Lebanon holds first vote since explosion and financial collapse

Lebanese vote on Sunday in the first elections since their country’s economic collapse, a test of whether Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority amid growing poverty and anger at parties in the country. able.

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After months of uncertainty over the holding of the elections, polling stations opened at 07:00 (04:00 GMT) in 15 constituencies. Nationals over the age of 21 vote in their ancestral towns and villages, sometimes far from home.

The country has been rocked by an economic collapse that the World Bank has blamed on the ruling class and the devastating 2020 Beirut port explosion. Analysts say public outrage over both issues could propel some reformist candidates into Parliament.

But expectations of a big shake-up are slim in Lebanon’s sectarian system, which divides seats in parliament among 11 religious groups and is skewed in favor of established parties.

The latest vote in 2018 saw the heavily armed Shia movement Hezbollah and its allies – including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party – win 71 of the parliament’s 128 seats.

The findings pushed Lebanon deeper into the orbit of Shia Muslim-ruled Iran, dealing a blow to the influence of Sunni Muslim-ruled Saudi Arabia.

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 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.

The next parliament is due to vote on key reforms required by the International Monetary Fund to unlock financial support to ease the crisis and will elect a new president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on October 31.

Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis that puts an economic recovery on hold as factions swap portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet – a process that may take months.

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