BEIRUT, May 8 (Reuters) – Lebanese citizens living abroad began voting in a parliamentary election on Sunday, with many set to back political newcomers after the worst crisis since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war led to widespread poverty and a wave of emigration.
Nearly 200,000 Lebanese living overseas are eligible to participate in the election, the first since Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse and port blast that killed more than 215 people and destroyed large parts of Beirut in August 2020.
Voters in Lebanon will cast their ballots on May 15.
Observers expect large numbers of expatriates to vote for candidates from a coalition of activists and independents who gained prominence during 2019 protests against the sectarian political elites whose corruption and mismanagement is widely blamed for the country’s catastrophic collapse.
“I want change,” said Samer Sobbi, a truck driver voting in Sydney. “I don’t want the same people, the same people every four years, and if not the same people then their kids, if not their kids, their relatives. What about us?”
Australia is among those countries with the highest number of diaspora voters, alongside Canada, the United States, Germany, the United Arab Emirates. France has the most at around 28,000 eligible voters.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abadallah Bou Habib said turnout in Australia had been 55%, while in the UAE 55% of eligible voters had cast their ballots three hours before polls closed.
The queue outside the Lebanese consulate in Dubai stretched for roughly a kilometre despite sweltering heat, and local police were seen fanning voters with pieces of cardboard.
“I came today just to vote and don’t care how long we wait in the heat. We need change,” said first-time voter Christiane Daou, 37.
Another longtime Dubai resident Joyce Daou (unrelated) expressed fears harboured by many voters that their votes may not be counted or could be otherwise interfered with — claims that have been denied by officials.
The ballot papers will be shipped back to Lebanon and stored at the central bank before being counted on election day. In parliamentary elections in 2018, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, the main elections watchdog, deemed as “invalid” results from 479 overseas polling stations, with no explanation given by officials.
“We are doing our part (by voting). Hopefully they will do their part and do not change the votes and leave this process to remain democratic and accurate,” Joyce Daou said.
Turnout in 10 mostly Arab countries on Friday was about 60%, Bou Habib said.
Support for establishment parties was still evident; near the Berlin polling centre, more than 20 people chanted their backing for Nabih Berri, veteran speaker of Lebanon’s parliament.
Others disagreed. Anton Wehb, a 62-year-old construction worker voting in Sydney, said Lebanon needed “new blood”, while in Paris, voter Sahar al-Jazzar said she would cast her ballot for “someone who wasn’t in power before.”
“Enough oppression, enough injustice and all the suffering we lived,” she said.
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