|Date: Apr 28, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Polls close in six Arab countries in first-time Lebanese expat vote|
|BEIRUT: Polls closed Friday evening in six Arab countries, where Lebanese expats cast their ballots in the first out-of-country vote in parliamentary elections.|
Total turnout reached at least 60.4 percent of the registered 12,615 voters, or around 7,500 voters as of 8:30 p.m., Lebanese news station Al-Jadeed reported.
The Foreign Ministry had yet to officially update the numbers Friday evening, as the polls in Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Egypt closed.
Qatar saw the highest voter turnout as of Friday night, with 76.5 percent of registered voters reportedly casting their ballots by the time polls closed at around 10 p.m. Turnout in the UAE was 62.1 percent, Lebanese broadcaster MTV reported at around 11 p.m., with the majority of voters hailing from Jbeil, Metn and Baabda. At least 74.6 percent of voters showed up to cast ballots in Oman, and 69.1 percent in Kuwait. With around 15 minutes to go until midnight, local media reported 51 percent turnout in Egypt, with 62.4 percent in Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was at the ministry in Ashrafieh Friday to monitor, via video link, Lebanese voters heading to polling stations abroad.
“I am very proud to witness through the screen at the Foreign Ministry the first [expat] voting in Lebanon’s history,” Bassil said in a Twitter post around midday. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, whose ministry is tasked with implementing the elections, also spent time at the ministry. He told reporters that the Electoral Supervisory Committee was overseeing the electoral process, and that no complaints had been registered Friday concerning the expat vote.
"The body is supervising things – maybe its [ability to implement decisions] is not very strong, but I am not involved [in its work]," he said.
President Michel Aoun arrived at the Foreign Ministry Friday afternoon, and was seen touring the operations area where elections were being monitored.
In brief remarks, Aoun said it was "no small matter" that Lebanon was holding expatriate voting in "more than 40 countries."
General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim said of the expat vote, “It’s something we are proud of, given that it is happening for the first time in Lebanon's history," after a meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, according to a statement from the latter's office.
Lebanon's electoral law of 2017 is the first that allows expatriates to cast ballots in parliamentary elections from overseas.
Registered voters in Arab countries began to head to the polls starting from 6 a.m. Beirut time.
The first ballot boxes were reported to have been opened in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait and then Egypt.
Local TV channel LBCI reported that voters in Dubai had faced some difficulties, as some voters' names had not been included on the voters' lists. Other voters complained about what they said had been a failure to completely seal the envelopes in which they had placed their ballots.
There are 5,166 voters registered to cast ballots in UAE.
Some voters in Dubai said that they waited for over two hours to cast their ballots, but one voter said, "Lebanon deserves more than this from us, and deserves our sweat."
An official from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections said Friday morning that alleged violations – including an instance in which a voter’s name was reportedly added in handwriting to an expat voting list – had been reported, and that the association would follow up on these issues.
But Foreign Ministry General-Secretary Hani Chemaitelly lashed out at LADE in a statement to reporters, saying, “Their job is to monitor the elections and unfortunately we are having to monitor them [LADE].”
Chemaitelly said that his ministry had investigated the claims of a name being added to a list, and determined that they were “false.”
He also dismissed charges that envelopes containing ballots had not being sealed, claiming that this was a normal measure. “They are not sealed because when sorting the votes, if you have to rip open the envelope the vote itself could be ripped, making it invalid.”
He added: “If someone wants to accuse us, they should consider [their charge] 100 times before doing so, because [we are being as transparent as possible].”
LADE released another statement Friday afternoon clarifying that it was not targeting the Foreign Ministry in its actions, rather it was trying to ensure "the success of the electoral process and democracy."
It listed a number of other "violations," including the immediate renewal of a passport in Abu Dhabi for an Akkar voter and the addition of the names of three delegates to a list of approved delegates by hand. Delegates can be appointed by any electoral list or candidate to oversee the voting process.
LADE also noted a voter in Jeddah had taken a picture of the list he was voting for and sent it to someone via the popular messaging app WhatsApp. Other voters in the Saudi city also took pictures of their lists, LADE said. In Dubai, a person was taking pictures from behind a polling booth but was stopped by a person in charge and prevented from voting.
In Kuwait, more than five voters registered online but did not find their names on the lists of registered voters., LADE said.
Meanwhile, in Qatar, Ali, an expat supporter of the Amal Movement, described the voting day as "a national wedding."
Speaking to reporters earlier on Friday, Bassil said that the mechanism for the voting process was set by the Interior Ministry and that the Foreign Ministry was only implementing the steps in this process that were under its mandate.
"There is coordination between the Interior Ministry and Foreign Ministry," Faten Younis, head of Political and Refugee Affairs at the Interior Ministry, told local channels. Younis said that the ministry was working to facilitate various obstacles facing the expat voters, adding that each case was particular.
"We are following up on the issue of some voters of not having their names enrolled on voters' lists," she said.
Friday's voting in Arab countries will be followed by another round of voting on Sunday for Lebanese in Europe, Australia, the Americas and Africa – with the overall number of registered expat voters in these regions reported to be 82,970.
Inside Lebanon Friday, political party officials were busy in office rooms dedicated to monitoring the expat vote, carefully keeping count of their supporters heading to polling stations abroad.