BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Petition for expatriate voting officially launched

Joseph Hatem, Choucair, Hindi, Abboud and Antoine Qazah promote the petition intiative at a news conference in Beirut.

BEIRUT: A petition to garner support for the implementation of expatriate voting was officially launched Friday, as politicians from the March 14 and March 8 camps slammed government stalling on the issue. The organization World House of Lebanon unveiled the petition during a news conference.

The 2008 electoral law gives every Lebanese citizen living outside the country the right to vote, but concerns have been raised that the procedures, whereby registered citizens will be able to vote at their respective embassies, won’t be applied in time for the 2013 parliamentary elections.

In April, Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, in charge of overseeing such a procedure, announced that only 4,900 out of the roughly 1.2 million Lebanese living overseas who are eligible have actually registered to vote.

“We are meeting today to raise our voice to claim one of the main Lebanese rights: the right to vote,” WHL founder Betty Hindi said during the launch of the petition.

The petition calls on the authorities, “particularly the executive branch, to enforce the necessary laws in order to guarantee that the voting rights of the Lebanese residing outside of Lebanon is respected during the 2013 legislative elections.”

The petition has already been promoted in Mexico and the United States.

The WHL said that while it was not able to give exact numbers of signees, the petition has so far attracted widespread support, and has been sent to the heads of Lebanese parliamentary groups, “most of whom” signed, according to Hindi.

She told The Daily Star that despite the low numbers of those who had registered the numbers who want to vote in the next elections are significant.

“Unlike what the foreign minister is saying, that there is nobody who wants this right to be implemented, we have this right and the emigrants want this right to be executed,” she said.

Mansour has come under criticism from several MPs and politicians who attended the news conference.

Kesrouan MP Neamatallah Abi Nasr, from the Free Patriotic Movement’s parliamentary bloc, said “the problem with voting by the diaspora lies with the Foreign Ministry, and specifically the Directorate-General of Emigrant Affairs, which hasn’t done its job – the report it issued on the subject has led to despair about the possibility of putting the diaspora voting mechanism into practice.”

He was referring to the ministry’s argument that the Lebanese diaspora have yet to register any significant level of interest in voting abroad.

Former Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud said “the issue doesn’t require implementing decrees ... it requires [a] decision by the foreign minister.”

He criticized the authorities for the “loss” of a grant from the European Union to help with diaspora voting, “because of a lack of cooperation.”

“There is no such thing as a ‘political decision’ after a law is enacted. It’s a matter of political responsibility, and the government should declare its stance on holding voting for expatriates, or its inability to carry this out and say it’s postponed until 2017,” he added.

March 14 politician Ahmad Fatfat, an MP for Minyeh, said the current “impression” was that diaspora voting would not take place next year.

Also speaking at the launch of the petition was Mohammad Choucair, the head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, who supported further lobbying with expatriates, and Walid Abboud of MTV, who said his station would begin a public awareness campaign during the month of Ramadan, to advocate for the issue.

He urged political and other “concerned organizations to launch a campaign to encourage expatriates to participate, particularly since the reports issued from different capitals show that there is little interest in registration for the elections.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 14, 2012, on page 3.

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