Voters go to polls to choose new Lebanese parliament amid economic meltdown
Lebanese citizens headed to the polls on Sunday to elect a new parliament against the backdrop of an economic meltdown that is transforming the country.
Sunday's vote is the first since Lebanon's implosion started in October 2019, triggering widespread anti-government protests.
It is also the first election since the massive August 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of Lebanon’s capital. The blast was widely blamed on negligence.
The extent of Lebanon's collapse was on display Sunday. In the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon's most impoverished city, several polling stations were without electricity and voters had to climb several flights of stairs to cast their ballots.
At one polling station in Beirut crowds of people were seen waiting outside the center before polls had even opened.
Some voters who cast their ballots told the AP they were hoping the election would bring about change in the country.
The voting is seen as a last chance to reverse course and punish the current crop of politicians, most of whom derive their power from Lebanon's sectarian political system and spoils taken at the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990.
A new crop of candidates from the 2019 protest movement are running against the country’s entrenched ruling class that is blamed for the economic collapse, hoping to unseat them.
But they are divided and lack the money, experience and other advantages held by traditional political rulers.
The World Bank has described Lebanon's collapse as one of the world's worst in the past 150 years.
But expectations for real change were low amid skepticism and widespread resignation that the vote was sure to bring back the same political parties.
Mainstream political parties and politicians remained strong going into the vote, while opposition figures and civil society activists hoping to unseat them are fractured.
Some 718 candidates on 103 lists are running for seats in the 128-member parliament.
The vote is held once 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 cast their ballots in its 15 electoral districts.
Earlier this month, Lebanese living abroad cast their ballots in countries where they live.