- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

BEIRUT — Hundreds of Lebanese citizens are returning home to cast ballots in Lebanese elections because the law forbids overseas voting.

The drive to welcome back the Lebanese diaspora is being pushed both by politicians and by grass-roots organizations that have coalesced to find cheap fares.

One such advertisement makes an emotional pitch:

“Did it tear you apart that you were not among the millions that joined the Independence Intifada on March 14?”

Meanwhile, anti-Syrian Christian leader Michel Aoun headed for victory against rival Christian politicians in elections held yesterday, Reuters news agency reported.

The elections, being held over four weekends ending June 19, are set to usher in a parliament with most legislators opposed to Syria for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.

Unofficial, partial counts showed candidates backed by Gen. Aoun are set to clinch 15 of 16 seats up for grabs in yesterday’s third round of the elections in the Maronite Christian heartland of North Metn and Byblos-Kesrwan north of Beirut, Reuters reported.

Though expatriates have played only a limited role, activists are hopeful that participation will increase in the future.

Charles Adwan, a political researcher who resides in Washington, helped coordinate the expatriate advertising effort.

“There was rapid movement for political change they could not be part of. It never happened to have such a wide and diverse group of Lebanese asking for the same thing,” said Mr. Adwan, who returned for several weeks to participate in yesterday’s vote.

“That was sufficient to stir a lot of emotion and nostalgia in [the] Lebanese who had given up on thinking they could have an influence,” he said.

The main objective of the expatriate voter drive is not to influence the current elections, Mr. Adwan said, but rather to raise awareness in order to permit voting at embassies abroad for the next election.

The ban on expatriate voting was enshrined in the country’s constitution in 1943, and it endures because of fear that it could shift the balance of power between Lebanon’s religious communities.

“I seriously doubt that we can expect the Lebanese emigres to have the right to vote any time soon. I don’t think the Muslim members of parliament would accept that,” said Adib Farha, a political analyst.

“That would tip the balance toward Christians tremendously because the vast number of people in the diaspora are Christians. This is an explosive issue, and I don’t think it will come to pass.”

The party headed by Gen. Aoun had set up its own campaign to bring back Lebanese living abroad.

“We are trying to bring all the expatriates for the electoral process,” said Michel DeChadarevian, an official in Gen. Aoun’s campaign. “We want them to participate in the political life in the country. It’s not fair that all the people are abroad, and they do not participate.”

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