BEIRUT (Dispatches) – Polls opened on Sunday in Lebanon’s first election since the deadly Beirut port blast, with observers saying not to expect any seismic shift.
Polling stations opened at 7:00 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) across 15 electoral districts on Sunday, with nearly four million people eligible to vote and 718 candidates competing to win 128 parliamentary seats.
The voting in Lebanon came a week after the Lebanese diaspora cast their ballots in an overseas vote.
The army deployed across the country to secure an election Lebanon’s donors have stressed was a pre-requisite for crucial financial rescue measures.
People began casting their ballots shortly after the polls opened, under the watchful eye of security forces that have fanned out across the country.
Independents can hope for more than the lone seat they clinched in 2018 but most of parliament’s 128 seats will remain in the control of the current political class.
Lebanon’s parliament is equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
The last vote in 2018 saw Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement and its allies, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of President Michel Aoun and the Shia Amal party of Speaker Nabih Berri, secure a majority by winning 71 of the parliament’s seats.
The absence of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has left a vacuum for Sunni votes, which both Hezbollah allies and opponents are seeking to fill.
Hezbollah has said it expects few changes to the make-up of the current parliament, though its opponents, including the Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces party, say they are hoping to scoop up seats from the FPM.
On the eve of the parliamentary elections, the Lebanese president earnestly called on the public to voice their grievances over the country’s economic hardships at the ballot boxes.
“The ballot box revolution is the cleanest and most honest revolution. Revolt against everyone who considers you a mere commodity! Revolt against political blackmail! Revolt against moral decadence and loss of values! Revolt against those who stole your money and deposits! Revolt against those who obstructed every step,” Michel Aoun said.
“It can protect the rest of your rights or expose the thieves! Revolt against those who incite and favor sedition and possibly civil war.”
The economic and financial crisis in Lebanon is mostly linked to the sanctions that the United States and its allies have imposed on the country as well as foreign intervention in the Arab nation’s domestic affairs.
The final results of the parliamentary elections in Lebanon are expected to be announced on Monday, with the new legislature set to elect a new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.