The Lebanese expat registration surge has sent shock waves through the Lebanese political establishment with traditional parties and their analysts scrambling to make sense of things. Some continue to be in denial spinning up old election data to try to prove that things will always remain the same in Lebanon. The Lebanese expats are proving them wrong.
Analyzing social media campaigns recently launched calling on Lebanese expats to register in 40+ countries on 6 continents, something curious was noted. Expats were basically found to be split into two clear categories:
- The vast majority were FOR the posts urging registrations, liking them and commenting favorably on the need for change.
- A minority commented that they did NOT want to vote, because they expected things would never change in Lebanon and that anyone who believes they will is deluded.
Considering that this is a sizeable sample size representing all age groups', genders, and economic strata of the global Lebanese expat community, how could there have not been more engagement from regime parties' supporters? Were they hesitant to speak up? Were they completely disengaged from the upcoming elections? Or could this be interpreted as an early sign of an impending tectonic change in the Lebanese political landscape? And if so, could a potential landslide victory in the Lebanese parliamentary elections of 2022 occur in favor of the Lebanese October 17 Change movement as a result?
Before answering these questions, it is important to highlight that in any election, one needs to be careful to set the right context before making predictions. Without context, election projections are meaningless, and massive miscalculations could ensue. As an example, the US Presidential election of 2016 is contextually looked at in very different terms from the subsequent election of 2020. The 2016 election turned out to be all about a protest vote against the political establishment. The Democrats missed that and ended up losing the election by a whisker when they should have won it by a mile. However, 2020's election context was due to the perceived mishandling of the COVID pandemic by an apathetic and uncaring President. Republicans tried to make it about liberty from masks. It fell flat on a frightened population and Trump ended up losing in a landslide to Biden. Interpreting the right context is essential to election strategy. If someone tries to make sense of 2020 using the 2016 context, the entire exercise would be meaningless, and vice-versa. While some demographic trends may count, every election is it's own unique story. That's why currently many Republicans are loathe to making the 2024 Presidential election about voter fraud because they feel it would be the wrong context. The recent results from Virginia's gubernatorial race, which focused on education instead of voter fraud and in which the Republican won, would tend to prove them right.
In Lebanon, since the last parliamentary elections, there has been no less than an economic crisis, a financial meltdown, massive rise in unemployment and poverty, and an explosion that destroyed a third of the capital city Beirut. All of this has been accompanied by close to no accountability or reaction whatsoever by any of the parties in power. If anything, they have been obstructive of the truth offering impunity instead of solutions. In the meantime, several localized guild and university elections held have shown landslide victories for change movements, in some cases in excess of 80%. And yet, notwithstanding this undeniable context, some election analysts in Lebanon continue to hash out charts from the 2018 parliamentary elections to show that traditional parties gained 90% or more of the vote back then, as if turning back the clock really mattered now, or worse yet perhaps insinuating that things will not change. Such analysis appears to disregard or in the very least heavily discount the new context.
At a time when people all over Lebanon are barely making ends meet, when there is hardly any electricity, when fuel shortages have been rampant, massive protests and strikes have occurred, and emigration is off the charts, applying the 2018 context to 2022 smacks of either statistical bias or tone deafness. Indeed, recent polling from serious sources such as Zoghby, has shown that more than 88% of Lebanese say that they are worse off now than they were before, with average support for traditional parties falling to a mere 19%, and with 66% saying they would vote for new alternative parties.
It is through the lens of this context that one needs to look at the recent surge in Lebanese expat registrations, which are on target to almost TRIPLING what they were in 2018. Of course, anyone who claims that the increase in expat registrations will eventually yield nothing more than traditional voting patterns and proportions would be scoffed at, given the low polling numbers for traditional parties. Similarly, for anyone to shrug off the expat surge in registrations as insignificant or to try and argue that it is not serious would be an even worse offense to the expat voters, on whose remittances the nation is currently surviving.
It is for all the above reasons that the Lebanese expat registration surge has sent shock waves through the Lebanese political establishment. It may have once been easy to shrug off the occasional poll, or the guild or university elections with all kinds of excuses. It won't be so easy anymore to disregard the global democratic movement trying to help save the homeland from the abyss. And it will be equally hard if the surge causes alarm to some in the regime, when they try to float the idea of cancelling the election, postponing it, or even restructuring it. If they did, they would now have close to a quarter of a million disgruntled expats lobbying global governments against it.
For a regime that breathes from apathy and disengagement, Lebanese expats through their marathon registration drives, social media campaigns, movie tours, and all kinds of organic election ground motions have mustered hair-raising energy and sky-rocketing voter registrations, sending a clear message to all of Lebanon months before the actual elections: Listen Up: Old numbers and tactics no longer count; we are unhappy with how things are going in our homeland; we do not want our people to suffer; we want our country back; we are registering to vote in the elections, and whether some may like it or not, change is coming!