The large number of Lebanese expatriates returning to the country to vote in tomorrow’s crucial parliamentary election could impact the result, experts are saying.

There have been tens of thousands of expats arriving into Beirut International Airport in the lead up to Sunday’s election, most flights coming from North America, the Gulf, Australia and Europe. Many of those coming back to cast their vote say they are making the trip out to ensure they help decide the future of the country in such an important election.

Among those returning from the United States is 22-year-old Armenian-Lebanese history student George, who did not wish to give his last name. “I think the expat vote will make the difference because there are so many of us coming over. I came on Wednesday with all my family – there are about 25 of us and we know we will all help to get the party we want into power.

“My parents are coming back because they have lived through wars when they were in Beirut and they feel that coming all the way back to vote is part of their duty and something they owe the country. I think it is different for someone my age who has grown up in the US but I still feel strongly about my right to vote. Even though we live abroad we are still affected by the politics here and we want to make sure it continues to be affected positively,” George added.

An informed source in civil aviation has said Armenian-Lebanese in particular have been arriving from the US and Canada in what he calls unprecedented “big numbers.” He said the figure was somewhere between 6,000-7,000, with most of them voting in Achrafieh in the Beirut I district and Metn, which may have an impact on the result of the two districts.

Parties have been encouraging expatriates to return to Lebanon to vote in the June 7 elections, and some party supporters are alleged to be paying for expats to fly back.

An open letter from March 14 released to followers earlier this year focused on the family ties between Lebanon and other countries, calling on expatriates to cast their vote.

The letter specifically criticized the recent electoral law reform which prevents Lebanese citizens from voting abroad. “It is unacceptable that Lebanon continues to benefit from the financial prosperity of the diaspora without acknowledging the basic right of Lebanese living abroad to contribute to the political well- being of the country,” it said.

The letter also noted Lebanese expatriates’ “right and duty to participate” in the country’s democratic process.

Imad Salamey, a senior political science professor at the Lebanese American University, believes the expat vote will have a considerable impact on Monday’s results. “The expat community is strong as there are so many Lebanese living abroad.

“With 25 percent of Lebanon’s economy supported by the Lebanese abroad, they all play a crucial role in keeping Lebanon on its feet and so they deserve to play a major influence in the election results. Expatriates coming back to vote is such an important thing to keep our community strong around the world. Each one of them must have a voice in order to make a difference, and I think they will make a huge difference in certain areas, particularly in the closely contested districts.

“I have lots of family from the US coming back to vote because they know how important this election is going to be. It can only be a good thing and it should be a looked at in a positive sense,” Salamey said.

Sunday’s election is set to be a tight race between the ruling majority and the opposition, and Salamey believes the large numbers of expats returning to vote may swing the balance. “The expat will be voting in a different way to those who live in Lebanon – their decisions will be based on how the result will affect relations with their host country, they will be considering the political background from the country they are coming from. They will be motivated by how it will affect them when they go back to the West. We will have to wait to see what impact this makes.”

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