Beirut(Oct 20, 2021): There is growing anger and outrage in Lebanon and abroad as the current ruling class made amendments to Lebanon’s reformist election law resulting in diluting the Lebanese expatriates right to vote, abolishing a female quota in Lebanon while insulting them in the process.
“They are nothing but mere decoration” was said about the Lebanese living abroad; “all they know about Lebanon is Tabouli, Houmous, Sfeeha and Kibbeh” said MP Pierre Abou Assi from Lebanese Forces Party. This was the level of debate during a heated parliamentary session that made amendments to the reformist election law passed in 2017.
WHY SHOULD THE LEBANESE DIASPORA HAVE A RIGHT TO VOTE?
Lebanon, like Italy and Ireland has more of its citizens living outside the country than inside. Since the late 1800’s the Lebanese abroad have been supporting their families back in Lebanon and recent estimates show that they contribute approximately $7 billion USD to the Lebanese economy annually. In the past two years this has tripled given the crippling economic situation gripping the country.
In 2017, then Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil proposed and managed to push through a law to allow the Lebanese Diaspora to vote for the first time in the country’s history. This stipulated that the Lebanese abroad would vote across the 15 electoral districts they originate from (and registered in) for the 2018 elections; this was not ideal but a start and what he managed to get pushed through parliament at the time. The law further stated that in 2022, each continent would be able to vote for its own MP to represent them in Lebanon’s parliament. There would be a 16th electoral district made up of 6 MPs (in addition to the 128 MPs in Lebanon) representing the Lebanese in Australia, North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Such a law would give more meaning to the voters living abroad to have their interests represented in Lebanon’s parliament (much like the Italian model that gives their expats 8 MP’s and 4 senators). Afraid of empowering the voters, the corrupt ruling class has voted to amend this law and revert back to diluting their votes across the 15 local districts in Lebanon.
“As a Lebanese living abroad, what do I care to vote for an MP to fix a road in a village I have never been to” said C.M. an expatriate not wishing to be identified. She went on to say “we have inheritance, citizenship and personal status issues only an MP representing us from here can address. I find it insulting when they say we can vote for 128 MPs, the Lebanese in Lebanon only vote for the MPs in their district and not all 128. They must think we are as foolish as their blind followers when they try to sell us this line”.
FEMALE QUOTA SHOT DOWN
There were many proposals put forward to have a quota for female representation of at least 26 seats reserved for females in Lebanon’s 128 seat parliament. This too was shot down immediately by most parties except the Free Patriotic Movement led by Bassil that supported the proposal.
MP Inaya Ezzeddine recently expressed disgust at the corrupt ruling class for dismissing her proposal on greater inclusion in Lebanon’s parliament. She even expressed dismay at her own party, the Amal Movement lead by billionaire former warlord Nabih Berri for the animosity they showed such a proposal.
NOT JUST LEBANESE ABROAD SLIGHTED
In Lebanon, voters have to travel to the village or hometown they are registered in so they can vote on polling day. People who reside or work in the capital Beirut or other major cities have to travel for hours to get to the polling station they are registered in. The solution proposed in the 2017 law (that did not pass then and again failed to get the votes now) was to establish voting “Mega Centers” around populated cities in the country, where voters don’t have to travel for hours just to express their democratic right. It is as if they corrupt ruling class do not want people to express their opinions at polls by torpedoing this proposal.
CHRISTIANS DISADVANTAGED AGAIN
Traditionally elections are held around May and June in Lebanon; this is towards the end of spring and beginning of summer. It is the most ideal time as the weather is mild; people are taking breaks from work and summer school holidays are commencing. In 2018, elections were held on the 6th of May and this time the date set for the 2022 elections was the 8th of May. This was in particular, out of respect to Ramadan (the Muslim month of fasting) that ends around the 1st of May.
What is shocking is that the corrupt ruling class changed the date of the elections to March 27th with no such respect shown to the indigenous Christians of Lebanon as their Lent (40 days of fasting and prayer) is from the 2nd of March to the 14th of April.
“I cannot believe in the land of co-existence and after all our wars some still cannot respect each other’s faiths. My biggest shock is how some Christian parties voted to have this law and date changed,” said M.K, a Muslim who also did not want to be identified.
Lebanon is going through some tough times right now with its economic and political meltdown. The corrupt ruling class simply won’t let go of power or their corrupt ways and will stop at nothing to prevent the reformists from fixing the country. They have attempted to stall the forensic audit of government accounts and disrupt the Beirut port explosion investigation that killed 219 people in August 2020. Just last week militants from the Amal Movement and Lebanese Forces were exchanging gunfire in Beirut killing 7 people in an attempt to derail the port investigation, yet during today’s session; MPs from both parties were exchanging pleasantries and voting together to change the election law.
Those who voted for these changes are the following parties:
- The AMAL Movement led by Nabih Berri (who has been parliament speakers since 1992) along with their allies in the Shiite duo.
- The Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumblatt.
- The Future Movement led by Saad Hariri
- The Lebanese Forces led by Samir Geagea.
- The Marada Movement led by Sleiman Frangieh.
- And a number of smaller parties.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
At this stage President Michel Aoun can veto the law, however this veto can be overturned in parliament after a period of time. Much of the powers of the President were stripped in the 1990 Taef accord that was ironically approved by the same ruling class listed above.
Bassil and his Free Patriotic Movement have signaled that they will be appealing these changes in the Constitutional Council in the hope the Lebanese in Lebanon and abroad get their proper voting rights back.
The only other option is for the people in Lebanon and abroad to punish this ruling class at the ballot box in 2022, irrespective of the law in place.