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Lebanese expatriates took to the polls recently before parliamentary elections in their homeland on May 15. Their role in the ballot is important because of the enormous size of the diaspora due to the economic crisis.
According to the National news outlet, the number of voters living abroad has tripled since the last elections in 2018.
As Agence France-Presse reported, opposition candidates especially hope that these voters will support their reformist agenda. Protests rocked Lebanon in 2019 over rising living costs and public corruption. Then in 2020, an explosion related to fertilizer storage blew up the port of Beirut, killing more than 200 people and damaging much of the capital. The coronavirus pandemic precipitated a financial crisis that has devalued the currency by more than 90 percent. That crisis, says the World Bank, is one of the world’s top three worst economic crises of the past 150 years.
The situation has led the Lebanese – dealing with out-of-control inflation, and shortages of medicines, fuel, food and other basics – to no longer expect the government to deliver services. Instead, the Washington Post wrote, “the country has been carved into spheres of influence, with residents turning to political factions and leaders in lieu of a centralized, functional state.”
These factions, in turn, are connected to the many diverse communities within Lebanon. Political parties representing Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Christians and others are all vying for seats in parliament, explained the Atlantic Council, adding that whoever wins will have to implement unpopular reforms in order to receive financial aid from the International Monetary Fund and other institutions.
That’s not likely to happen soon, though.
Lebanon obviously has a history of fighting between those groups. Members of the Shiite political party and militant force Hezbollah, for example, have physically attacked opposition candidates who entered politics after the 2019 protests, Al Jazeera reported.
But surgeon Hicham Hayek, who is running under the opposition slate Together For Change, said infighting won’t help solve the country’s problems. Neither will the attacks on the opposition.
“We’re taking on the elections for the people, who are all being humiliated at the banks, the gas stations, and the bakeries,” Hayek said. “I ask those who attacked us and shot at us, are they being paid well? Are they able to fill their cars with fuel or find bread at the bakery? Aren’t their kids also leaving the country? And didn’t they lose any relatives in the Beirut Port blast?”
Meanwhile, the opposition itself is plagued by division and disarray.
Post-election, analysts predict that parliament will remain fragmented. It’s not clear who will become prime minister. The incumbent, Najib Mikati, is not running for reelection. And governments here routinely take many months to form. Meanwhile, the powers that be – the elites and the military – have a strong track record of preventing reform-minded candidates from getting into power, mainly because change threatens their hold on the country’s resources. But only reform will unlock the billions in aid needed to begin alleviating the situation.
At the end of the day, Lebanese voters need someone who can pick up the pieces, even when those pickings are slim.