Lebanese diaspora registering online for elections say they have ‘a duty to vote’

Non-resident citizens say they want to build country worth going back to

A Lebanese woman casts her vote in Lebanon's first legislative election in nine years at a polling station in the Christian town of Zahle, in the eastern Bekaa valley, on May 6, 2018.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 am across the small country, which has an electorate of around 3.7 million, and were due to close 12 hours later, with results from all 15 districts expected the following day. 
Turnout will be crucial to a new civil society movement's chances of clinching a handful of seats but analysts all predict the traditional sectarian-based parties will maintain their hegemony. / AFP PHOTO / Haitham MOUSSAWI

The clock is ticking for Lebanese living abroad.

The registration window for diaspora who want to vote in the country’s next 2022 parliament elections closes on November 20.

It is the second time in which non-resident Lebanese citizens would be able to cast their votes from abroad, and the first time since the onset of the worst financial crisis in the country’s history.

More than 160,000 people have signed up to cast their votes, according to recent figures by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is double the number of registrations for the last elections, held in 2018.

Although many are sceptical about how their votes would translate into immediate action, they hope it will be a start.

“This year’s elections are more important than ever,” said Dayana Mansour, a teacher in Dubai.

“It’s the first, small step to hopefully rebuilding a country we can go back to.”

She is one of many young Lebanese who say they were forced to leave their home country in search of stability and security.

While there are no recent precise figures on the number of Lebanese emigrants, MPs previously told The National that they believe between 200,000 and 300,000 people have left the country in the past two years.

According to Rahaf Abu Shahin, member of the board of directors of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, these non-resident Lebanese citizens were directly affected by the decisions of Lebanon’s politicians, and thus have a natural right to cast their votes in the elections.

“Many of those who recently left Lebanon are people who are paying the price to the increased and systemic violence in the country,” Ms Abu Shahin told The National.

“They have been affected by the decisions of those in power and have the right to hold them accountable in the ballot box.”

The demand for accountability in Lebanon arose with nationwide protests that swept the country in October 2019.

Demonstrators carry national flags as riot police stand guard behind barbed wire during an anti-government protest in Beirut, Lebanon October 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to form one of the biggest anti-government movements in Lebanon. Many later mobilised into political groups with candidates now standing in the elections.

Minteshreen, a progressive social liberal party that seeks to build a modern, democratic and secular state, is one of them.

Quote
People who no longer believe in this political class exist, and they have a voice
Samer Makarem, executive council member of Minteshreen

Despite their reservations regarding the Lebanese electoral law, the political party believes that those who fought for their rights on the streets in 2019 now have the chance to do so in the ballot boxes.

“We know that change won’t happen overnight after the elections,” said Samer Makarem, executive council member of Minteshreen. “But it’s the first step and we’re going to take it.”

The opposition group is equally calling on both resident and non-resident Lebanese to partake in the elections and continue “what they started in October 2019”.

“We need to show those in power that they are not untouchable,” Mr Makarem told The National.

“People who no longer believe in this political class exist, and they have a voice.”

Ibrahim Abdallah, 27, is not a first-time voter, but this time his choice of representatives has changed.

Previously a supporter of a traditional Lebanese political party, the UK-based doctor said the October 17 movement was “the final nail in the coffin”.

“I realised that none of the current parties have an actual plan for the country,” Dr Abdallah told The National. “They are remnants of the stalemate left by the civil war.”

Two years since the onset of Lebanon’s economic free fall, the ruling class has yet to make serious reforms.

The country had suffered with severe shortages of basic commodities in recent months that led to nationwide power cuts and endless queues for fuel, bread and other necessities.

The dire situation was a huge motive for Farah Farhat, 25, to register to vote for the first time.

“In 2018, I was of age and had the choice to vote. I didn’t do it because I thought it was unnecessary,” interior designer admitted.

“Now I think it’s crucial, and it’s our only way to make a change,” she said.

Ms Farhat is registered in Valencia, Spain, and has been campaigning to increase voter registration among the diaspora.

Quote
We’re up against parties that killed us, stole our money and stole our dreams. Voting is the least we could do.
Rami Boustani, Lebanese student in London

But many chose to forgo the online registration and book a flight back to the country instead to vote in-person for the elections in March 2022.

Ghida Farhat, 23, will be flying from Dubai to vote for she believes the upcoming elections “are very important to identify our numbers as changemakers.”

“Voting is a duty and we can’t ask for our rights if we don’t give the bare minimum,” she told The National.

Rami Boustani, 25, a student in London, will also be in Lebanon for the elections.

“It’s our test as independent Lebanese who are dreaming of a better tomorrow,” he said.

“We’re up against parties that killed us, stole our money and stole our dreams. Voting is the least we could do.”

Updated: November 17th 2021, 6:34 PM
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