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    A Failing Grade on Reform

     

    And with not a bang but a whimper, the battle to lower the voting age in Lebanon has ended, for now, with dozens of MPs taking the bold decision to abstain from even voting when the matter came up on Monday.

    There are various absurdities to the argument for keeping things as they are: one is that these 18-to-21-year-olds will, over the next three years, enter the ranks of eligible voters anyway, as many observers have pointed out. In the end, it’s a tiring thing to see parties that are against lowering the voting age put great efforts into mobilizing 18-to-21-year-olds to vote in student elections.

    But for the sake of argument, let’s examine the stance of the anti-lowering the voting age crowd. Many in this camp are linking the voting age amendment to allowing expatriate Lebanese to vote, and this highlights the dangerous lassitude of the Lebanese political order.

    The members of our political class bat around slogans, such as the right of the diaspora to vote, but give us little about the mechanics of the project. It might seem like a daunting effort, but it doesn’t have to be. The day after Parliament took the easy way out on electoral reform, we learn that almost 200,000 Iraqis residing in Jordan will be voting in next month’s legislative elections.

    Last summer, we saw Iranians residing in the United States cast their ballots in the controversial presidential poll.

    Granted, the assistance of national authorities and international agencies is needed to see such voting take place, but we can assume that Lebanon’s task is fairly clear-cut. It’s not a time to fall back on the “we’re not Switzerland” argument; if Iraq and Iran can experience the blessings of expatriate voting, can’t Lebanon as well?

    We assume it can take place, but we’d also like to see our state authorities and supposedly pro-diaspora parties present us with the cold, hard facts: how many people will be involved? Can all of the countries where Lebanese reside provide guarantees for a smooth process? Has anyone contacted Venezuela or Sierra Leone about this?

    The lack of serious work on how to ensure Lebanese can vote in elections while residing abroad is a reflection of the attitude of the political class when it comes to reform: Politicians will fill up hours and hours on television and radio, or column inches in a newspaper, with comments and criticism. But an action plan, a set of guidelines, or a serious listing of the pros and cons is what we lack from our decision-makers. The media buzz on the issue might be loud, but when it comes to doing the homework on political and electoral reform in Lebanon, there’s not even a bang, or a whimper, just silence.

    The Daily Star
    24.02.2010

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