Lebanese expats in I.Coast vote in first election

Lebanese nationals in Ivory Coast voted for the first time Sunday in parliamentary elections back home

Abidjan (AFP) – Hundreds of Lebanese expats in Ivory Coast voted Sunday in their country’s first parliamentary election in almost a decade, though turnout was low in the home of Africa’s largest Lebanese diaspora.   

The Middle Eastern country has not held a parliamentary poll since 2009 and a new law now allows Lebanese living abroad to vote for the first time since independence in 1943.  

“We’re hoping for change in Lebanon, we want more jobs and freedom,” Ghassan Ghossein, a Lebanese who arrived in Ivory Coast seven years ago, told AFP as he voted in the capital Abidjan.  

Voters queued outside the school hall polling station, sheltering from the sun under orange and white beach umbrellas.  

Inside, a camera filmed ballot boxes, providing a live video feed to election monitors back in Beirut. 

One woman voter, who didn’t want to give her name, said it was important for Lebanese expats to still have a say in the governing of their homeland.   

“They’ve given us this chance, so of course we’re going to vote,” said the woman, who emigrated to West Africa 24 years ago and whose daughter was born in Ivory Coast.  

But although around 100,000 people of Lebanese descent live there today, only 2,300 people registered to vote Sunday.  

“It’s the first time, so many people didn’t know how to do it,” Lebanon’s ambassador to Abidjan Mohammed Khalil explained. “But next time the number will increase.”   

Half of the seats in Lebanon’s parliament are reserved for Christians and the other half for Muslims.  

After successive waves of emigration from the 19th century to the 1975-1990 civil war, some estimates say Lebanon’s extended diaspora has bloated to a whopping 12 million, but most no longer have citizenship.  

Some 116 polling stations in Lebanese embassies and consulates in 39 countries are set up to vote, but only an estimated 82,900 people have registered to take part.  

“I’m from Saida,” said Mirvat Kadoura Al-Mallah, an Abidjan-based voter who hails from the Lebanese port city.   

“It’s so important that our voice is heard (back home).”