Beirut (Reuters) – Lebanese in more than 40 countries will start voting in a national election on Sunday, with many set to back political newcomers after the worst crisis since Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war led to widespread poverty and prompted a wave of emigration.
Just under 200,000 Lebanese living overseas are eligible to participate in the parliamentary poll, the first since the 2019 financial collapse and port blast that killed more than 215 people and destroyed large parts of Beirut in August 2020.
Voters in Lebanon will cast their ballots on May 15.
Observers expect large numbers of expatriates to vote for candidates from a coalition of activists and independents who gained prominence during 2019 protests against the political elites that have held power for decades.
“I want change,” said Samer Sobbi, a truck driver voting in Sydney. “I don’t want the same people, the same people every four years, and if not the same people then their kids, if not their kids, their relatives. What about us?”
Australia, where Sobbi has lived for seven years, is among countries with the largest diaspora votes, alongside Canada, the United States, France, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanese Foreign Minister Abadallah Bou Habib said turnout in Dubai had hit 15% in just two hours, with the queue of voters outside the Lebanese consulate stretching for nearly a kilometre despite sweltering heat.
Turnnout in 10 mostly Arab countries on Friday was about 60%, Bou Habib said, in line with overall turnout in the 2018 overseas vote.
Support for establishment parties was still evident; near the Berlin polling centre, more than 20 people chanted their backing for Nabih Berri, veteran speaker of Lebanon’s parliament.
Anton Wehb, a 62-year-old construction worker voting in Sydney for only the second time since he left Lebanon in the 1970s, was among those excited by the prospect of change.
“It’s the first time we have this many people coming to vote because we need to change to new, younger people – new people, new blood,” he said.
“Go and vote, that’s it. That’s what we need you to do.”