FRI 18 - 10 - 2019
Date: Apr 28, 2018
Source: The Daily Star

Folder: Elections
Lebanon: Thousands of diaspora expats cast votes in historic milestone
Joseph Haboush & Sabine Darrous| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: “Today is a national wedding,” one Lebanese voter told television cameras in Qatar Friday as more than 60 percent of 12,615 registered expatriate voters took part in phase one of this year’s parliamentary elections – a first for the diaspora in the country’s history. The last polls closed in Egypt at 11 p.m. Beirut time.

Expatriates living in six Arab countries – Egypt, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait – cast their ballots Friday, while the rest of the diaspora will vote Sunday.

Locally, employees were at the Foreign Ministry as early as 4 a.m. to ensure the monitoring center, which is linked to cameras at every polling center abroad, was up and running.

President Michel Aoun made an unannounced visit to the ministry in Ashrafieh and was seen touring the monitoring centers.

In brief remarks, Aoun said it was “no small matter” that Lebanon was holding expatriate voting in “more than 40 countries,” as he congratulated and thanked those who had helped make the expat vote possible.

Giant screens were set up in the main hall of the ministry, broadcasting live from each of the 32 polling stations in the six countries. The latest technologies and software were used to provide up-to-the-minute figures and participation rates that were instantly delivered to local and international monitors and media personnel who gathered in a large operations room at the ministry.

Members from the Electoral Supervisory Committee as well as EU observers and monitors from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections and other NGOs were also present at the ministry from 6 a.m.

Ministry officials repeatedly expressed their satisfaction regarding the progress of the electoral process, especially since no technical faults occurred and only minor problems or complaints were received. “To all those who bet that we were unable to accomplish [expat voting], this is a proof that we can do it when we want to and connect with all Lebanese across the world,” Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said.

“With $40,000, we were able to finalize the registration [of Lebanese expats to vote] and with $100,000 we connected the world with Lebanon,” he said, in reference to the technical and online facilities obtained for the purpose of the elections.

Bassil said he was “very proud to witness on the screen at the Foreign Ministry the first [expat] voting in Lebanon’s history.”

Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, whose ministry is tasked with implementing the elections, also spent time at the ministry during the vote. 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.

But Foreign Ministry General-Secretary Hani Chemaitelly upbraided LADE after an official from the local monitoring body said it had recorded violations in the voting process abroad. After claims of a name being added to a voter registry list by hand, Chemaitelly said there was a follow-up on the issue and that LADE’s statement was “a lie and false.”

He went on to note that “their job is to monitor the elections and unfortunately we are having to monitor them [LADE].”

Al-Jadeed reported another alleged violation, echoed by LADE, in which envelopes containing ballots had not been sealed, but Chemaitelly said 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 said.

“If someone wants to accuse us, they should consider [their charge] 100 times before doing so, because [we are being as transparent as possible].”

“We are very proud of what we have accomplished in this very short period of time,” Chemaitelly told The Daily Star. “That was a big challenge for us and we are more than pleased with the outcome.”

Separately, a number of expats in Dubai told local TV stations that they 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 ballot envelopes.

There are 5,166 voters registered to cast ballots in the UAE.

Despite waiting for over two hours to cast their ballots in the UAE, one voter said, “Lebanon deserves more than this from us, and deserves our sweat.”

The Lebanese ambassador to the Emirates told LBCI that they were informed DHL, the shipping company tasked with delivering ballot boxes from abroad to Beirut, does not work Friday. “Therefore the transfer of the ballot boxes from Dubai and Abu Dhabi [will take place] Saturday between 8 and 10 p.m. to Lebanon,” he was quoted as saying.

Once in Beirut, the votes will be secured at the Central Bank after being sorted into electoral districts, and sent to the respective districts for counting on May 6.

Friday’s voting in Arab countries will be followed by another round of voting Sunday for Lebanese citizens in Europe, Australia, the Americas and Africa – with the overall number of registered expat voters reaching 82,970.

The numbers of registered voters in the diaspora is minimal compared to the 3.7 million eligible voters inside Lebanon. But for a first try, “it’s a satisfactory” number, a diplomat told Agence France Presse.

While apparently welcomed by overseas voters, the new element of the vote law – long called for by mainly Christian parties – stirred controversy among politicians. Some sides have also criticized the transparency in the overseas voting process.

The 15-year Civil War in Lebanon led to millions of Lebanese emigrating, most of whom were reportedly Christian. However, Lebanese from all sects have spread around the globe.

With registration relatively low, the political weight of Lebanon’s diaspora vote this year will be “symbolic,” elections consultant Said Sanadiki told AFP. But in 2022, “in the next elections, six seats will be allocated to the diaspora,” he said. And then it will be “a different game.”

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