Polls in crisis-ridden Lebanon opened up to a high-stakes parliamentary election on Sunday morning.
The election is the first in Lebanon since a 2019 popular uprising demanded the downfall of the ruling elite, blaming traditional parties for widespread corruption and mismanagement. Several new political groups have emerged from the protest movement and are competing in Sunday’s race, taking on establishment parties.
Political observers see the election 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 – left politics, leaving the Sunni vote up for grabs.
A nearly three-year economic depression and the port explosion in August 2020, largely blamed on the country’s political elite, could also encourage Lebanese to vote for new parties in large numbers.
Lebanon’s financial crisis has caused poverty rates to rise to over 75%, its currency to plummet and its infrastructure to rapidly decline. The United Nations and the World Bank have blamed the country’s leaders for exacerbating the economic depression.
The armed political group Hezbollah, backed by Iran, also emerged as a hot topic in Lebanon’s elections. Several political groups have vowed to try to disarm the Shi’ite party – which they believe has dominated the political sphere – although it still has broad support among its voters.
Hezbollah’s election rallies — where the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah urged people to vote en masse — have drawn thousands of supporters this week.
A Hezbollah-backed coalition – which includes other Shia and Christian allies – has the most seats in the current parliament.
The small eastern Mediterranean country has had a power-sharing confessional system since its founding a century ago. Parliament is divided equally between Muslims and Christians, with the prime minister’s office reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian and its speaker of parliament for a Shia Muslim.