The Daily Star (Lebanon)

Bassil pitches pro-diaspora vote tweaks

Caretaker minister suggests more MPs, extending voter registrati­on period

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BEIRUT: Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil Thursday proposed a set of amendments to the electoral law aimed at increasing the representa­tion of the Lebanese diaspora in parliament­ary elections, during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry.

The amendments included a proposal to prolong expatriate voter registrati­on as well as a suggestion that the six MPs set to be elected solely by the diaspora each represent a continent. These MPs would be elected from lists containing men and women, he said, with parity between Muslims and Christians.

According to the 2017 electoral law, six out of the 128 seats in Lebanon’s Parliament are to be set aside for expatriate­s. This provision was not imposed in the 2018 elections and will be implemente­d in the next elections by adding the six seats to make a total of 134 MPs. For the following election, Parliament would return to its 128 seats, but including the six expatriate-elected MPs.

Bassil said he had hoped that the diaspora community would eventually be represente­d by 18 MPs.

Lebanon allowed the diaspora to vote for the first time ever in its May parliament­ary elections, with roughly 46,000 citizens casting their ballots from abroad, according to Foreign Ministry statistics. Those ballots were added to the total votes in the electoral districts from where the voters originated.

Bassil also suggested that the number of registered voters required to open a polling station in their respective areas abroad be lowered from 200 down to 100 in line with the standards for opening polling stations in Lebanon.

He added that even if less than 100 people registered to vote in an area, they should be allowed to vote at the nearest polling station, rather than being prevented from casting a ballot as they had been in May.

He also called for expatriate votes to be counted at polling centers directly after voting concludes instead of shipping the ballots to be counted in Lebanon, which he described as a “suspicious” practice.

“This is more transparen­t. Delegates [from various parties] can see the results directly and we’ll be done with the issue of transferri­ng them here via [the courier service] DHL,” he said, adding that the results could instead be transferre­d electronic­ally.

During the May elections, all of the 232 polling stations abroad were overseen via live stream from an operations room. Bassil said that this measure had proven so successful it should also be implemente­d inside Lebanon, by installing cameras at domestic polling stations.

He also said that the ballots sent abroad should be written in both Arabic and local languages, because many in the diaspora who could not read Arabic had had difficulty voting in May.

All of these proposals, Bassil said, were part of an effort to “facilitate [diaspora] participat­ion in elections,” which he said “we shouldn’t fear.” –

Bassil called for expat votes to be counted at the polling stations

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