BEIRUT ( Associated Press) – Thousands of Lebanese living in nearly 50 countries began early voting on Sunday in closely watched parliamentary elections in the country, days after similar voting took place in 10 Muslim-majority countries.
About 195,000 Lebanese registered to vote on Sunday in 48 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, EU member states and several African countries.
Voting in Lebanon will take place on 15 May.
Among those who voted on Sunday are many Lebanese who fled the country during a historic economic downturn in the past two years. The recession has been blamed on decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class running the small nation since the end of the 1975-90 civil war.
Parliamentary elections are held once every four years and the last vote in 2018 gave a majority to the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies.
This year is the first vote for the 128-member legislature since protests broke out across the country since the economic and financial crisis began in October 2019. This is the first vote since the massive explosion at the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and caused widespread damage in the capital.
Little change was expected from the vote as mainstream political parties and politicians remained strong in the vote while opposition figures remain fragmented. Western-backed mainstream parties are hoping to snatch the parliamentary majority from Hezbollah.
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.
Local media outlets have reported that Hariri has come under pressure from Saudi Arabia to persuade his supporters to get out and vote to prevent Hezbollah from profiting from zero. Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah pro-Iran are regional rivals.
A registered 194,348 electorate will vote in 192 polling stations around the world, many of which are in Lebanese diplomatic missions.
According to Foreign Minister Abdullah Buhabib, during Friday’s voting, 59.45% of the 30,929 registered voters voted.
Lebanon’s parliament is divided equally between Christians and Muslims. The new legislature will elect a new president after President Michel Aoun’s term ends in October.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will become a caretaker administration until the president consults with newly elected legislators to name a new prime minister, once official results come after next week’s voting in Lebanon. Mikati, who is not running for parliament, could be re-elected.
According to Lebanon’s power-sharing system, the president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister is a Sunni and the speaker of parliament is a Shia. Cabinet seats are also divided equally between Muslims and Christians.
More than 70% of the country’s 6 million residents, including 1 million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty as a result of the economic crisis, which the World Bank described as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s .
The crisis caused thousands of people to lose their jobs, while the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value since the recession began.