The Lebanese will vote on Sunday in their first election since their country’s economic collapse, a test of whether Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies can maintain a parliamentary majority amid mounting poverty and anger at ruling parties.
After months of uncertainty about the possibility of holding elections, polling stations will open in 15 constituencies on Sunday. Citizens over the age of 21 vote in their ancestral towns and villages, which are sometimes far from their current place of residence.
The country is reeling under the weight of an economic collapse the World Bank attributes to the ruling class and a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020. Analysts say public anger over these two issues could push some reformist candidates to parliament.
But expectations for big change are slim in light of Lebanon’s sectarian system, which divides parliament seats among 11 religious groups and favors existing parties.
The last elections, held in 2018, witnessed the victory of the armed Shia group Hezbollah and its allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement led by President Michel Aoun, with seventy-one of a total of 128 seats in the House of Representatives.
These results pushed Lebanon further into Iran’s orbit, dealing a blow to Saudi Arabia’s influence.
Hezbollah says it expects little change in the composition of the current parliament, although its opponents, including the Saudi-allied Christian Lebanese Forces party, say they hope to win seats from the Free Patriotic Movement.
The boycott of Sunni leader Saad Hariri, which leaves a void that Hezbollah’s allies and opponents alike are trying to fill, adds to the uncertainty on the Lebanese political scene.
With the election approaching, watchdog groups have warned that candidates are buying votes with food parcels and fuel coupons being issued to families hardest hit by the financial collapse.
The next parliament is expected to vote on key reforms requested by the International Monetary Fund to enable direct financial aid to alleviate the Lebanese crisis. Parliament will also elect a new president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on October 31.
Analysts say that regardless of the outcome of the elections scheduled for Sunday, Lebanon is likely to experience a period of political paralysis that will curb its economic recovery as the parties begin tough negotiations over ministerial portfolios in a new government, a process that will take months.