Lebanese expat votes in Lebanon’s general election in Doha, Qatar. (Photo credit: Imad Creidi/Reuters)
Parliamentary elections in Lebanon are set to be held on 15 May, in the first general election since a chain of tragic events, including the nation’s severe economic collapse, in 2019.
Lebanese diaspora communities are once again able to participate in voting in the days prior to the elections.
On 6 May, Lebanese expatriates living in nine Arab countries as well as in the Islamic Republic of Iran were able to cast their votes.
The Lebanese diaspora living in the US, Canada, Australia, the EU, Africa, and Russia will cast their ballots on 8 May.
According to the Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Abdullah Bou Habib, Syria had the largest voter turnout with 84 percent, followed by Iran with 74 percent, and Qatar at 66 percent.
In Saudi Arabia, only 49 percent of registered Lebanese voters showed up to the poll, according to the foreign minister.
Despite Lebanese election regulations requiring “electoral silence” during expatriate voting dates, the Lebanese Forces (LF) party – which has relative ease of movement within Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, as opposed to Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) – was witnessed electioneering outside polling stations.
The Lebanese Association for democratic elections “LADE” objected on a video call over loudspeakers that hosted the head of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea, addressing the party’s delegates in Saudi Arabia, considering it a violation of the electoral silence. pic.twitter.com/a5hpBA1f5N
— Lebanese News and Updates (@LebUpdate) May 6, 2022
The head of LF, Samir Geagea, was charged with the crime of orchestrating the Tayouneh massacre, in which unarmed Lebanese civilians were killed during a peaceful protest on 14 October 2021. The ambush was pre-planned by LF militiamen, and consisted of snipers placed in buildings along the route of the protest march.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally supported several major Lebanese Sunni Muslim political parties, but the majority of those parties chose not to run candidates in this election.
With few Sunni Muslim candidates on the political spectrum, the Saudis are throwing their weight behind the Lebanese Forces.
The Saudi ambassador in Lebanon claims his embassy plays no role in shaping the outcome of Lebanese election. According to media sources, however, an employee from the office of the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon is assisting former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora to gain the support of wealthy businessmen to back the LF and the remaining pro-Saudi Sunni parties and politicians.
Lebanon’s previous election resulted in a parliamentary majority for Hezbollah and their allies who pledged to implement reforms, increase domestic production, reduce import dependency, and rein in the corruption of the financial sector and the Central Bank of Lebanon.
However, due to the fragile sectarian balance in Lebanon following the bloody civil war, the major parties opted not to form a majority government, but a consensus government instead.
The only exception was in 2020, with the Hassan Diab government, which faced an economic crisis worsened by the effects of coronavirus containment policies and the tragic Beirut Port explosion.
As a result, the Diab government was subjected to pressures and sabotage efforts by pro-western political parties, eventually forcing the resignation of the majority government of Diab, and leading to a power vacuum which lasted until the 2021 Najib Mikati government.
The annual inflation rate in Lebanon saw a triple digit increase in February 2022, indicating the severity of the crisis. With the lack of domestic industry not producing enough export to bring in foreign currency, the dwindling foreign currency reserves could not be replenished, and the result was a massive trade deficit.
The crisis deepened when, under the supervision of the Central Bank of Lebanon, the top Lebanese banks made illicit transfers abroad of billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves.
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh was charged with illicit enrichment and is being investigated for his role in the financial collapse. In spite of this, Prime Minister Mikati voiced his support for Salameh.
FPM leader and former foreign minister Gebran Bassil has accused the US of manufacturing the economic collapse through their friends in the Lebanese system, which includes Salameh.
Lebanon has been depending on negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout loan.
An analysis by The Cradle suggests that for Lebanon to truly survive, it needs to look beyond short-term rescue loans which plunge the nation further into debt and, instead, accept infrastructure offers from Russia, China, and Iran.
The Russian, Chinese, and Iranian governments have several offers actively on the table for Lebanon to end its energy, food, and infrastructure crises, but all those offers have been ignored due to the interference of US Ambassador Dorothy Shea in Lebanon’s sovereign decision-making process.
The Lebanese state has pinned its hopes on the US proposal to import Egyptian and Jordanian energy through Syria. However, while the US made this proposal, it also pressured the World Bank and IMF to deny its funding, and has refused to issue a waiver exempting the proposed project from trade sanctions that the US itself imposed on Syria, known as the Caesar Act.