Yesterday, the minister of foreign affairs dropped a bomb during the meeting of the joint parliamentary committee for the election law: Of all the eligible voters in the Lebanese diaspora (a diaspora that has more people than the inhabitants of Lebanon), only 3009 people have registered to vote.
The details behind that number can either reveal a sinister political scandal of epic proportions, or a simple truth about Lebanese voters and the effect of uncertainty on people.
March 14 loyalists are inclined to see dark forces at work behind those numbers. “Does it make sense..” asks a breathless Annahar reporter, “that zero people registered their names in places like Jeddah and Montreal, and that only 742 registered in France and 132 in Washington?”.. The choice of cities by the reporter is not random: Jeddah, Montreal, Paris and Washington are powerhouses of March 14 support.
March 14 suspect foul play because they believe that the majority in the Lebanese diaspora, especially the Christians and well off Lebanese who fled Lebanon during the war and after Hezbollah’s rise, are supporters of their vision of Lebanon. There’s also the small matter that Nabih Berri single-handedly controls Lebanon’s ministry of Foreign affairs, and has laid out a network of influence and corruption in Lebanese embassies across the world. Yes, Lebanese ambassadors are distributed by sects and loyalties, but Nabih Berri remains the gatekeeper who controls what paperwork comes out of and gets in those embassies.
These numbers could very well be the result of less evil forces though (cynics and conspiracy buffs can stop reading now). Registering to vote involves taking a physical trip to the embassy and filling actual paperwork. Our own embassy in Accra will only allow you to apply for voting abroad if you have an “embassy file”, which involves filling a mountain of paperwork (I know because I wrote an entire post about how to do this). With our lawmakers still fighting over the election law, is it so surprising that people don’t care to make an effort?
Saying that we should register to vote regardless of the election law is empty idealism. People decide to vote when they believe that their vote will matter, and that’s very much a factor of the election law. If you add uncertainty to the huge existing skepticism, 3,009 will start actually looking like a big number.
Somewhere in Between
As with many things, the truth is probably somewhere in between. There is perhaps no blatant cheating by Nabih Berri’s men, but that doesn’t mean they’re not adding little obstacles here and there that make it a bit harder for the Lebanese expats to vote (for example the fact that once you register your name in an embassy you are no longer elligible to vote in Lebanon).
Yes, Hezbollah are not excited about expatriate voting, but that doesn’t mean it’s because they’re afraid of Losing. It’s simply because in many places in the world, Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation and will be legally prevented from electoral campaigning to its –still significant– supporters.
Yes, Lebanese expats are lazy because of uncertainty, but that doesn’t mean that they’re hopeless victims: Many of them are still waiting and hedging their bets because they know that the closer we get to voting, the more precious their votes become. Who knows? maybe the votes will become so precious that they’ll get a free ticket to Lebanon, courtesy of a politician they may or may not end up voting for…