The Supervisory Commission for Elections (SCE) warns Maharat to stop its work
Maharat Foundation was caught off guard today by the publication issued by the Supervisory Commission for Elections (SCE) on the official website page of the parliamentary elections, in the category of statements and decisions, the letter that the commission had sent to Maharat Foundation bearing No. 1002, which we received via e-mail on April 26, 2022. This published letter is part of a correspondence between our organization and the commission supervising the elections following the clarifying the matter of Maharat Foundation’s activity, which the commission considered in its first letter as “participation in accompanying and supervising the elections illegally.”
It is important for Maharat Foundation to publish the letter of the correspondence it received from the SCE against the background of the work that our Foundation is doing in media monitoring during the upcoming election period, including the two letters that Maharat composed to the supervisory body. Receiving these two warnings, and the selective publication of the second letter and its title, which suggests that we are carrying out an illegal activity, can be considered a worrying indication of restrictions on civil society associations and their freedom to access, analyze and publish information, and undermine their credibility.
Therefore, we decided to publish all correspondence so that those interested in the field of democratic work and electoral reform could follow up on the issue.
On April 13, 2022, the Supervisory Commission for elections (SCE) sent a letter signed by its president, Judge Nadim Abdel Malik, to Maharat Foundation, bearing No. 975/H, on the subject of Maharat Foundation’s participation in tracking and monitoring the elections without submitting a request to the Supervisory Commission for Elections, citing its interpretation of the text of Article 20 from the Electoral Law No. 44/2017, where the work of keeping pace with the elections and monitoring their course without submitting an application for approval to the commission is considered a violation, according to the SCE’s interpretation.
On April 14, 2022, Maharat Foundation sent a response to the letter of the supervisory commission, explaining that the foundation is specialized in media monitoring and issuing periodic studies and reports. Monitoring media coverage of electoral campaigns is among the focusses that Maharat has been working on since its establishment in 2006. It has accompanied all parliamentary and municipal elections and issued its reports. It also trained the monitors of the commission itself, prior to the parliamentary elections in 2018, so that the commission could carry out the tasks entrusted to it. Maharat also clarified in its answer to the commission that Article 19 of the Electoral law, which stipulates the commission’s tasks, specifically Paragraph 9, to accept and study the requests of electoral observers and grant them permits, and Article 20 to which the commission refers, which gives the commission the authority to consider requests to “keep up with the elections and monitor their course” confirm that the commission’s authority is confined to the scope of granting permits to local observers to keep pace with the operational process of the elections on the ground, to monitor the executive processes, and to obtain permits that authorize them to enter public administrations and polling stations. What makes Maharat foundation’s activity in monitoring media performance during election campaigns does not fall within the concept of keeping pace with the elections and observing their course stipulated in Articles 19 and 20.
However, the commission came back and replied to Maharat’s response in letter No. 1002/H issued on April 20, 2022, and delivered to Maharat on 26 April, demanded Maharat to read the text of Article 20 “with all accuracy and responsibility”, and confirmed what was stated in its previous letter and added that “the legislator intended the texts to control the process of monitoring the bodies of the civil society for the elections and give them legitimacy for that, without leaving things unattended and uncontrollable as Maharat foundation believes.” The SCE in this letter asked Maharat for “Compliance with the provisions of the law at the risk of considering the activities carried out by the foundation without legal justification and issued by a party that has no legal capacity to carry out monitoring work with the legal consequences thereof.”
On the 28th of April, Maharat Foundation was surprised by the publication of the second letter issued by the commission, which bears the number 1002 and we received it on the 26th of April. The second letter consisted a reply to our letter, which included a response to the commission’s first letter on what it considered “and illegal participation in accompanying and supervising the elections”. After reviewing the decisions and statements published on the commission’s page, Maharat noted that it does not include any other correspondence or warnings against any violating party, with the exception of the letter addressed to Maharat Foundation entitled “Your Association’s illegal Participation in following up with and supervising the Elections.”
Therefore, Maharat wrote a second letter to the Supervisory Commission, drawing their attention to the fact that their choice to publish part of the correspondence between Maharat and the Commission without publishing our reply is selective to suggest that the work of our institution is illegal, at a time when we had refuted in our response as our work does not fall under supervision in the sense stated in the legal texts. Our office work does not require being on the ground and obtaining licenses to enter public administrations or polling stations. We demanded the authority to publish all correspondence, including the response of our institution, as well as all alerts and decisions of violations of any party, based on the law on the right to access information and the mandatory publication.
In view of these correspondences, Maharat Foundation expresses its deep concern about the restrictions practiced by the Supervisory Commission for Elections and the narrow interpretation adopted by the commission to pressure Maharat Foundation at a time when the foundation does not conduct monitoring in the sense mentioned in the legal texts, as it conducts desk work that does not require being on the ground and obtaining licenses to enter public administrations or polling stations. Maharat’s work during elections is at the core of its mission through monitoring public policies and reform, proposing alternatives, and advancing policy development, especially the development of the media sector and its role in promoting diversity and accountability. Maharat's work on media monitoring is also a continuous work, as Maharat publishes periodic studies on the performance of the media throughout the months of the year according to coverage of various events and topics in order to provide recommendations for the development of the media sector in Lebanon.
Maharat also fears the commission’s use of the text of Article 20, which was originally set up to fortify and protect civil society associations and legislate their role in monitoring elections at the local level, not restricting them and placing them within the discretionary authority of any public administration, as the texts must be interpreted in a broad sense that guarantees the maintenance of basic freedoms protected in the Lebanese constitution, in particular, the right of associations to exercise their role in monitoring public policies.
Thus, Maharat stresses the need to immediately start after the elections a workshop to reform electoral laws and clarify texts so as not to use them as excuses to restrict the work of civil society and to go immediately to a fundamental reform that Maharat and the Electoral Reform Coalition have always demanded, which is an independent Management Body for the Elections.