|Date: Apr 30, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Lebanon: Officials applaud historic expat vote|
|Ghinwa Obeid| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Turnout for the first Lebanese expatriate vote in parliamentary elections was low in Europe, Africa, Australia and the Americas compared to the first phase of the vote in Arab states Friday. As of Sunday night when The Daily Star went to print, when some polls had yet to close, around 31 percent of 70,355 registered voters had participated. The last polling station closes in Los Angeles at 8 a.m. Monday, Beirut time.
With 22,380 voters in Australia, Armenia, Europe, the island of Guadeloupe, Africa, Latin America and North America out of 70,355 registered voters casting ballot, the turnout was 31.81 percent. The final tally from Arab states Friday was over 65 percent of 12,615 registered voters in six Arab states.
Polling stations opened first in Australia at midnight Saturday Beirut time and closed at around 3 p.m. Sunday with 6,829 out of some 11,826 – or 58 percent of Lebanese registered voters – participating.
Polling stations in Europe, Africa, the United States, Canada and Latin America then followed. Canada and the U.S. are home to the second and third highest number of registered Lebanese voters respectively.
Significant Lebanese populations can also be found in the African countries of Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal. However, only 6,414 expats registered in the whole of Africa, of which 3,343 voted.
Out of 311 registered voters in Armenia, 130 voted while 8,504 out of 24,484 voters turned out across Europe. In the French overseas region of Guadeloupe, 89 out of 276 voted. In Latin America, 984 out 5,602 potential ballots were cast and so far, in North America, 2,501 out of 21,442.
President Michel Aoun Sunday expressed his satisfaction with the progress of the second phase of the expatriate vote. The general vote will end on May 6 when Lebanese inside the country head to the polls.
Aoun, according to a statement from the presidency, has been following up on the elections since the early morning. “He received regular reports from the Foreign and Interior ministries,” the statement said, adding that the reports included the percentage turnout.
“Aoun expressed his relief for the course of the second phase of the elections and the measures that accompanied it, especially regarding resolving certain issues that emerged during the voting process.”
Local TV channel LBCI reported that voters in Germany encountered some issues, including not being able to find their names on the registered voter list. Some citizens reportedly arrived at polling stations in Berlin only to find that their names were registered in another city such as Dusseldorf, a roughly five-hour drive away.
Many registered voters in Germany originate from Hezbollah and Amal Movement strongholds in southern Lebanon, with some supporters of the Shiite parties telling local media they suspected the technical difficulties had been orchestrated to ensure lower turnout in these districts. “There are fatal errors in voters’ lists,” Amal Movement MP Ali Bazzi said in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
“We received hundreds of complaints from citizens who took the burden [of going to the polling stations] and were surprised that either their names weren’t on the voting lists or that [they were recorded to vote] in different polling stations in different cities,” he said.
“It is our right to ask if what happened was a technical error that can be corrected or if it was done on purpose – and this is our fear,” Bazzi said.
Some voters in Washington D.C. were also unable to cast their ballots because their names were not on the voters’ list.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk, who visited the Foreign Ministry to follow up on the process, said that the “mistakes” during the expats voting were “simple and resolved.”
Machnouk said that given the short period of time and the limited budget to prepare the expat vote, the process had been smooth.
“It is a success for all of Lebanon. It is unfair to exaggerate simple mistakes to overshadow a huge success,” he said.
In response to the issues raised in Germany, Machnouk said: “After thoroughly looking to the matter, it turned out that these names were registered without specific addresses and so they were placed on the voters’ lists for the polling station in Berlin,” adding that it only impacted several dozen voters.
He also noted that one of the mistakes in Germany was the mixup of two ballot boxes in the cities of Dusseldorf and Bremen, which was dealt with by exchanging the boxes.
Another mishap, the minister told the reporters, was that out of the 6,000 passports requested by Lebanese living abroad, 400 were not delivered in time for the elections. Machnouk said he will seek legal advice to see if the people affected can travel to Lebanon to vote.
Initially, he added, ballot boxes from Latin America were set to arrive several days late due to an extended Labor Day holiday in these countries. DHL, the courier company tasked with shipping ballot boxes to Lebanon from polling stations around the world, would not be operating during the vacation.
“It would take these boxes at least four days to arrive in Lebanon,” Machnouk explained. “Nevertheless, Foreign Ministry Secretary-General [Hani Chemaitelly] found a quick solution for this ... and ambassadors in the countries affected by this holiday will commit to coming to Lebanon within the coming two days, bringing the ballots boxes with them.”
Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil praised the process. He acknowledged minor setbacks but attributed some of them to registration mistakes, including related to criminal records, or not submitting all the required information and paperwork for ID or registration.
The elections were monitored from an operations room in the Foreign Ministry, but also by independent monitors from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections and the EU Election Observation Mission.
The EU EOM deployed 13 teams of short-term observers to 12 cities in ten European countries, a statement said.
EOM Chief Observer Elena Valenciano said she was very pleased to see the out-of-country voting take place. She said, however, observers had reported that a number of voters in several countries hadn’t found their names on the voters’ list despite having registered correctly.
“So far, our observers have reported that voting has been orderly, peaceful, with no reports of serious incidents, and respectful of the procedures laid down for the conduct of the OCV [out-of-country voting],” Valenciano said, according to the statement. “They also reported a widespread presence at polling stations of party and candidate agents across the political spectrum.”