be settled, well after establishment candidates will have won most seats in parliament.

“They are going to find some legal way to justify all that has been done. They are searching probably in the history of the courts, in the history of Lebanon,” Moussa said.

“They are looking for something to back up what is totally illegal.”