“Last Hope”: Overseas Lebanese seek a say in opinion polls | Election News

Beirut, Lebanon- Before the massive protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite swept the country in October 2019, Yasmin Saad never thought that she would pay particular attention to the country’s politics.

But two years later, the 22-year-old marketing student in France watched millions of Lebanese suffer a series of complex crises and decided to register for next year’s parliamentary elections.

“I think this is the last chance – or the last hope,” Saad told Al Jazeera in Marseille. “What really motivated me to start voting was those days when everyone was protesting on the street-we also had our own protests and rallies in France.”

She is not alone. More than 210,000 Lebanese living abroad registered before the Saturday deadline and voted in the March 27 elections-twice the number of foreigners registered to participate in the last poll in 2018 many.

Over the past few decades, millions of Lebanese have left the country, facing instability, deep-rooted corruption and financial mismanagement, they have brought their skills and talents abroad to seek better opportunities. Although there are no clear figures, many people estimate that there are more people living abroad than the small country itself, where there are approximately 6.5 million people, including Lebanese and refugees.

According to a new election law, overseas Lebanese were allowed to vote for the first time in 2018. The law also stipulates that in the 2022 elections, six new seats will be added to the parliament to represent the diaspora. However, independent political parties and many foreigners disagree with the increase, believing that this is a way to isolate the diaspora from the local electoral district. Last month, members of Congress refused to increase these six seats, which means that foreigners will vote for the existing 128 seats in May.

In October 2019, large-scale protests broke out across Lebanon against the ruling elites of sectarian parties and private sector cronies that have been established in the country for decades. Lebanese in dozens of cities around the world also staged similar protests in solidarity with youth-led demonstrations in the country. They called for a thorough reform of the Lebanese sect’s power-sharing system that has led to widespread nepotism.

Since then, the crisis has deepened, and the local currency of Lebanon has depreciated by about 90% against the US dollar. About three-quarters of the population live in poverty and rely heavily on charity and aid in the absence of viable social programs.

Public anger against the ruling elite reached new heights in August 2020, when a large-scale explosion in the port of Beirut razed several blocks of the capital to the ground, killing more than 200 people and injuring thousands. Lebanese abroad have organized many charitable activities to support local aid groups to help troubled families obtain medicine, heating and rent.

Saad said that the past two years have prompted her and her friends to support independent candidates who have promised to challenge the status quo.

Saad explained: “We have all united once, just to change and want a better future.” “It made me realize that maybe these elections will be different.”

Independent political forces have taken notice.

Mark Daou is a candidate representing Taqaddom in the Chouf-Aley region of the mountainous region. Taqaddom is the party he co-founded, which he described as “progressive” and “social-democratic.”

He said that the diaspora registration turnout rate is a promising development, reflecting the greater enthusiasm of Lebanese diasporas to participate in voting.

“We have been able to reach a few Lebanese – but in fact they have been contacting us, which is better,” Daou told Al Jazeera by phone when he was traveling to France on Friday after meeting with a Lebanese living in Germany. “They will ask us,’Are you willing? Should we register [to vote]? ‘”

Power Sharing System

Edy Semaan left Lebanon in 2017 to study for a master’s degree in the United States and currently works as a communications specialist in Washington, DC. Four years ago, he did not vote in the last election in Lebanon, but this time, he planned to take time off and go home early to support the independent party’s pre-election campaign.

“I support thawing [revolution],” Zeeman told Al Jazeera proudly.

Nevertheless, he admitted that he did not want to see major reforms in the parliament, pointing to the ruling party’s fiscal firepower and client network in dozens of countries-for decades, Lebanon’s traditional political power has been investing in sustaining its diaspora guerrillas. With the support of the team members, many of them have become financial patrons.

“I don’t think the diaspora will have a huge impact this election season, but I think they will help bring some new faces to the parliament,” said Seiman, who thinks it will take years to end Lebanon’s “deep-rooted corruption”.

Ibrahim Harawi, the Secretary of Foreign Relations of the Citizens Organization, an independent political party that announced that it will vote last week, asserted that “there are no’dipatriates’.

He told Al Jazeera: “This completely erases the long-term existence of sectarian organizations in the diaspora.”

Daou stated that he hopes that independent political parties and opposition groups can get “10% to 20%” of parliamentary seats.

On paper, this seems like a trivial part. But in fact, this may represent a major breakthrough, because Lebanon’s sect power-sharing system allocates seats to different sects in different regions, which has always been a major obstacle to independent candidates.

Therefore, to establish a constituency for a constituency is not only to introduce the most qualified and suitable candidates, but also to look for people with like-minded people of certain denominations in their respective constituencies.

Lebanon’s ruling elite—from Iran’s Shi’ite movement Hezbollah to Saudi Arabia’s Christian party, the Lebanese Army—has long used this unique power-sharing system to try to maintain political strongholds in certain areas of the country.

Despite this, anti-establishment movements and political parties continue to try to take back professional syndicates, trade unions, and student movements. Last summer, independent political groups swept the engineering group elections, one of the largest elections in the country.

‘The battle to share the loss’

The parliamentary elections are at a critical moment in Lebanon, which is short of funds.

The government led by the current prime minister, Najib Mikati, faces some obstacles in getting the country back on track. It gives priority to resuming negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue plan, which will release billions of dollars in loans and economic aid.

Although the country’s central bank and commercial banks have been lobbying the government to ensure that they are not overburdened by the recovery plan, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and extreme poverty, Olivier De Schutter, recently criticized They did not acknowledge their role in the recovery plan. The crisis is due to their bad practices and management of depositors’ savings.

With this in mind, Haravi, a citizen of the country, stated that even a few new lawmakers will be able to resist the impact of the country’s broken financial system and ensure that the millions of Lebanese who have been hit hard will not bear the additional economic burden. burden. In the recovery phase.

“This is a struggle to distribute losses,” he said.

“Historically, this is the moment when society should treat universal healthcare and education as a right. This is when banks and criminal elites are at their weakest. We need to fight them hard to get what we want. “

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