Expat vote turnout at 59 percent

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Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil lauded the historic expatriate vote Monday in a televised news conference held at the Foreign Ministry, hours after the last overseas polling station closed in the U.S. city of Los Angeles. “It was a difficult process. We didn’t have a big budget or a lot of time, but 59 percent of [registered] expats voted,” Bassil said, noting that voter turnout in Lebanon during the last parliamentary polls was much lower.

Nearly 46,000 Lebanese living abroad cast their ballots in dozens of countries across the world Sunday, according to the Foreign Ministry’s latest count as of 8 a.m. Monday, local media reported.

The voting came two days after registered Lebanese voters in six Arab countries cast their ballots, and brought an end to the second and final round of expat voting ahead of Lebanon’s elections this Sunday.

The weekend polling was the first time Lebanon has implemented a mechanism to allow expat citizens to vote from abroad.

Bassil addressed complaints and issues that arose overseas after some voters were unable to find their names on voter lists or discovered they were registered in a different town. “Every polling station had a room where voters could go, contact officials and submit their complaints,” he said. “Many issues were resolved quickly and smoothly.”

The minister said technical difficulties were due to short time frames, a limited budget, gaps in the law and political tensions that arose last year. “People were questioning if the elections were actually going to take place and this occurred during the window [in which expats] were supposed to register [abroad, so] many didn’t,” Bassil said.

He said the expat voting process had cost nearly $1.5 million in total.

“This [figure] included everything, so imagine how cheap it should be to hold elections in Lebanon.”

Many have voiced their concerns that ballot boxes might be tampered with before arriving in Lebanon.

However, Bassil said the packages were under 24-hour surveillance, with cameras watching each package, in addition to three types of seals and an official accompanying each box. “Nothing and no one can open the boxes,” he said pointing to a screen that showed images of people handling the boxes.