Dubai: Thousands of Lebanese expats in the UAE on Sunday cast their votes for the parliamentary election scheduled for May 15 in Lebanon.
Long queues of voters showed up at Lebanon’s diplomatic missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as the gates opened at 7am.
For 39-year-old Mohammad Negro, the election is a sign of hope for change for the next generation in Lebanon.
“I’m here to make a change in the government that ruled us for 40 years. I’m here voting so my two-year-old daughter can have a better future,” Mohammed told Gulf News.
Registered voters were given until 10pm on Sunday to cast their ballots for 128 representatives in parliament for the elections that come amid an unprecedented financial crisis that has spurred a mass population exodus.
“We have to do something this time. I voted many times in the past but after the death of [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafic Hariri I lost hope in Lebanon. But as I see these lines of voters I told my wife that we have a hope to change,” said Negro, a marketing manager who has been living in the UAE for 13 years now.
Despite the hot weather and long queues, around 20,000 Lebanese voters in Dubai showed up, besides 5,142 in Abu Dhabi.
Hanaa Nasser, who has been living in Dubai for 20 years, was proudly wearing a shirt with Lebanon’s flag and hoped to “save Lebanon” by this election.
“I came to vote to save Lebanon. We have hope this year to make a change. All my friends, families and relatives suffered financially and emotionally due to the situation in Lebanon,” Hanaa said.
Meanwhile, Wafi Zeyada, 37, who has been a Dubai resident for eight years now, said: “We have a hope to make a change as well as a hope for the Lebanese to wake up and change their style of voting in the past because our country became isolated in the region and the world.”
He voted for the first time in his life.
“We should be with our Arab brothers. We thank UAE for their hospitality and generosity. We hope people in Lebanon vote for change.”
Another voter, 65-year-old George Gebran, said: “I’m here to practice my right and duty in voting for my country. The crowds are coming today because of the recent development in the country and they have hope for a better future.” Gebran has been a teacher at a private school in UAE for the last 22 years.
Sabine Boghos, who was raised in the UAE, said it was the first time she voted in the election. “Lebanese people have been trapped for many years. It is first time for me to vote. What is happening inside Lebanon forced me to leave the country because there is no chance to make my dream in Lebanon,” added the senior account manager.
Assaf Doumit, Consul General of Lebanon in Dubai, told Gulf News that the consulate provided parking lots and cooling halls to welcome voters.
“We had huge crowds of voters since the early hours of [Sunday] morning. We have 19,924 voters registered in Dubai compared to 3,899 voters in 2018. Dubai is one of the biggest election centres for Lebanese expatriates. The procedure is going smoothly,” Doumit said.
“The doors will be open until 10pm but we might extend it if there are still voters in lines.”
While opposition figures have pinned their hopes on the diaspora, experts said the elections were expected to uphold the status quo, despite years of economic meltdown.
Earlier, on Friday, Lebanese expats in nine Arab countries and in Iran had cast their votes, with Syria and Iran seeing the highest turnout rates, according to Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Bou Habib.
The Lebanese diaspora in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq and Qatar and six other countries were first to cast their votes. The second round of voting was held on Sunday in another 49 countries, including the UAE, where Sunday is a holiday.
‘Vote in large numbers’
The development marked the second time in Lebanon’s history that citizens residing abroad were able to vote for their 128 representatives. The vote is the first since mass protests erupted in late 2019 against the country’s entrenched ruling elite, widely blamed for the economic collapse.
Bou Habib had said that Lebanese based abroad would be able to vote in more than 205 polling stations worldwide.
The number of Lebanese who have registered to vote abroad has climbed from the roughly 92,000 in 2018 elections – though only 50,000 of them voted at the time.
But voter registration, while on the rise, remains relatively low among the millions of Lebanese who live abroad, and their descendants.
The economic crisis has pushed middle-class Lebanese, including families, fresh graduates, doctors and nurses to emigrate in search of a better future.
While opposition groups hope the diaspora will vote for change, only six percent of overseas voters picked independents in 2018, according to a recent report by the Paris-based Arab Reform Initiative.
Candidates from the traditional parties have sent messages to many expatriates in recent weeks to appeal for their vote.
On Thursday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati called for voters registered abroad “not to be complacent and to vote in large numbers”.
Although many Lebanese hope they can vote traditional parties out, experts said this was unlikely as opposition candidates lacked unity, funds and experience.
In January, former prime minister Saad Hariri said he would quit politics and that his party would boycott the polls – leaving his Sunni community leaderless ahead of the elections.
Less prominent Sunni figures, including some politicians from his own party running as independents, are looking to reclaim Hariri’s influence and snatch a seat in parliament.