NOW News, in collaboration with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), has launched Presidential Elections 2014, a website to encourage people to virtually (and symbolically) vote for their preferred candidate “based on criteria drawn from the constitution and the Bkerki National Document.”
The list of potential candidates was generated based on “media buzz and public recommendations,” according to NOW, and includes popular former Minister of Interior and Municipalities Ziad Baroud, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, and 12 other Maronite Christian leaders—remember, under Lebanon’s sectarian system, only Maronite Christians can run for president.
Each website visitor can vote for up to five preferred candidates based on the following criteria: policy, governance, civic, inclusivity, and personality. A biography of each of the 15 candidates is made available and accompanied by that candidate’s Tweet feed. Furthermore, a Complete Guide to Lebanon’s Presidential Election is provided on NOW’s website.
At the time of writing, Samir Geagea tops the “Top Choice” section with 30.9% of First Choice votes and Ziad Baroud tops the “Most Selected” section with 71.6% of all voters placing him among their five choices. This means that while most voters chose Samir Geagea (followed by Michel Aoun at 23.6% and Ziad Baroud at 18.2%) as their first choice, Ziad Baroud was chosen in 71.6% of all votes as among the voters’ five choices.
While the website has been praised by some for providing citizens with a new kind of opportunity to engage in the political process, many questions about the site and its methodology remain unanswered. What exactly does “media buzz and public recommendations” mean? Who made these “public recommendations” and why did some lesser-known candidates such as Nadine Moussa get left off? How many people have voted? How are we to know for sure that visitors are actually restricted to five votes? Where did the inspiration for the site come from and who’s funding it? How will they later use the data collected?
Usually, this information would be included in an About section that would offer some transparency in explaining the point of view of the site, the methodology for collecting and cleaning data, and specifically who is behind it. We’ve asked for comment from NOW Lebanon and are waiting for a reply. Without answers to these questions and others, however, it’s difficult to evaluate the site as a bona fide information source or as an interpretation of the current political situation whose creators may potentially have other motives.
In addition to a symbolic voting platform, the website contains a “Campaign” section in which four promotional videos are presented as part of the “in the name of the people” campaign that aims to “elect a president in line with the constitution and within the constitutional deadlines”:
The first, A President Now – Secret, portrays Lebanon’s presidential elections as being surrounded with a “secret” that no one really understands. It then claims that “there are no secrets, only scandals” and signs off with the message “so that it doesn’t end badly, let us start in a right way. We want a president in the name of the people.”
The second, A President Now – Chairs, shows a series of nine types of chairs each representing a type of president. For example, the couch represents a “comfortable” president next to whom you’d be comfortable sitting and the rocking chair represents a president who is easily manipulable. The video ends with “you can vote for anyone you like, but you can’t not vote. Because emptiness comes from a void, and the void isn’t legal.”
The third, President 2014 Promo, is a promotional video for the website itself.
The fourth, Kalam Ra2ees Promo, is a promotional video for the weekly political talk show hosted by Marcel Ghanem.
Lebanese law gives parliament a timeframe of two months to decide on a new president. President Sleiman’s term expires on May 25th, and if no successor is announced 10 days before that date, on May 15th, Parliament is automatically called to session.