Lebanese diaspora vote will not be enough to force change on a corrupt establishment
The Lebanese diaspora has always been the pride and joy of this enterprising nation of around six million residents, with over 14 million members of its diaspora scattered around the world, most of which are well integrated and have achieved success. For many in the diaspora, casting an absentee ballot in the upcoming elections slated for Spring 2022 is their only chance to voice disapproval of the ruling establishment which has destroyed their homeland.
However, millions of Lebanese across the world might find their chance to drive through change through voting diluted by the efforts of the Lebanese political establishment to gerrymander districts in a way to restrict the diaspora’s vote to only six seats rather than the 128 which they are entitled to.
In 2018, the Lebanese diaspora voted for the first time for the 128 seats each in their registered districts in Lebanon, with over 1.8 million votes cast. However, this time around, the diaspora is likely to be much more enthusiastic in casting a vote, and will not canvas for the traditional political establishment which robbed them out of their lifesavings after convincing those abroad to deposit their savings into the Lebanese banking system, funding the banks and the Lebanese government before mismanagement brought the country, and those deposits, to inevitable economic ruin.
The third wave of Lebanese immigration currently underway, triggered by the political and economic crisis, is much more dire than the first wave of the early 19th century or the second wave of the 1975-1990 civil war, as many of Lebanon’s professional class – both in the healthcare and educational sectors – have found themselves displaced from their homes and their jobs after the collapse of the country’s currency and civilian infrastructure. Having been forced to immigrate, these new members of the diaspora will join others who want to do everything it takes to affect change by voting out the ruling establishment and ushering in a new breed of policymakers, or so they hope.
The ruling establishment, on the other hand, has other plans in mind, as they wish to implement article 122 of the electoral law which restricts the diaspora vote to just six seats that will be added to the existing 128, with each representing one of the world’s six continents, rather than allowing them to vote for their home district.
Imposing article 122 not only clearly demonstrates the fear the ruling establishment fosters for these enraged members of the diaspora, but also underscores their ongoing commitment to ignoring the provisions of the Lebanese constitution – Article 27 clearly states that “a member of the Chamber [of deputies] shall represent the whole nation. No restriction or condition may be imposed upon his mandate by his electors.”
While it is true that many of the members of the diaspora do not pay local taxes, their lifesavings and retirement funds are stuck in Lebanese banks, a situation caused and prolonged by the corrupt establishment, and thus they deserve the full right to practice their constitutional right to vote.
The Lebanese model has always been based on the myth or the illusion that educated men and woman go abroad and their remittances are enough to keep the Lebanese economy, or what turned out to be a glorified Ponzi scheme, functioning. Yet, this Lebanese model which welcomes the diaspora’s funds does not really welcome their voices or votes.
Regardless of how the situation regarding diaspora voting goes, the optimism that surrounds the forces of change in Lebanon towards the upcoming elections is both alarming and naïve. Elections are indeed tools of change, but within the current Lebanese setup any elections conducted by the ruling elite, who are allies of Iran’s proxy group Hezbollah, will only bring back the current line up with minimal changes.
The international community’s call for Lebanese to face off with the ruling elite is both unrealistic and insincere. Western powers who continue to endorse elections should, at the same time, follow through on sanctions against these so-called politicians and prevent them from claiming legitimacy through the ballots.
The efforts of various opposition groups backed by the Lebanese diaspora to challenge the ruling establishment in the upcoming elections is indeed a commendable and noble endeavor, but these efforts are unlikely to secure victory, and fail to ensure that their opponents, who are coincidently running the election process, do not rig the ballots as they have time and again.
As it stands, elections are unlikely to change much, not simply because the final results are already determined by ruling establishment, but rather because the Lebanese, including the diaspora, have not yet reached political puberty, and have yet to realize that democracy is not a simple matter of casting a vote every four years, but rather a sustained effort to stand up to tyrants who usurp power in the name of an imagined tribe or community. This notwithstanding, the road to change is a long and arduous one. The liberation of Lebanon from Iran’s malign occupation and their corrupt local allies cannot be achieved remotely nor through proxies, but will require the Lebanese to continue to denounce corruption and call for change.