The Role of the Lebanese Diaspora in the Country’s Upcoming Elections
Middle East & Africa Global Skills Initiative Program Lead, Microsoft
For the Lebanese diaspora, the upcoming 2022 Parliamentary elections will constitute the second time it will be able to cast their votes from their host countries. Still, more importantly, it is the first time since the beginning of the worst financial crisis in the country’s history, that the diaspora can play a pivotal role in shaping the political landscape that might lift the country out of this. This year, nearly a quarter of a million Lebanese people living abroad registered to vote (244,442 voters), making them an electoral force to be reckoned with.
The first time Lebanese abroad were allowed to vote was in 2018, under a new electoral law that also specified that six new seats would be added to the Parliament in the upcoming 2022 elections to represent Lebanon’s expanding diaspora. Nevertheless, many expats and independent political parties opposed that addition, saying this would detach the diaspora from the local constituencies. Later, MPs rejected adding those six seats – leaving expats to now vote for the existing 128 seats.
The Beirut Blast Paradigm
The constant conflict between the political elite over the investigation into the August 4th explosion, the growing economic crisis, the armed clashes that took place in October 2021, and most importantly, the government’s persistent and intentional political unwillingness to introduce profound change and reforms to unlock billions in aid and loans, as well as the exodus of the Lebanese youth seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families underscores the importance of elections and highlights the much-needed change.
This has instigated pressure on expats to serve as the leaders of change. This pressure is also intensified by the distance and self-imposed feeling of guilt and despair that so many in the diaspora grapple with. Many view this election as a process of a persistent sense of disillusionment in a chain of defeats. It is also clear that many are exhausted by the perpetual cycle of reactionary strategies, and the probability of a united opposition list against the existing political class seems fundamentally unrealistic. Therefore, the diaspora is at crossroads.
Even though new civil society organizations and political groups surfaced from the protest movement, the task of unifying their ranks, deciding on a clear political course, and conquering the well-established traditional political forces remains. That challenge casts doubt on whether independent forces will be capable of making serious reforms and bringing about various alternatives for representation.
The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
The loss of political mobilization and momentum brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the failure to accomplish immediate results after pressure in the streets, has created the same predicament for Lebanese both at home and abroad. It seems likely that a mixture of the protests, the massive Beirut port explosion, and the intensifying crisis may stimulate the diaspora to take part in the elections and vote against the ruling class.
Since October 2019, expatriates have shown keen interest in the events occurring in Lebanon, which were expressed through many protests organized all over the world in most host countries, demonstrating an apparent effort to engage in Lebanese public affairs. These expatriates have organized themselves in diasporic independent political groups or even joined Lebanon-based political groups. They have founded transnational networks of solidarity, staged protests outside Lebanese embassies, provided material support like food and supplies to many families, and lobbied governments abroad to pressure the political class into introducing serious reforms.
“Many of those who recently left Lebanon are people who are paying the price of the increased and systemic violence in the country. They have been affected by the decisions of those in power and have the right to hold them accountable in the ballot box.” Rahaf Abu Shahin, a member of the board of directors of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections, told The National.
Only time will tell what role the expats will play in the electoral process. The road to real change is marked by defeat, and these elections will undoubtedly be a source of confusion for Lebanese expats. Still, change has to begin at the ballot box, even if the results are likely to be a mostly refurbished, rather than removed, status quo. The 2022 parliamentary elections could mark a historic breakthrough in the path of socio-political change in Lebanon. As it gets closer, the expats will have a serious political role as they are a significant electoral bloc set to influence any upcoming elections if considerable turnout and active engagement are achieved.