‘Ballot box revolution’: Lebanon holds parliamentary elections

Voter participation is expected to be higher this year following an increase in diaspora voting last week.

Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon holds parliamentary elections on Sunday while reeling from an economic crisis that has pushed more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.

Some 3.9 million eligible voters will select their preferred representatives among 718 candidates spread across 103 lists in 15 districts and 27 subdistricts, an increase from 597 candidates and 77 lists in 2018.

The European Union has deployed 170 observers all over the country to monitor procedures on election day.

Lebanon’s semi-democracy has a unique confessional power-sharing system. Its parliament consists of 128 divided evenly among the country’s mosaic Muslim and Christian denominations. Lebanon’s president is a Maronite Christian, its prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim.

The country’s electoral law allocates seats proportionately based on a two-vote system. Voters select a list of candidates running together followed by a “preferential vote” for their favourite candidate from that list.

President Michel Aoun in a speech on Saturday called on citizens to vote in large numbers. “The revolution of the ballot box is the most honest one,” Aoun said.

Voter participation is expected to be higher this year following an increase in diaspora voting last week.

Some 142,041 out of 244,442 registered expatriate voters headed to the polls last week on May 6 and 8 across 48 countries, with a 63.05 percent turnout, according to the foreign ministry. This was more than triple their participation in Lebanon’s previous elections in 2018.

Lebanon’s voter turnout in 2018 was just short of 50 percent.

Following the 2019 uprising, this year’s election also includes many anti-establishment candidates representing new political groups and movements. In 2018, only former journalist Paula Yacoubian in Beirut won a seat.

While analysts anticipate anti-establishment candidates will possibly win additional seats, they believe the balance of power will ultimately remain the same.

Political partisans loyal to traditional parties have threatened and attacked anti-establishment groups in several districts while campaigning.

However, Lebanon’s largest Sunni party, the once Saudi-backed Future Movement, will not participate in the elections. Their leader, former Primer Minister Saad Hariri stepped down from politics earlier this year, criticising the growing power and influence of the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah.

Hariri left a significant political gap in key constituencies in Lebanon, and analysts told Al Jazeera Hezbollah’s allies may try and capitalise on that.

The Future Movement currently has two-thirds of the allocated Sunni seats in parliament.

A wide array of political groups and candidates have swept Sunni constituencies to try to fill the void in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut’s second district.

Many Hariri supporters have called for a boycott of the elections.

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