The elections of Lebanon’s expatriates…a “limited” effect that anticipates the major battle

Beirut / Naim Berjawi / Anatolia

Despite the media momentum of the electoral round, experts and observers agree that the expatriate vote will have a “limited” impact on the final election results.
– It is expected that competition will intensify in light of popular anger due to the economic collapse.
– Experts believe that the March 8 forces (the allies of Iran and the Syrian regime) have become more cohesive than the alliances of the March 14 forces (close to Riyadh and Washington)
103 electoral lists comprising 718 candidates distributed over 15 electoral districts are competing in these elections to select 128 deputies in Parliament.

In 58 countries spread over the six continents of the world, the Lebanese residing outside their country voted for the parliamentary elections last Friday and Sunday, in a “rehearsal” for the electoral battle scheduled for May 15 inside the country.

According to unfinished official figures, the participation rate was about 60 percent of the total number of about 225,000 who previously registered to vote abroad, a number three times higher than the number of those who registered to vote in 2018.

Despite the media momentum that accompanied this election round, especially through social media, experts and observers agree that the expatriate vote will have a “limited” impact on the final election results.

Influence in some circles in favor of “change”

According to the Director of the Statistics and Documentation Office (Exclusive) Kamal Feghali, the expatriate vote will have an impact on the results of only 4 or 5 electoral districts, out of the total of 15 districts in all of Lebanon.

Feghali told Anadolu Agency that the actual impact of the expatriates’ vote will be in the “first Beirut”, “second Beirut”, “fourth mountain”, “third south” and “third north” districts, and this will be in favor of the forces of change and the opposition.

According to the current Lebanese electoral law, each district includes one or more districts, which is represented in Parliament by a number of parliamentary seats that are distributed according to the sectarian division in the country, and competition in the electoral district takes place between several lists.

103 electoral lists comprising 718 candidates distributed over 15 electoral districts are competing in these elections to select 128 deputies in Parliament.

The 128 seats are distributed as follows: 28 for Sunnis, 28 for Shiites, 8 for Druze, 34 for Maronites, 14 for Orthodox, 8 for Catholics, 5 for Armenians, two seats for Alawites, and one seat for minorities within the Christian community.

The dissenting voices of the opponents

According to the same spokesman, the lack of unification of the “forces of change” regulations in some districts, such as Tripoli, will lead to the dispersal of opposition voices, which aspire to change the political class against the background of the economic collapse and crises afflicting their country.

The lists of the “change forces” emerged in these elections more than ever, affected by the massive protests that took place in the country in late 2019, where, for months, the demonstrators raised slogans calling for the departure of the political class and holding it responsible for corruption in the country.

Agreeing with Feghali, political analyst Tawfiq Shoman said that the expatriate vote will have a limited impact on the overall election results, but its impact is greater in the “third north” and “second Beirut” districts.

Shoman added to Anadolu Agency that the number of those who registered abroad to vote in these two constituencies is about 30,000, indicating that the high turnout in these constituencies will have a clear impact on the outcome of the elections.

Participation rate is low

On the other hand, activist and political analyst Samir Skaf considered that the participation rate was not up to expectations, and was expected to be more high, reaching about 90 percent, given that this percentage is out of the number of pre-registered voters who intended to vote.

Speaking to Anatolia, Skaf pointed out that voting abroad plays a big role in favor of the opposition and change forces, because expatriates have more independence in making their choices away from the (economic and social) restrictions imposed by the parties in power.

He added that many expatriates have a resentment against the political class, and they hold it responsible for their alienation from their homeland, especially those who emigrated following the economic and financial crisis and the successive political upheavals in their country.

About two and a half years ago, an economic crisis afflicted Lebanon, which led to a financial collapse of living and a scarcity of basic commodities such as fuel and medicine, and a huge explosion that occurred in the port of Beirut in the summer of 2020 increased the suffering, killing 220 people, wounding about 7,000 others, and damaging large parts of the capital.

Signs of boycotting the Future Movement

Compared to the last elections in 2018, the percentage of Lebanese voting abroad in general increased from 56 to 60 percent, but it decreased in countries where Sunni voters constitute the largest number of expatriates, according to Feghali.

This was remarkable in Saudi Arabia, where the participation rate fell from 62 percent in 2018 to 49 percent this year. This decline is attributed by Feghali to the decision of the leader of the “Future Movement” Saad Hariri to refrain from running and boycotting the elections, according to the same spokesman.

Hariri, the former prime minister and the leader of the country’s most prominent Sunni component, announced last January the suspension of his political work and the non-participation of his current in the elections.

At the time, Hariri considered that “there is no room for any positive opportunity for Lebanon in light of Iranian influence, international confusion, national division, sectarianism and the state’s wear and tear.”

The boycott violates the position of the “Mufti”

According to Feghali, the reality reflects the influence of a section of the “Sunni” electorate on Hariri’s decision, in contrast to the positions of the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian and former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who stressed the need to participate in the elections and vote.

In the Eid al-Fitr sermon, Mufti Derian urged participation in the elections, warning of the danger of abstaining from that, considering it “the opportunity to achieve change,” while Siniora supports a number of candidates.

According to the data of the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, “Sunnis” constitute the largest number of voters in Lebanon (1 million and 81 thousand and 520), followed by “Shias”, then “Maronites” and then other sects.

Feghali suggested that Hariri’s decision would have a repercussion on the election day on May 15 in terms of a decline in “Sunni” participation, noting that this had an impact on the election results due to the difficulty in confronting the “March 8” lists.

It is expected that the competition will intensify in light of the popular anger over the economic collapse, while experts believe that the March 8 forces (allies of Iran and the Syrian regime) have become more cohesive than the alliances of the March 14 forces (close to Riyadh and Washington).

Who is the Sunni leadership?

In turn, Shoman saw that the low turnout of Sunni voters means that the largest segment of the Sunni community adhered to Hariri’s decision, which means confirming his political leadership and that he is the strongest in the Sunni arena.

In the event that the voter turnout among Sunni voters increases (contrary to Hariri’s decision), this raises crucial questions about Hariri’s political future, and thus the stage of finding an alternative to Hariri’s leadership has begun, according to Shoman.

The conclusion is that if the voter turnout is high “Sunni”, this means that there is a clear change in the mood of the Sunni community, but its decrease confirms the presence of the “Future Movement” on the scene led by Hariri, according to the same spokesman.

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