BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — Lebanese went to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament, amid an economic collapse that is reshaping the country and low expectations that the vote could bring meaningful change.
A new batch of candidates from the 2019 protest movement were running against the entrenched ruling class blamed for the collapse, hoping to topple them. But the new entrants were divided and lacked the funds, experience and other advantages of traditional politicians.
People began voting shortly after the polls opened under the watchful eye of security forces, which were deployed across the country. Sunday’s elections were the first since the Lebanese debacle began in October 2019, sparking widespread anti-government protests.
It was also the first election since the huge explosion in August 2020 in the port of Beirut, which left more than 200 dead, injured thousands and destroyed parts of the capital. The explosion, largely attributed to negligence, was due to hundreds of tons of improperly stored ammonium nitrate exploding in a port warehouse when a fire broke out at the site.
The vote was seen as a last chance to change course and punish current politicians, most of whom owe their power to Lebanon’s religious political system and the spoils spread after its 15-year civil war in 1990. But expectations that there would be a real change were low, given the widespread skepticism and resignation among the population that the elections would keep the same political parties.
Lebanon’s parliament and government are split down the middle between Muslims and Christians, according to the constitution drawn up shortly after the civil war.
The traditional parties and politicians arrived in force on election day, while the opponents and civil society activists who aspired to overthrow them were divided. Lebanese parties have long benefited from a system that encourages voters to choose their ballots in exchange for individual favors and benefits.
Western-backed traditional parties hoped to strip Hezbollah of its parliamentary majority, while independents aspired to carve out a niche for themselves among mainstream candidates.
Since the country’s collapse began, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value, and many have fled the country seeking opportunities abroad. Three-quarters of its six million people, including one million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.