Hussein Malla / AP
BEIRUT — Lebanese voted for a new parliament on Sunday amid an economic collapse that is transforming the country and low expectations that the vote would significantly change the political landscape.
A new batch of candidates from the 2019 protest movement are taking on the country’s entrenched ruling class who have been blamed for the collapse, hoping to dislodge them. But they are divided and lack the money, experience and other advantages of traditional political rulers.
Shortly after polling stations opened, people began voting under the watchful eye of security forces scattered across the country. Sunday’s vote is the first since Lebanon’s implosion began in October 2019, sparking widespread anti-government protests.
They are also the first elections since the 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 blast, widely attributed to negligence, was caused by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate ignited in a dockside warehouse after a fire broke out at the facility.
The vote is seen as a last chance to change course and punish the current crop of politicians, most of whom draw their power from Lebanon’s sectarian political system and the spoils left behind at the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990. has been taken. change were low amid skepticism and widespread resignation that the vote would certainly bring back the same political parties.
“I have done what I can and I know the situation will not change 180 degrees,” Rabah Abbas, 74, said after casting his vote in Beirut. He fears Sunday’s election is merely symbolic and that post-election Lebanon will once again be mired in political bickering over the formation of a new government and the election of a new president in October.
“We will run into another wall. Lebanon is a hopeless case,” he said.
The magnitude of Lebanon’s collapse was on display on Sunday. In the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s most impoverished city, several polling stations were without electricity and voters had to climb several stairs to vote. Voters used the light from his cell phone to check his list before putting it in the box.
Mainstream political parties and politicians remained strong during the vote, while opposition members and civil society activists who hoped to get them off their seats have been broken. Lebanese parties have long relied on a system that encourages voters to vote in return for favors and individual benefits.
Money poured in and political parties offered bribes, sandwiches, transportation and other favors to voters.
Since the 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 left the country in search of opportunities abroad. Three quarters of the country’s six million inhabitants, including 1 million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.
The World Bank has described Lebanon’s collapse as one of the worst in the past 150 years.
About 718 candidates from 103 lists participate in the 128-member parliament. The vote takes place every four years. In 2018, voters gave the powerful Hezbollah and its allies the majority with 71 seats.
Lebanon has more than 3.5 million eligible voters, many of whom will vote in its 15 constituencies. Earlier this month, Lebanese living abroad cast their votes in the countries where they live.
Western-backed mainstream parties hope to rob Hezbollah’s parliamentary majority, while many independents hope to break through traditional party lists and candidates.
The vote this year comes as a powerful Sunni leader, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, has suspended his work in politics. Some have warned that this could help Hezbollah’s Sunni allies win more seats.
After the election results are announced, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government will become an interim cabinet until the president calls for consultations with the new MPs, who will elect the next prime minister.
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.
Lebanese parliament and cabinet seats are split equally between Muslims and Christians according to the constitution drafted shortly before the end of the civil war.
From Saturday afternoon, the Lebanese army began to deploy in areas where tensions were to be expected, mainly in the areas around Beirut and nearby Mount Lebanon.