‘Last hope’: Lebanese abroad seek a say at polls

Before mass protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite swept the country in October 2019, Yasmin Saad never thought she would be particularly invested in her home country’s politics.

But two years later, watching from France a number of compounding crises battering millions of Lebanese, the 22-year-old marketing student decided to register to vote in next year’s parliamentary election.

“I feel it’s a last chance – or a last hope,” Saad told Al Jazeera from Marseille. “What really, really pushed me to start voting was those days when everyone was protesting on the street – and we had protests and gatherings of our own in France.”

She is not alone. More than 210,000 Lebanese living abroad have met Saturday’s deadline and registered to cast ballots in the March 27 election – more than double the number of expats who signed up for the previous polls in 2018.

Millions of Lebanese have left the country over the past decades, taking their skills and talents abroad to seek better opportunities in the face of instability, entrenched corruption and financial mismanagement. Though there are no clear numbers, many estimates claim that more live abroad than within the tiny country itself, home to some 6.5 million people, including Lebanese and refugees.

Lebanese abroad were allowed to vote for the first time in 2018 under a new electoral law that also stipulated that six new seats would be added to the parliament in the 2022 election to represent the diaspora. However, independent political parties and many expats disagreed with the addition, arguing this was a way to isolate the diaspora from the local constituencies. Last month, MPs rejected adding those six seats, which means expats will vote in May for the existing 128 seats.

In October 2019, mass protests spread across Lebanon against a ruling elite of sectarian parties and private sector cronies that had had a foothold in the country for several decades. Lebanese in dozens of cities around the world held similar protests in solidarity with the youth-led demonstrations back home, adding their voice to the calls for an overhaul of Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system that has resulted in widespread nepotism.

Since then, the crisis has deepened even further, with Lebanon’s local currency losing roughly 90 percent of its value against the United States dollar. About three-quarters of the population live in poverty, relying heavily on charity and aid in the absence of viable social programmes.

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