About that Expat Voting "Scandal"

A statue in Ghana depicting the friendship between the Lebanese expats and Ghanaians (full image)

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…

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  • Z. H.


    As an expat, I have based my decision not to waste time and register on three main factors:

    1. There is no serious attempt to ratify laws for voting abroad. Conclusion; no point in registering
    2. Minister of Foreign Affairs is a Nabih Berri spokesperson. Conclusion: he’s very biased to start with
    3. The registration process is fully paper-and-pen; I do not believe that we cannot find a credible third party electoral commission that can host an electronic vote-counting for expats. Conclusion: the system is designed to allow tampering
    4. NOT ONE SINGLE LEBANESE PARTY proposed a voting system for Lebs abroad, and that is very telling, because it means that nobody gives a political damn about expats right to vote except the expats themselves

    • Expat

      the expat voting thing was a bluff from the get go, kind of like “if you want the vote for 18 year olds then we want expat voting!”, but without actually knowing what it entails. When push comes to shove, money wont be an issue because there will be plenty of it coming from saudi and iran, and then buying tickets for people to come in droves would be no problem. some expats are a corrupt bunch then, and it is not about voting, it might well be about getting a free ticket to lebanon. bribe some expats to register, and see how that number will go up, including Z.H probably whose argument boils down to “i couldn’t be arsed to go”.

      • Z. H.

        I think you meant arsoned instead of arsed. I don’t mind bad grammar, but I don’t give a (real) arse about defamatory comments.

        Your assumption of me not getting paid enough to vote was hilarious; I was in Leb during last election, but I didn’t think anyone represented me so I abstained. So did my wife. It was a personal choice.

        On the other hand, I have participated in AUB’s worldwibe alumni electronic voting for the last three rounds and I advise people to explore that system, because I think that it can serve as a good template.

      • expat

        No, arsed, from english arse, (can’t be arsed =”ma eli jledeh”), it’s a perfectly correct english slang expression.

        like i said, if you (or other expats like you) were motivated by direct gain, then maybe you would have gone instead of making up lame excuses. but the fact is, it’s too much hassle with little reward

  • http://oussama-hayek.blogspot.com/ OH

    I’ll be happy to vote, regardless of the hassle, for the sheer novelty of the experience. I’ve never voted simply because I’ve never been in Lebanon during elections.

    The Lebanese Embassy in London never informed us about the registration process (even though the have my “file” details and regularly invite me to Embassy events). When I asked them about the process, they said they will send me the information, but then never did.

  • Toufic renno

    Want an example of why lebanese expatriates won’t vote? Try to go to the “2013 Election” page on the Lebanese Embassy in Paris web site:


  • http://www.katagogi.com/Rami Rami

    Speaking about elections in Lebanon, did you know that there’s a new iPhone app that contains all Lebanese voters list and statistics … it’s called People of Leb, here’s the app store link for it http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/people-of-leb/id563519565?Is=1&mt=8.

  • OldHand

    Speaking for myself,

    -I have ZERO confidence in the country, the electoral law new or old, or Lebanese

    -I will do ANYTHING, pay any money, to stay away from any official paper work crap having to do with any corrupt and/or imcompetent Lebanese admistration, which is to say ALL both both local or abroad (embassy).
    Every single experience with the public administration is a disappointment and a reminder that the citizen is treated like dirt.