05/09/2022, 18.39
LEBANON
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Parliamentary elections: Expats vote for change in Beirut

by Fady Noun

From Asia to Europe, from the Arab world to African nations, the Lebanese in expat community voted "for change" on 6 and 8 May. From independent candidates to tactical votes, many see the ballot box as the path to ending an inadequate and corrupt ruling class. The fight against Hezbollah, the turnout around 50% of those eligible. With peaks of 70% in Dubai. 

Beirut (AsiaNews) - The Lebanese diaspora scattered across five continents and in over 50 countries voted between May 6 and 8 in Lebanese parliamentary elections, which will be held in the country on the 15th of the month. 

More than 225,000 Lebanese living abroad registered on the electoral roll this year, up from 92,000 in 2018. This number is emblematic of the scale of the human haemorrhage caused by an unprecedented economic crisis that has hit Lebanon, and which has resulted in a large number of formerly middle-class citizens, and young people, fleeing the country. 

On average, slightly less than half of registered voters placed their ballot papers in the ballot box, according to early data, with a record participation rate of more than 70% of eligible voters in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Of these, more than 50% of voters are Christians. For what is considered the first half of the electoral round, two voting days were organised. The first was held on 6 May for the 30,929 Lebanese living in countries where Friday is considered a holiday and not a working day, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Egypt or Qatar. In this electoral basin, turnout reached 59%, compared to 56% in the 2018 elections. 

Yesterday, more than 194 thousand Lebanese migrants registered in 48 countries in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and Asian nations turned up to the polls, according to the National Information Agency (Ani), with the average figure being set at around 50%. A total of more than 205 polling stations were set up around the world for the voting operations, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib confirmed. At the end of the count, the ballot boxes will be sent to the Central Bank of Lebanon, while the actual counting will take place after the elections have been held in the country, scheduled for 15 May. Voting operations went smoothly, with no reports of any major incidents, and were followed step by step by an operations room set up at the Foreign Ministry, which was visited earlier by Head of State Michel Aoun to check that everything was in order. 

Desire for change and tactical votes

From Dubai to Paris, via Athens to Abidjan, a strong desire to contribute to "change" emerges from the ballot boxes and the voters. Interviewed by L'Orient-Le Jour's correspondent in Paris, 31-year-old Georges Hachem, originally from Chouf, said he had come to the town hall in the 16th arrondissement to vote for the "United for Change" list, close to the protest movement, and had given his preference to the environmentalist candidate Najat Saliba. "I am convinced," the young man pointed out, "that we have to vote according to the competence of the candidate and we have to get rid of this rotten political class. We, as members of the diaspora, have a duty to try to change the situation, at least for those who remained in Lebanon". 

However, according to Carl Chalhoub, who has been working for seven and a half years in a Lebanese company in the United Arab Emirates, 'while the Lebanese youth in Dubai vote in the majority for independent candidates, they are also well aware of the need to vote tactically in certain cases and in certain constituencies to oust the ruling parties if the independents have no chance of being elected'. And by a tactical vote, he means voting for the Lebanese Forces against the Free Patriotic Current, Hezbollah and its allies. 

"When I left Lebanon in 2020, I no longer believed in our country, I was bitter," stresses Layla Nahas, who votes from Montreal. "I was mad as hell at this political and ruling class that drove us out, that killed our loved ones, that stole our future and that of our children." "Today," she adds, "I am voting simply because it is my duty to do so, so that my son does not forget where he came from and so that he can return one day to Lebanon. 

Credible elections

In general, the continuous broadcasting by local television stations of images showing queues of voters from all walks of life queuing up in front of the polling stations, with a large presence of young people, gave the Lebanese at home a positive image of good citizenship. And it guaranteed credibility to an electoral round that many still doubted until the previous day. For many Lebanese, overwhelmed by the impunity enjoyed by Hizbollah, this last appointment has the appearance of a referendum for or against the arsenal at the disposal of the pro-Iranian party, as well as showing the full extent of the tiredness and discontent that is spreading towards a political establishment considered corrupt and incompetent, which survives only thanks to patronage.

However, there is also a major unknown factor hovering over the election: the rate of abstentionism within the Sunni electorate. This was evident on Friday in the well below average turnout figure recorded in Saudi Arabia (around 43%), one of the lowest in this first partial phase of the poll. Its leader, Saad Hariri, decided to withdraw from the race and ordered his supporters to boycott the parliamentary elections.

On the other hand, both the current Prime Minister Nagib Mikati, a Sunni, some of Hariri's close associates and colleagues of Hariri's father who was assassinated in 2005, including Fouad Siniora, have expressed their opposition to this call, as has the Mufti of the Republic, Abdel Latif Derian, the highest Sunni religious authority in the country, who has called for a massive participation in the elections.

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