Lebanese citizens cast their vote for the Lebanese elections at the premises of Lebanese embassy in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Dubai: The voter turnout in the UAE for the Lebanese elections — held overseas for the first time on Friday — was the highest in six Arab countries where they were held, a media statement said.

Lebanese expatriates flocked to their missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Friday and made history as they cast votes for the first time outside their country, ahead of the May 6 elections.

The UAE was one of six Arab countries where overseas voting by Lebanese expats for the parliament was allowed, along with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Egypt.

From left: Naji Kazak, Zeina El Sheikh, with their children Fadi and Lara, after voting in the Lebanese Consulate in Dubai. Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

Registered expat voters in Arab countries numbered 12,609.

Lebanese expats in the Americas, Europe, Australia and Africa will cast their votes on Sunday.

The last parliamentary elections held on Lebanese soil was in 2009.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil tweeted that he was “very proud” to witness the first expat voting in the history of the Lebanese republic.

Philippe Samaha and his sister Cynthia after voting in Dubai. Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

“It marks the beginning of a track that will not stop until the return of all Lebanese to their country,” he posted as people followed the voting on a large screen at the foreign ministry.

The elections next month in Lebanon are the first in nine years after parliament postponed them several times over security reasons. The house’s term was supposed to expire in 2013 but lawmakers approved several extensions since then, the last one in June for another 11 months.

registered voters

In the UAE, 13 polling centres were open to cater to 5,166 registered voters. Voting centres opened doors at 7am and will remain open until 10pm on Friday.

As of 3pm on Friday, Some 1,606 voters had cast their votes at both missions representing 31 per cent of the total roll call, according to the Lebanese Foreign Ministry. Some voters were seen beaming with kids in tow.

polling centres in UAE

Among them were Naji Kazak and wife Zeina Al Shaikh who wanted to be an example to their son Fadi and daughter Lara.

“We brought our kids today because we wanted the whole family to be part of this. We’re making history today,” Zeina, a communications manager, told Gulf News.

Fouad Chehab Dandan, Lebanese Ambassador to the UAE, after voting at the Lebanese Embassy. Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

“It was a bit crowded which really makes my heart happy to see how enthusiastic and happy the Lebanese expats are to come and vote. Honestly, it’s crowded but it’s worth it,” she added.

Zeina is hopeful that the elections will bring about change and a better future for her country.

“Voting, at least for us, is a national duty. We care because this is our country and we really hope for the best,” she said.

Naji encouraged those who have been advocating for change but have lost faith in the elections to begin the process with themselves by exercising the right to vote.

“Even if they have lost faith, there is always an opportunity, a chance. Today is that chance. We have to make that change starting with ourselves. You cannot complain all your life while sitting and doing nothing. At least, if I want to complain, at least I exercised my right. This is our right and we must take advantage of that right,” Naji said.

Hassan Ahmad, a resident of Dubai since 1996, could not agree more.

“I am an advocate of change and have full trust and confidence in the citizens’ power and right for a change and to change. Hence, I went with my wife to vote in hope for the best of democracy and in hope of seeing newer and fresher faces in the parliament whom I hope would be able and succeed in reshaping the whole political cycle in Lebanon,” he said.

Also hoping for the best for Lebanon were siblings Cynthia and Philippe Samaha.

“It’s amazing because we felt that we are contributing to our country’s future. The change we want is peace, security, financial stability, and everything else so all Lebanese expats can go back to Lebanon,” Cynthia said.

Philippe said with a grin: “Our district had a lot of voters. I think our list will be the winning one. We hope for the best.”

The voting process was easy and convenient and only took less than five minutes per voter. The waiting time took longer, however, as the queues for some districts were long.

 I waited three hours in the sun but I’m here. I used to travel to Beirut to vote before but now I can vote here, which is a good thing.”

 - Eid Al Riachi | 43-year-old voter 

For Rana, a banker and resident of Dubai since 2003, her parents brought her up in a house that respects and believes in democracy and democratic systems. That is why she came early to cast her vote before the rush.

“It’s true that this new electoral law isn’t good enough to satisfy and meet our needs as Lebanese citizens but it has come as a change after decades of voting via the same old laws. We are fed up of seeing the same parliamentarians since the 1970s. I’m hopeful that this new law would make a breakthrough, though, not groundbreaking one,” she said.

Roland G., a businessman, believes his vote will “help in introducing some kind of change in the Lebanese politics”.

After the voting, the ballots will be sealed and sent to the Lebanese Central Bank. They will only be opened and counted at the end of the official voting day on May 6.

— With inputs from AP