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Trapped in crises, the Lebanese begin to vote for a new parliament

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Lebanese took to the polls early Sunday to elect a new parliament amid a country-changing economic meltdown and little expectation that the vote could bring meaningful change.

A new generation of 2019 protest movement candidates are taking on the country’s entrenched ruling class, blamed for the collapse, in hopes of deposing them. But they are divided and lack the money, experience and other advantages of traditional political leaders.

People began voting shortly after polling stations opened, under the watchful eye of security forces spread across the country. Sunday’s vote is the first since Lebanon’s implosion began in October 2019, sparking widespread anti-government protests.

It is also the first election since August 2020’s massive explosion at the port of Beirut that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of the Lebanese capital. The explosion, which is widely blamed on negligence, was caused by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate igniting in a port warehouse after a fire broke out at the facility.

The vote is seen as a last chance to reverse course and punish the current generation of politicians, most of whom draw their power from Lebanon’s sectarian political system and the spoils it took at the end of the 15-year civil war in 1990 became. But expectations are real Changes have been modest amid skepticism and widespread resignation that the vote would certainly bring back the same political parties.

Mainstream political parties and politicians have remained strong ahead of the vote, while opposition figures and civil society activists hoping to oust them are divided. Lebanese parties have long relied on a system that encourages voters to vote against favors and individual benefits.

Since the meltdown began, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value for most, and many have fled the country to seek opportunities abroad. Three quarters of the country’s six million people, including a million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.

About 718 candidates on 103 lists are running for seats in the 128-member parliament. Voting takes place every four years. In 2018, voters gave the powerful Hezbollah and its allies a majority with 71 seats.

Lebanon has more than 3.5 million eligible voters, many of whom will cast their ballots in the 15 constituencies. Earlier this month, Lebanese living abroad cast their ballots in the countries where they live.

Western-backed mainstream parties hope to wrest Hezbollah from a parliamentary majority, while many independents hope to break through traditional party lists and candidates.

This year’s vote comes as a powerful Sunni leader, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, resigned from politics. Some have warned that this could help Hezbollah’s Sunni allies win more seats.

After the election results are in, Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government becomes the acting cabinet until the president convenes 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.

Lebanon’s parliamentary and cabinet seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians under the constitution, which was drafted just before the end of the civil war.

As of Saturday afternoon, the Lebanese army began deploying to areas where tension was expected, mainly areas around Beirut and the nearby Mount Lebanon.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/ap-beirut-people-saad-hariri-michel-aoun-b2079302.html Trapped in crises, the Lebanese begin to vote for a new parliament

Bobby Allyn

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