Crisis-hit Lebanon votes but few expect major change

Lebanon yesterday held its first election since a painful economic crisis dragged it to the brink of bankruptcy, a major test for new opposition groups determined to oust the ruling elite.
But few observers expected a seismic shift, with all the levers of political power firmly in the hands of traditional sectarian parties and an electoral system seen as rigged in their favour.
Lebanon shares power between its religious communities and politics is often treated as a family affair.
“I voted for change, of course,” said 64-year-old Nabil Bazerji. “Because we can’t go on like this, Lebanon has never been in the position it is in now.”
A new generation of independent candidates have come forward hoping to bring about the kind of change that a 2019 protest movement failed to deliver, and they seemed likely to do better than the assembly seat single they landed last time.
But most of the 128 seats in parliament are expected to remain in the grip of the entrenched groups responsible for the country’s woes – primarily the economic downturn which is the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Voter turnout was low, with around 32 percent of registered voters having cast their ballots by 5 p.m. (1400 GMT), according to the Home Office.
Most polling stations closed two hours later, with a few stations remaining open for those still waiting inside as the vote count began, Lebanon’s national news agency said. Results are expected today.
“It seems almost impossible to imagine Lebanon voting for more of the same,” said Century Foundation analyst Sam Heller. “And yet, that seems to be the most likely outcome.”
The Lebanese crisis has been so severe that more than 80% of the population is now considered poor by the United Nations, with the most desperate increasingly attempting perilous boat crossings to flee to Europe.
The Lebanese pound has lost 95% of its value, people’s savings are stuck in the banks, the minimum wage does not fill a car with fuel and the electricity only works for two hours a day.
Compounding the country’s woes, much of the capital Beirut was devastated by the deadly August 2020 explosion of volatile chemicals that had been left for years in a port warehouse, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever. never recorded. Top political barons have blocked an investigation into the disaster, and legal proceedings against the central bank governor for alleged financial crimes are also floundering.
Lebanon, once described as the Switzerland of the Middle East, ranked second to last behind Afghanistan in the latest Global Happiness Index released in March. The army deployed across the country yesterday to secure the election, which Lebanon’s international donors say is a prerequisite for crucial financial aid to save it from bankruptcy.
After a disappointing campaign snuffed out by the all-consuming economic turmoil, voting was only disrupted by minor incidents at some polling stations.
The Hezbollah group and its allies threatened independent observers from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) at polling stations, the association said.
Despite government assurances that polling stations would be powered on election day, some voters had to use the torches on their phones.
Videos shared online showed people sporting their candidate’s colors and guiding voters through voting booths, continuing a decades-old trend of buying votes.
The outgoing parliament was dominated by Hezbollah and its two main allies, the Amal party of President Nabih Berri, in office since 1992, and the Free Christian Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun.

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