BEIRUT ( Associated Press) – Lebanese rushed to polling stations early on Sunday to elect a new parliament amid the country’s changing economic slowdown and low hopes that voting could bring about meaningful change.
A new crop of candidates from the 2019 protest movement are running against the country’s ruling class, which is blamed for the collapse, expected to oust them. But they are divided and lack the wealth, experience and other advantages that traditional political rulers have.
People started voting as soon as voting started under the supervision of security forces spread across the country. Sunday’s vote is the first since the bombings began in Lebanon in October 2019, sparking widespread anti-government protests.
It is also the first election since a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of the Lebanese capital. The explosion, which was widely blamed on negligence, was set off by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate that ignited in a port warehouse after the facility caught fire.
The vote is seen as the last opportunity to reverse and punish the current crop of politicians, most of whom derive their power from Lebanon’s sectarian political system and the plundering it had in 1990 at the end of its 15-year civil war. But hopes for real changes were low amid doubts and widespread resignation that the vote was sure to bring back the same political parties.
Mainstream political parties and politicians remained strong enough to go to the vote, while opposition figures and civil society activists were hoping to oust him. Lebanese parties have long relied on a system that encourages voters to vote in exchange for favor and personal gain.
Since the recession began, thousands have lost their jobs, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value and many have left the country in search of opportunities abroad. Three-quarters of the country’s six million people, including one million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.
Some 718 candidates are running for seats from 103 lists in the 128-member parliament. The vote is held once every four years. In 2018, voters gave a majority to the powerful Hezbollah and its allies with 71 seats.
Lebanon has over 3.5 million eligible voters, many of whom will vote in its 15 electoral districts. Earlier this month, Lebanese living abroad cast their ballots in the countries where they live.
Western-backed mainstream parties are hoping to snatch a parliamentary majority from Hezbollah, while many independents are hoping to break from traditional party lists and candidates.
The vote this year comes as a powerful Sunni leader, former prime minister Saad Hariri, suspended his work in politics. Some have warned it could help Hezbollah’s Sunni allies win more seats.
After the election results are out, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will become a caretaker cabinet, until the President calls for consultations with the new Members of Parliament, who choose the next Premier.
The new parliament will also elect a new head of state after President Michel Aoun’s six-year term ends at the end of October.
Lebanon’s parliament and cabinet seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians under the constitution, which was drafted shortly before the civil war ended.
As of Saturday afternoon, the Lebanese military began deploying to areas where tensions could be expected, mainly in the areas of Beirut and surrounding Mount Lebanon.