Lebanon Elections: Lebanese Vote in High-Risk Parliamentary Elections

Beirut, Lebanon

Lebanese citizens voted on Sunday in a high-stakes parliamentary election, the first since a 2019 popular uprising called for the downfall of the ruling elite, blaming traditional parties for corruption and mismanagement.

Several new political groups emerged from the protest movement and are running in Sunday’s race, going head-to-head with established parties.

Political observers view elections as highly competitive and unpredictable. Earlier this year, three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the leader of the country’s largest Sunni Muslim parliamentary bloc, quit politics, leaving the Sunni vote up for grabs.

Hariri urged people in his constituencies to boycott the race. But voters in Beirut’s second constituency, one of Hariri’s main strongholds, turned out at the polls in relatively large numbers, with many telling CNN they voted for “change.”

Long lines snaked at one of the polling stations in Beirut’s Tareek el Jdeedeh neighborhood, where voter turnout is typically one of the lowest in the country, on Sunday morning.

“The queues we used to stand in were humiliating,” said Khaled Zaatari, referring to the long queues at bakeries and petrol pumps during some of the toughest days of last year’s economic crisis. “This tail is a tail of pride.”

Ralph Debbas, a New York-based consultant who is a delegate from a reformist electoral list, told CNN that he “felt it was my civic duty to come to Lebanon to vote.” The 43-year-old added: “We need a wave of change. We need a wave of decent and responsible people in parliament.”

A nearly three-year economic depression and the August 2020 port explosion, largely blamed on the country’s political elite, may also encourage Lebanese to vote for new parties in large numbers.

Lebanon’s financial crisis has caused poverty rates to skyrocket to over 75%, its currency to plummet and its infrastructure to deteriorate rapidly. The United Nations and the World Bank have blamed the country’s leaders for exacerbating the economic depression.

The Iranian-backed armed political group Hezbollah has also become a hot topic in Lebanon’s elections. Various political groups have vowed to try to disarm the Shi’ite party, which they believe has dominated the political sphere, though it still enjoys wide support among its constituents.

Hezbollah election rallies, where the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah urged people to vote en masse, drew thousands of supporters this week.

A Hezbollah-backed coalition, which includes other Shiite and Christian allies, holds a majority of seats in the current parliament.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati casts his vote in parliamentary elections at a polling station in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on May 15.

The small eastern Mediterranean country has had a confessional power-sharing system since its founding a century ago. Parliament is evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, with the position of prime minister reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian, and its speaker of parliament for a Shia Muslim.

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