Lebanon elections: Diaspora registers to vote in record numbers
Nearly 245,000 Lebanese people living abroad have signed up to vote in next year's parliamentary polls, Lebanon's foreign ministry said on Sunday after it closed the window for registration.
The vote scheduled for March 2022 is seen by many as a chance to challenge the ruling elite's stranglehold on a country mired in its worst-ever financial crisis.
However, others doubt that an election alone can upend decades of corruption, mismanagement, and political gerrymandering by parties who have been vying for power since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Lebanon's diaspora, estimated to number at least three times the country's six million population, will take part in the vote for the 128-seat parliament, making them a powerful electoral force.
The foreign ministry said the final expat voter count had reached 244,442.
This is more than double the almost 93,000 who registered for the last parliamentary polls in 2018, which was the first time Lebanon's diaspora could vote in the country's elections.
While the fact expats could vote in the 2018 election was poorly publicised, this time around opposition activists at home and abroad organised social media campaigns explaining the registration process.
In some parts of Europe, volunteers set up registration centres to help compatriots sign up.
Europe accounted for the largest number of registered expat voters, with nearly 75,000, followed by Asia with 61,000 voters, and North America, where 60,000 expats signed up, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
In Latin America, home to one of Lebanon's largest and oldest diaspora communities, only 6,350 people registered for the vote.
The March polls mark the first major electoral test since the 2019 onset of a financial crisis widely blamed on nepotism and corruption among Lebanon's ruling class.
The 4 August 2020 explosion in Beirut’s port - which killed around 250 people, wounded thousands, and devastated entire neighbourhoods of the capital - has now become yet another source of political tensions as a judicial investigation into the blast has been beset by obstacles.
Expat voter registration for the March 2022 election comes as the people of Lebanon - 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line - battle to survive endless power cuts and price hikes that have pushed countless Lebanese citizens to leave the country.