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Beirut (AFP) – After voting in Lebanon’s elections on Sunday, Nessrin, a survivor of the Beirut explosion, hoped the ink on her finger would be a toe in the door of parliament for new candidates fighting corruption.
The capital’s Karantina neighborhood, where she voted, was one of the hardest hit by the August 2020 explosion that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and devastated swathes of the city. city.
“My heart is consumed by all this destruction, all this blood and the future of my children,” the 40-year-old said as she left the polling station, next to a fire station adorned with photos of the 10 firefighters killed in the incident. ‘blast. .
“If the election can result in even a five percent change, that will be a first step.”
Some 3.9 million Lebanese were eligible to vote in the first legislative elections as multiple crises brought the small country to the brink of bankruptcy.
The port explosion, considered the largest non-nuclear explosion in modern history, has been widely blamed on the negligence and corruption of the ruling political elite.
No one has yet been held accountable, and no leader has been brought to justice for the financial mismanagement that led the state to default two years ago and plunged four out of five Lebanese into poverty.
Opposition candidates are in the running who emerged from a major anti-establishment protest in 2019. But few voters expect them to make a major change to a system that has been dominated by traditional sectarian parties for decades.
“This political class is corrupt,” said Nessrin, who was voting for only the second time in his life.
“It’s such a shame that people are voting them again.”
Now or never?
Prime Minister Najib Mikati is the country’s richest man, President Michel Aoun is the world’s third oldest head of state, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri has held office since 1992.
The Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, which derives its funding and arms from Iran, dominates parliament and has consistently obstructed an independent investigation into the blast.
“I came to vote today for young and independent candidates because I reject anything to do with traditional and sectarian parties,” said Aran Donarian, 23, whose family home was damaged by the port explosion.
“Voting won’t change anything today but it will change in the long run,” he said, adding that he was nevertheless “excited” to vote for the first time.
The apartment of another voter, 38-year-old artist Shadi, in the nearby neighborhood of Gemmayzeh, was destroyed and his parents injured when the blast tore through Beirut.
On Sunday, he chose to dip his middle finger in the election ink bottle as a sign of defiance.
“These elections are above all a way to eradicate this political class and to recover our Lebanon,” he said.
Independent candidates have struggled to unite but hope to do better than the single seat won in the 2018 election.
Observers have warned that an electoral system rigged in favor of the country’s political barons, widespread vote buying and other corrupt practices will preclude seismic change.
The campaign revealed widespread fatigue in an electorate numbed by the hardships of an unprecedented economic crisis.
However, in the shadow of the gutted grain silos of the port of Beirut, many young Lebanese were keen to exercise what they considered to be one of the few rights they had left.
“It’s now or never,” said Léa Ghorayeb, a young architect.
“The vote is all we have – if we don’t vote today we will relive this ordeal for another four years.”
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