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Lebanon - Expatriates return to vote in elections

'I would not miss this for the world'

Due to the government's failure to establish a system that allows its expatriates to vote outside the country, many Lebanese returned - some just for a couple of hours - to take part in the country's current elections.

Bassam Marzouk, a 55-year- old engineer living in Kansas, in the United States, came back on May 29 to vote in Beirut and left on the same night.

"I could not stay longer as my work was waiting for me back home," Marzouk said, "but I would not miss this for the world, this is the first time in three decades that my country's elections were free from foreign influence."

The man said his nephew in Lebanon had taken care of the legal requirements.

"I sent him the required papers and he managed to get me a voting card," he said, "he told me that our mayor in Lebanon was very enthusiastic and helpful when he knew that I was coming back to vote."

Bassam Khoury, a 22-year- old law student in the Sorbone University, Paris, came back with his family on May 19 to vote in Baabda this coming Sunday.

A fervent Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) activist, Khoury said many fellow students and other Lebanese citizens living in Paris came back to vote for Aoun's lists.

"In fact, the day we came back, the airport was crowded with FPM people and they were all wearing this orange scarf around their neck," he said.

"I think regardless of whether or not the Lebanese government makes it hard for us to vote overseas, every expatriate should try his best to vote," Khoury said, "be it in his guest country (if possible) or in Lebanon."

After the March 14 revolution, more than 13,000 Lebanese citizens signed a petition to add a clause to Lebanon's sectarian law, allowing Lebanese expatriates to vote overseas.

Nobody knows exactly how many Lebanese live abroad, but some estimates put it at three times the country's internal population of four million.

In Lebanon, expatriate voting has always been politically charged, with various critics claiming it would tip the country's sectarian balance one way or another.

But others say that as Lebanese citizens they should have the right to vote, regardless of who they might vote for.

Chibli Mallat, a law professor at St. Joseph University and several other activists presented a petition to the Lebanese government a month before the elections began on May 29, highlighting the various ways voting could be conducted at Lebanese embassies abroad.

"The simple argument that forms the basis of this campaign is that it is simply a constitutional right to vote if you are Lebanese, and the holder of a Lebanese passport," says Mallat.

"So you cannot be deprived of this right," he said.

"The present government doesn't have the imagination or the guts to get it through," says Mallat. "I think we are still living in the dark ages." The foreign affairs minister was not available for comment.

Beirut,06 13 2005
Jessy Chahine
The Daily Star
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