BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati has urged expats to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections to ensure their voices are heard and they can achieve the changes they want.
Mikati’s appeal came as he inaugurated the operations room for managing and monitoring parliamentary elections abroad.
“It is a key moment during this round of elections,” he said.
The parliamentary elections, which will be held on May 6 and 8 abroad, and on May 15 at home, are the first since the economic collapse began in late 2019.
The authorities have permitted 225,114 Lebanese expats to vote after 244,442 overseas registered voters were reviewed. They will vote at 205 polling stations in 59 countries around the world, except in Ukraine.
Overseas voters constitute a significant proportion of the 3,967,507 total Lebanese voters.
The political movements seeking changes in the crisis-hit country are relying heavily on expat voting to make a difference.
The government, mired by a political impasse, has taken limited steps to address the national collapse, leaving the Lebanese to struggle with the crisis on their own while plunging into poverty, without electricity or medicines.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the election arrangements as “the largest logistical operation in Lebanon's modern history.”
A total of 103 lists made up of 1,044 candidates are competing in the elections, some of whom withdrew after the deadline.
Political groups seeking radical change and some opposition parties believe the majority of expat voters resent the ruling authority and are victims of its corruption, and their presence abroad makes them immune to the pressures that internal voters are subjected to and the pressure to re-elect the same faces.
These groups are hoping for a strong turnout from the Lebanese who left after the Beirut port explosion in 2020 and the popular protests in 2019.
As of Thursday, all candidates and political parties are no longer allowed to address voters and media outlets can no longer interview them until polling stations close on Sunday night.
The Supervisory Commission for Elections prohibits electoral teams from sharing their estimations on the number of votes.
Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said Lebanon “has made all possible efforts, within our modest capabilities, to facilitate the voting process, and set up the largest possible number of polling stations, as allowed by the laws governing the countries in which the Lebanese abroad reside.”
He added: “We insist on organizing the voting process abroad professionally while steering clear of political agendas.”
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said that the government is committed to its ministerial statement and will indeed hold the elections.
He added: “To those who took to the streets to demand that elections are held, I tell you this is your chance to voice your opinion.”
He stressed: “Failing to vote serves no one, especially not the country.”
Mawlawi added that all logistical and security preparations had been secured.
“Grants to the military forces participating in the elections, and compensation to employees, professors, and judges who will participate in the elections will be sufficient and appropriate,” he added.
He said: “The elections will be held successfully, there is no reason for them not to. We are attentive to all details.”
While the UN has been following up on all the election arrangements, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka met with Mikati on Thursday.
“It seems that all measures have been taken from an administrative and security point of view, and this is an important matter,” Wronecka said.
She added: “I asked the prime minister what can be expected before and even after the elections, and I sensed the seriousness and interest on his part to follow up on every detail.”
In a new report to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for “free, fair, transparent and inclusive parliamentary elections in Lebanon.”
He further urged “the quick formation of a government afterward that gives priority to implementing reforms addressing the country’s multiple crises.”
Guterres said that the political polarization in the country has deepened and the Lebanese “are struggling daily to meet basic needs,” pointing out the frequent protests across the country sparked by “public frustration with the political situation and the economic and financial crisis.”
He noted that proposals submitted in the past two years for a women’s quota were still pending in parliament, and he urged that the new government be quickly formed “with full participation of women and young people.”
Guterres said Hezbollah’s maintenance “of sizeable and sophisticated military capabilities outside the control of the Lebanese government remains a matter of grave concern.”