| 18 September, 2017

Lebanon approves biometric IDs in upcoming elections

Image used for illustrative purpose.
A Lebanese woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the country's municipal elections in Beirut May 9, 2010.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A Lebanese woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the country's municipal elections in Beirut May 9, 2010.

REUTERS/ Cynthia Karam

BEIRUT: Lebanese citizens will have a new way of voting after Cabinet Sunday agreed to transform current identification cards into biometric IDs that can be used to cast ballots during elections. After a nearly three-and-a-half hour meeting at the Grand Serail Sunday, ministers agreed to implement new rules in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Cabinet agreed on a proposal put forth by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on mechanisms for expatriates to register to vote in the elections. Nine ministers – including Bassil – were missing from the Cabinet session, bringing the total number to 21 out of 30 ministers.

After Cabinet’s session ended, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk confirmed, more or less, that electronic voting would be used in the next elections. “[Polling] stations will be designated for those who will vote outside their [town] of registration,” Machnouk said, referring to the previous law that required voters to vote from the place their family is historically registered.

Bassil said that the Foreign Ministry would issue a memorandum on how voters outside of Lebanon could cast their ballot.

“You are called upon to vote in the [parliamentary] elections and on Monday a statement will be published by embassies on how to register electronically,” Bassil told a group of Lebanese expats Sunday during a talk in the U.S. city of Atlanta.

However, Progressive Socialist Party head MP Walid Jumblatt was quick to criticize the newly approved procedure. “Everything studied was to [bring the country] to bankruptcy,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.

Speaking to reporters following the Cabinet session, Information Minister Melhem Riachi said that a Cabinet session dedicated solely to the current situation in the education sector would be held at a later date. When asked when it would be, as the school year is fast approaching, Riachi said, “The prime minister will announce the date at a later time.”

Education Minister Marwan Hamadeh did not confirm or deny if an increase to school fees was inevitable.

“I did not say that. I said that there is Law 515 which requires schools to present a projected budget for the school year from the Parent’s Association to the Education Ministry,” Hamadeh told reporters after the Cabinet session.

Talking about the Cabinet session for education, Hamadeh said: “This step will show if there is any justification for the [fee] increases, especially since the private school tuition [has increased] by an average of 34 percent in the last five years, although this percentage differs from one school to another.”

Parents and schools have been at loggerheads in the lead-up to the start of the new school year this month, as parents have rejected increases to tuition fees while a new pay scale for teachers requires schools to generate enough income to fund the new pay scale.

The Cabinet meeting saw heightened tensions at times as Riachi was involved in a verbal spat with Environment Minister Tarek Khatib over the issue of quarries.

Some of Lebanon’s greenest areas and nature have been decimated due to the lack of regulations and unlicensed sand quarries and rock crushers.

Riachi called for Khatib to implement clear and strict restrictions for quarry owners and to cut back the grace period for unlicensed operators from two years to six months, “or else say goodbye to nature,” he was quoted as saying by local media outlets.

The dispute was dissipated by ministers agreeing to refer the issue to the Constitutional Council for its opinion on the matter.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day President Michel Aoun called for the public to trust the state after a number of embassies unexpectedly issued safety warnings to their citizens in Lebanon as well as increased talk of a financial crisis.

Before departing for New York Sunday afternoon, where he is heading a delegation to attend the U.N. General Assembly, Aoun said such security warnings were designed to tarnish Lebanon’s victory against terrorism.

“Recently, rumors targeting the citizens’ trust in their institutions has been intensifying,” Aoun said, in a statement released by his press office. “[These rumors range from] engraining doubt in the national currency, to charging some state [officials] with corruption, to targeting the Army in the midst of its confrontation with terrorists and to spreading an atmosphere of fear and concern by talking about anticipated terrorist operations.”

“All of this falls within a systematic program to distract attention from [our] state-building accomplishments,” Aoun said. “This method has been exposed and has been used repeatedly following every significant national achievement, such as the victory over terrorism – and it is intended to instill doubt in [Lebanon’s] ability to build a state.”

“Let us place great trust in the state and its institutions,” he added.

Aoun’s statement comes after embassies of the United States, Great Britain, Canada and France last week advised their citizens to remain vigilant, warning of a high likelihood of imminent attacks targeting Lebanon. The weekend passed with relative calm and stability across the country.

The Army Saturday intervened to calm the concerns of residents, reiterating that Army Intelligence units had been taking precautionary measures to maintain stability and security. It urged citizens to ignore scaremongering.

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