Lebanon is holding its first parliamentary elections since the financial collapse and explosion

  • The vote was marred by disputes, power outages, and low turnout
  • Lebanon deserves better, according to a Beirut voter
  • Hariri’s stronghold sees an unofficial boycott
  • A female Hezbollah voter says she voted for ‘ideology’

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese voted on Sunday in their first parliamentary elections since the country’s economic collapse, with many saying they hoped to deal a blow to ruling politicians they blame for the crisis, even if the prospects for major change looked slim.

The elections are seen as a test of whether Hezbollah and its heavily armed, Iran-backed allies can maintain a majority in parliament amid extreme poverty and anger at the parties in power.

Since Lebanon last voted in 2018, it has suffered an economic meltdown that the World Bank says was orchestrated by the ruling class, and a massive explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020.

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But while analysts believe public anger could help reform-minded candidates win some seats, expectations are low that there will be a major shift in the balance of power, with the sectarian political system skewed in favor of established parties. Read more

“Lebanon deserves better,” said Nabil Shaya, 57, with his father in Beirut.

“It’s not my right, it’s my duty — and I think it makes a difference. There’s been a vigil by people. A little hindsight? Maybe, but people feel that change is necessary.”

The collapse represented the most destabilizing crisis in Lebanon since the 1975-90 civil war, plunging the currency by more than 90%, plunging three-quarters of the population into poverty, and freezing savers’ bank deposits.

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In one symptom of the collapse, polling stations across the country suffered blackouts on Sunday.

And in southern Lebanon, a political stronghold of the Hezbollah movement, Rana Gharib said she lost her money in the financial meltdown, but still voted for the group.

“We vote for ideology, not for money,” said Gharib, a woman in her 30s who was casting her ballot in Yatar, acknowledging Hezbollah for driving Israeli forces out of southern Lebanon in 2000.

Fistfights and other disputes disrupted voting in several counties, according to the state-run news agency, with security forces intervening so that it could resume. Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi said the incidents remained “at an acceptable level.”

Tensions were particularly high between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces, a Christian party allied with Saudi Arabia.

The Lebanese forces are fiercely opposed to Hezbollah’s arsenal and have tried to nominate Shi’ite candidates in areas controlled by Hezbollah, although most of them withdrew before Sunday.

The Lebanese Forces said that Hezbollah supporters attacked its delegates in several polling stations, wounding at least four in the southern Jezzine district.

A Hezbollah official said the group did not have a presence in Jezzine, and a Hezbollah statement later blamed the Lebanese forces for starting clashes in other neighborhoods.

Iran’s orbit

The last vote in 2018 saw Hezbollah and its allies – including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party – win 71 out of 128 seats in parliament.

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These results have pulled Lebanon deeper into the orbit of Shiite-led Iran, representing a blow to the influence of Sunni-led Saudi Arabia.

Hezbollah has said it expects few changes to the composition of the current parliament, although its opponents, including the Lebanese army, hope to secure seats from the Free Patriotic Movement. Read more

Adding to the uncertainty, the boycott of Sunni leader Saad Hariri has left a void that both Hezbollah allies and opponents seek to fill.

In Hariri’s main stronghold of Beirut, residents skipped voting and instead took some time to relax, some of them going swimming.

Polling stations closed at 7:00 pm (1600 GMT), with voting continuing inside some centers. Unofficial results due overnight.

Two hours before the polls closed, the Ministry of Interior announced a turnout of 32%.

In comparison, last week’s expat vote saw a turnout of over 60%. Analysts already anticipate that the outcome will face a slew of objections, particularly in districts where the newcomers take on existing parties.

“Where the competition is fierce and where the electoral threshold is something that opposition parties can overcome, we will witness a lot of disagreements,” said Amal Hamdan, an election expert.

The next parliament must name a prime minister to form the government – a process that could take months. Any delay would impede the reforms needed to address the crisis and unleash support from the International Monetary Fund and donor countries.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who reached a draft agreement with the International Monetary Fund in April, conditioned on reforms, said he would be ready to return as prime minister if he was certain of a quick government formation.

(Covering by Maya Gebaili, Laila Bassam, Taymour Azhari and Lina Najm). Written by Tom Perry and Maya Jebeli; Editing by William Mallard, Kenneth Maxwell, William MacLean

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