Sydney (AFP) – Voting in Lebanon’s first parliamentary polls in almost a decade kicked off in Australia Sunday with thousands of people casting their ballots in the historic election.
Some 12,000 members of Australia’s Lebanese community are registered to vote, Lebanon’s embassy in Canberra said, a week before the May 6 election that will carve out the country’s political and economic trajectory.
“It’s a special day today, it’s democracy day. As you can see everyone is happy here,” Nazih Keir, a 44-year-old member of the Lebanese Muslim community in Sydney, told AFP at a polling station next to the huge Lakemba Mosque.
“We’ve been now from 2009 with no election — nine years and a bit more — and it is the first time in Australia, that is why we are so happy to get involved in the election in Lebanon and we hope that everyone gets what he wants.”
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.
With an estimated community of 230,000 — which includes Lebanon-born migrants and their families — Australia is among the largest diaspora groups outside of the Americas.
“It is a good feeling for us to feel like we are involved in making a decision in Lebanon and we feel that we can make changes,” said Danny Gea Gea, 48, a Christian member of the Lebanese community.
But he also complained about the voting process.
“Lots of people coming here, they can’t find their name (on the register) and they are upset and angry,” he said.
People were casting their vote for one list of candidates running in their Lebanese district of origin, under a proportional list-based system.
They were also choosing one candidate on a list of parliamentary hopefuls representing each religious community in that district under a strict quota system.
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.