CWU faculty oversees election in Lebanon


Courtesy of Dr. Geraldine O'Mahony

Dr. Geraldine O'Mahony and others, sent by the National Democratic Institute, went to Lebanon to observe their first democratic election.

Jack Belcher, Senior News Reporter

Dr. Geraldine O’Mahony from the Office of the Associate Provosts at CWU was recently in Lebanon to observe their first democratic election in nearly a decade. While O’Mahony does work at CWU, she was asked to go on this trip by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a non-profit, non-partisan and non-government organization that observes and supports democratic processes across the globe.

According to O’Mahony, the NDI sent her, along with 30 other observers from 13 different nations to observe the democratic process in Lebanon. She was chosen because she used to study intensive Arabic in Lebanon in 2005 and has worked with the NDI in the past during the Liberian election in October and December of 2017.

The NDI sent O’Mahony to represent the country of Ireland, where she was born and raised. She then moved to America 12 years ago to start her PHD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I have always been interested in the question of how countries, after they go through wars, how they come back together and rebuild their societies and communities,” O’Mahony said. “Maybe if we understood that more, we could help prevent conflict.”

Understanding how countries build and maintain democratic systems, how the system allows people to feel as though they have a voice in government and the ability to help shape what their country looks like motivates O’Mahony’s research.

“If we can understand how we can do that [build and maintain democratic systems] well and where it works well and where it doesn’t, I think we can get a long way to resolving issues that plague conflict countries,” O’Mahony said.

The NDI first contacted her during the summer of 2017 after she presented one of her papers in a conference with an NDI member in attendance. She was delighted when she was first asked if she was interested.

“Aside from election observation, they do a lot of work helping promote building stronger and more sustainable election systems,” O’Mahony said. “They give advice on how you develop election laws to be more representative; to be more inclusive.”

In a preliminary report, the NDI highlighted that the election was not very accommodating to people with disabilities. The report also highlighted that there were instances of illegal campaigning near polling stations, as well as minor acts of violence. Overall, the election proceeded very peacefully, according to O’Mahony.

O’Mahony has experience working and researching all over the world and sometimes in dangerous areas.. She has worked in Bosnia, Liberia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

“I do research all the time, a do all my research in conflict areas, and I have worked for the last 20 years either as an auxiliary nurse or a researcher in warzones,” O’Mahony said.

She knows what the risks are and has the appropriate training to keep herself safe. She also mentions that the NDI ensures that they have appropriate security and protection.

O’Mahony said that she would do something like this again in a heartbeat. If she had the choice, she would go to her region of focus, which is African politics.