Thousands of Tunisians demonstrate against the president and demand a democratic return
Lebanon holds its first legislative elections since the financial collapse and the explosion of the port of Beirut
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese voted in the first legislative elections since the country’s economic collapse on Sunday, and many said they hoped to deliver a blow to ruling politicians they blame for the crisis, although the odds of a major change seem thin.
The election, the first since 2018, is seen as a test of whether the heavily armed, Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority amid growing poverty and anger at ruling parties.
Since Lebanon’s last election, the country has been rocked by an economic collapse that the World Bank has blamed on the ruling class, and a massive explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020.
But while analysts believe public anger could help reformist candidates win some seats, expectations are low for a big shift in the balance of power, with Lebanon’s sectarian political system skewed in favor of established parties.
“Lebanon deserves better,” said Nabil Chaya, 57, voting with his father in Beirut.
“It’s not my right, it’s my duty — and I think it makes a difference. There was an awakening of the people. Too little, too late? Maybe, but people think change is necessary.
Fadi Ramadan, a 35-year-old voting for the first time, said he wanted to give a “slap in the face to the political system” by choosing an independent.
“If the political system wins, but narrowly, I consider that I would have won,” Ramadan said, voting in Beirut.
In southern Lebanon, the political stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah movement, Rana Gharib said she lost her money in Lebanon’s financial collapse but still voted for the group.
“We vote for an ideology, not for money,” said Gharib, a woman in her 30s who was voting in the village of Yater, crediting Hezbollah with driving Israeli forces from the southern part of the country. Lebanon in 2000.
Polls are due to close at 7:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. GMT), with unofficial results expected overnight.
The economic collapse marked Lebanon’s most destabilizing crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, sinking the currency by more than 90%, plunging around three-quarters of the population into poverty and freezing savers from their deposits. banking.
The last vote in 2018 saw Hezbollah and its allies – including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party – win 71 of the 128 seats in parliament.
These findings pushed Lebanon deeper into the orbit of Shia Muslim-ruled Iran.
Hezbollah has said it expects little change in the composition of the current parliament, although its opponents – including the Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces, another Christian group – say they hope to claw back seats in the FPM .
Adding a note of uncertainty, a boycott by Sunni leader Saad Al-Hariri has left a vacuum that Hezbollah’s allies and opponents seek to fill.
As the vote nears, watchdogs have warned that candidates will buy votes through food parcels and fuel vouchers issued to families hit hard by the financial meltdown.
Nationals over the age of 21 vote in their ancestral towns and villages, sometimes far from home.
The new parliament is expected to vote on the long-delayed reforms required by the International Monetary Fund to unlock financial support to ease the crisis.
He must also elect a president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on October 31.
Whatever the outcome, analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis as factions swap portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet, a process that could take months.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a tycoon in his third term as prime minister, could be nominated to form the new government, sources from four factions told Reuters.
Mikati said last week he was ready to return as prime minister if he was certain of a quick cabinet formation.