EXPATS, IMMIGRANTS, DESCENDANTS, SECTARIANISM AND THE VOTE
By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan

Ya Libnan
February 1, 2010

It is very rare to witness as much confusion, and attention paid
to the superficial as has characterized the dialogue regarding who
is to be given the right to vote in Lebanese elections. And that is
unfortunate. One would have expected the discourse to be serious and
well informed since the issue deals with the fundamental democratic
institution of extending the suffrage to many that have been denied
the right unjustly and unfairly.

Universal unrestricted suffrage does not exist anywhere in the
world and is unlikely to become the law of the land anywhere in the
foreseeable future. There appears to be a universal restriction on
the right to vote for anyone under 18 years of age in addition to the
restrictions against extending the right to those that are mentally
ill, felons, unregistered or that do not meet the requirement to vote
from outside the country in question. External voting exists in one
form or another in 115 countries out of more than the 200 states in
the world and even when external voting exists it does so in a big
variety of ways.

Let us make it absolutely clear from the outset that giving the right
to vote is not the same as making sure that the affected individuals
have the proper access to the facilities that would enable them
to cast that cherished vote. To offer the right and withhold the
access is cruel; in effect it is equivalent to not having offered
the right in the first place. But what is arguably more important,
in the Lebanese case, is the need to distinguish between expatriates,
first generation immigrants and all other individuals that claim to
be of Lebanese descendancy.

No one could argue against offering the right to vote to civil servants
who are stationed overseas, businesspeople whose work demands make
it difficult to be in the country during election times, students who
are completing their education overseas in addition to those that are
seeking medical services abroad. Obviously the expatriates, those that
work overseas on either temporary or permanent bases also deserve
the right to vote because they do contribute to the welfare of the
state and have a strong connection to it. But the right of the long
term immigrants is not so obvious. When would a Lebanese descendant
lose the right to vote? I should hope that the answer is not never.

Suffrage is a privilege so that those that inhabit a place can have
a say in how it is run. The vote is not an inalienable right given
to all irrespective of where they live and without any regard to how
long they have not resided in the country.

No country gives its citizens an unrestricted right to vote from
overseas especially if the number of potential voters from abroad is
larger than those at home. Armenia, who is in a similar demographic
situation as Lebanon; 2.5 million Armenians live at home and 8 million
are scattered all over the world, adopted a law in 2006 that does not
allow any external voting. Even other countries that do not have to
worry about disproportionate external voting place some rather strict
limits about residency. In many cases a citizen loses the right to
vote if she has been outside the country for fifteen years and in
some cases the right to vote requires that the voter must have been
outside the country for six years or less. Does it make any sense
to offer a person whose parents left Lebanon say a hundred years
ago the right to decide how I am to live and under what laws? Why
should a rational person offer to give an outsider the right to veto
anything and everything that is of importance to the community? Are
we serious when we say that we want to give say, the grandchildren
of Danny Thomas, Jamie Farr, John Sunnunu , Selma Hayek ,Paul Anka
and Shakirathe right to vote in Lebanese elections? What do they now
about what is good for Lebanon and why should they have a say in how
we choose to conduct our affairs?

I am afraid that the demands to offer the Lebanese citizenship to
11-15 million people, who live overseas, do not speak the language
in most case, have nothing but an emotional attachment to some
aspects of Lebanese culture is a well orchestrated ploy to resist
deconfessionalism. They are the same ones who declared their allegiance
to the Taef accords but opposed implementing them. The veil has fallen
and the true colour of these political leaders is revealed for all
to see. They are nothing but bigoted leaders whose backward sectarian
ideology that built on grabbing power and discriminating against the
other. To claim that their position is legitimate as a result of the
geopolitical developments is pure rubbish. It is nothing but a sick
excuse from a sick mind.