BEIRUT: Two major political parties will boycott student elections Friday at the Lebanese American University, charging that the voting system doesn’t allow for proper privacy or oversight.
Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement have withdrawn their candidates from the race, with the FPM urging other parties to do the same. Student politics in Lebanon follows national politics, with parties’ youth wings unofficially spearheading heated - and sometimes violent - campaigns.
Afif Ahmad, the Hezbollah representative at LAU, said the party is boycotting the elections over privacy concerns.
In previous years, he said, many people were pressured into voting for certain candidates since students can vote via phones from any location, which is why there should be established voting stations.
Despite this, he said he had no problem with an e-voting system in general. “We want to see proof of the actual votes, and what we are asking for is to have student representatives be present when the votes are counted.”
Ahmad denied rumors that the boycott is cover for Hezbollah’s fear of losing, saying that the difference between competing blocs’ number of seats has not been very significant in recent years.
“We want students to get used to fair and transparent electoral systems, because they will be voting in the coming 2022 parliamentary elections later on,” he added.
The FPM’s youth wing complained that the e-voting system grants students no privacy in a statement announcing the party’s boycott. Students’ accounts can be hacked, their data leaked and their votes can be cast by other people, the statement said.
Indeed, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections reported that LAU student voters had complained to the watchdog’s observers of their accounts being hacked and others casting their votes for them.
But the university’s administration defended the voting process.
Raed Mohsen, the dean of students at LAU’s Beirut campus, said that the current system minimizes peer pressure in voting.
“The online voting system opens at 6 a.m. on election day and is designed to give students the privacy of voting from any location, be it from home or from their cars, before reaching campus.”
“If some students are waiting to vote until after they’re on campus, then they are knowingly yielding themselves to possible pressure,” said Mohsen, adding that students who cannot endure peer pressure can participate in workshops LAU conducts on communication skills where assertiveness is also taught.
As for oversight, the dean clarified that candidates can enter the IT room and monitor the voting process at any point on the day of elections. Additionally, every year the candidates are invited to the room where the votes are counted and can see the results live.
“It is true that some students have complained about their accounts being hacked, but when we got to the bottom of these cases, it was either they hadn’t changed their automatic generic passwords, which can be guessed by anyone upon a few tries, or a friend has known their password and voted on their behalf without their knowledge and they never suspected it.”
“We send emails urging [them] to change their passwords, which should be done the first week they attend university; however, some never do and later complain about being hacked. In these cases the responsibility is on the students completely,” he said.
He added that new measures had been taken this year to help address concerns over hacking.
In the LAU elections, each student can cast one vote to one candidate from their respective school. The election system was revamped in 2016 from a paper ballot to e-voting.
Elections will take place on Oct. 4 between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. at the two LAU campuses.
After the elections are over, the campus will be vacated to avoid brawls between opposing parties when votes are announced.
Elections at Saint Joseph University follow Saturday.