05/04/2018, 17.48
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Lebanon goes to the polls for the first time in nine years

Voters care called to pick 128 representatives, 64 Christians and 64 Muslims/Druze. Some 3.5 million eligible voters can choose among more than 600 candidates running on 77 tickets under a new proportional system that replaces the old ‘winner-take-all’. The economy and the refugee crisis have been the main issues of the campaign. Meanwhile, Iran and Saudi Arabia still cast their long shadow over the vote.

Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After nine years since the last election and several political and institutional crises, including a presidential vacancy, Lebanese voters will go to the polls this Sunday, 6 May, to choose their new Assembly of Representatives.

According to the Election Commission, at least 3.5 million eligible voters can elect the 128 lawmakers (64 Christians and 64 Muslims/Druze) for a four-year term. More than 600 candidates are running on 77 tickets in the country’s 15 medium and large electoral districts. Just under 83,000 Lebanese will be able to vote abroad. Under new rules, voters will vote twice, once for coalitions and once for the candidate

Historically, the rate of participation in national and local elections has rarely topped 50 per cent. In some areas, like the capital Beirut, the turnout rate in some elections was just above 20 per cent. Thus, the voter participation will be closely vetted to see the impact of new proportional system on turnout.

In the past, it was hard for a Christian candidate to be elected in a majority-Muslim constituency. Now however, the new system should – the conditional is a must – ensure better representation.

In the last election, in 2009, the turnout was 54.8 per cent in what proved to be country’s most controversial and divisive election. Seen as an obstacle to change and popular will, the voting system has weighed heavily on voters’ disaffection with politics.

Analysts and experts, as well as foreign capitals, are looking forward to the score of Amal (under Nabih Berri) and pro-Iranian Hezbollah, as well as smaller pro-Syria parties and movements.

The mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement (founded by Lebanon’s current president, Michel Aoun) and the Christian-democratic Marada movement are running on their own. Among Christian parties, the Lebanese Forces (Kataeb) hope to win at least a dozen seats.

It is still unclear how much influence outside powers will have on the election, but they certainly play an important role in Lebanese politics. This is especially true for Shia dominated Iran vis-à-vis Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia on Sunnis and incumbent Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

However, although Lebanon is still subject to external regional pressures, the domestic political context has changed in recent years as a result of demographic shifts that have transformed many areas once considered strongholds of specific confessional groups or parties.

And whilst it is true that the parties continue to be confessional in nature, they no longer run exclusively candidates from their own community, partly due to a political system that was redesigned to minimise sectarian tensions and encourage cooperation. Thus, for example, a Sunni candidate running for a Sunni seat will run against other Sunnis but can benefit from the support of Christian or Shia parties.

As for the election campaign itself, Lebanon’s economic crisis, compounded by the Syrian refugee crisis, has taken centre state. For many unhappy Lebanese, power supply shortages and the long-lasting garbage collection crisis are two other important issues, especially in the capital, that need action.

Last but not least, growing corruption is the other major issue, a problem the country shares with other countries in the region despite slogans and promises. (DS)

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