BEIRUT: The window for Australians – or Lebanese-Australian dual nationals – in Lebanon to have their say in the 2013 Australian federal election comes to a close Friday, a day before voting occurs in Australia.
The roughly 250 voters expected to weigh in from Lebanon will hardly be a drop in the ocean among the roughly 14 million registered to vote in Australia, but the run-up to the election has seen the region at the center of debates, particularly on Syria and immigration.
The election pits conservative Liberal party leader Tony Abbott against incumbent Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the premiership.
Polling has predicted a comfortable victory for the conservative leader over Rudd, who was sworn in as prime minister for the second time after ousting his party rival, Julia Gillard, in June.
At the front of the election issues are economic management, a controversial green energy carbon tax, gay marriage and immigration.
Rudd has gambled on a controversial law that sends illegal immigrants to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement. The law attracted protests in Lebanon when it was confirmed last month that 26 Lebanese had been transferred to facilities in Papua New Guinea after they were deported from Australia.
Abbott’s foreign policy credentials also came under fire last week after he said the escalating conflict in Syria “is not goodies versus baddies but baddies versus baddies,” amid talk of a U.S. strike against the Syrian regime.
There are roughly 20,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon, with the vast majority dual nationals. That swells to some 40,000 in summer, according to an embassy official in Beirut.
The two-week voting period will close at 1 p.m. Friday. Votes will then be sent by secure courier to Canberra for counting Monday.
An embassy official said while the number of eligible voters in Lebanon remained unknown, the embassy expected 200 to 250 votes to be cast.
“If our estimate is right, there will be nearly half the amount of people voting in this election compared to the 2010 election,” the official said.
Beirut-based Australian-Lebanese journalist Antoun Issa was among those who voted this week, saying he wanted to express his opinion in the future of a country he felt invested in.
Issa said he voted for the minor Greens party in order to offset what he believed was a guaranteed Abbott win.
“There is a lot of parity between Labor and Liberal on a lot of issues, but Abbott is not a centrist. He is a radical and very right-wing on women, homosexuals, the economy and in his support for mining companies,” he said.
Meanwhile Andrea, a graphic designer in Sidon, said she had not thought of voting.
“I left Australia when I was 16, before the legal age to vote. I would only vote if I went back, because there, your vote actually counts.”