BEIRUT: Thousands of Lebanese living in Arab and Muslim countries began voting on Friday in the country’s parliamentary elections, nine days before the vote is scheduled to be held at home on May 15.
The number of expats who registered to vote in the elections exceeded 225,000, and Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib said he expected expat voter turnout to exceed 70 percent.
He stressed that there was no justification for concerns about ballot tampering abroad, adding the ballot boxes had GPS tracking devices attached to track their movement, and will be sealed with red wax in front of the representatives of the lists after the voting ends.
They will then be transported from polling stations to local airports, and placed upon arrival in Lebanon in the Banque du Liban until all votes are counted on May 15, said the minister.
In addition to the presence of delegates for candidates observing the polling progress, there were delegates physically present at polling stations abroad, and the EU was represented to monitor the conduct of the process.
Many Lebanese university students volunteered to help with the process, amid a media blackout on election issues remains in effect until next Monday.
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka visited the operations room on Friday.
“It is a good start and gives the Lebanese an opportunity to express their opinion. This decision is up to the Lebanese,” she said.
Smooth voting was repoterd in Saudi Arabia, where 13,105 Lebanese expatriates are registered to vote.
Voting was distributed among 30 polling stations at the headquarters of the Lebanese Embassy in Riyadh and at the Consulate in Jeddah.
“Everything is going well,” said Lebanese Ambassador Fawzi Kabbara.
He expected voter turnout to reach 70 percent.
“During the first five hours of opening the polls, 790 voters showed up,” he added.
About 31,000 Lebanese citizens in 10 countries have registered to vote in Friday’s first phase.
On Sunday, nearly 195,000 Lebanese citizens are scheduled to vote in other countries around the world, including the UAE, US, Canada, Australia, Russia, EU members states, as well as several African nations.
The Lebanese Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs completed the first phase of the parliamentary elections for Lebanese expatriates.
The total number of voters as of 4 p.m. reached 11,268, or 36.43 percent.
Personal Status Director General Brig. Gen. Elias Khoury told Arab News: “There are 3,967,000 voters in Lebanon and the diaspora.”
The total number of voters in these 10 countries reached 30,929, the majority of whom reside in Saudi Arabia, followed by Qatar and Kuwait.
In Qatar, the number of voters reached 7,344.
A resident confirmed that a “real tsunami was taking place. The mobilization was at its peak since Thursday evening.”
A quick run through social media showed enthusiasm among Lebanese expatriates residing in other Gulf countries.
In Kuwait, voters turned out in large numbers. Nearly 5,700 Lebanese residents are registered to vote in Kuwait and the dynamism was reflected across social networks. Voting was distributed among 14 polling stations in the Lebanese Embassy building.
In Bahrain, the number of registered voters reached 638 at the headquarters of the Lebanese Embassy in Manama.
The number of voters in Oman reached 903. Lebanese Ambassador to Oman Albert Samaha said that the turnout had improved as the day progressed.
In Jordan, the total number of voters reached 483. The Chargé d’Affaires of the Lebanese Embassy in Jordan George Fadel said people were enthusiastic about voting.
In Iraq, the number of registered voters reached 327, distributed among two polling stations at the headquarters of the Lebanese Embassy in Baghdad and at the Rotana Hotel in Erbil.
In Syria, the number of voters reached 1,018, distributed among three polling stations in the embassy building in Damascus.
In Eypt, polling began at 8 a.m. and continued until 11 p.m. The number of registered voters reached 709, distributed among two polling stations at the Lebanese Embassy in Cairo and the consulate in Alexandria.
The number of registered voters in Iran reached 642, distributed among two polling stations at the embassy in Tehran. The voting process continued until 10 p.m.
Lebanese Ambassador Hassan Abbas said the turnout was remarkable.
Lebanese expatriates in the UAE, meanwhile, will have to wait until Sunday to make their voices heard.