Lebanon: Tepid turnout marks first election since 2009

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Following a day of voting on Sunday, the Lebanese government has said only 49.2 percent of voters took part in the long-delayed election for the country’s 128-seat parliament.

Observers have reported a higher turnout in some areas of Lebanon that are known as the strongholds of the Iran-allied Shiite Hezbollah movement.

The election marks the first vote under the new proportional system, which replaced the structure where the winning party would carry all the seats in a particular district.

Read more: Can independents offer a real alternative in Lebanon election?

A nun voting (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Hussein)

The new voting law also introduced a female quota for the parliament

‘Voting operations were very slow’

Announcing the turnout figures on Sunday evening, the country’s interior minister, Nouhad Machnouk, said the new electoral system had caused difficulties at the polls.

“This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations,” Machnouk said in a news conference. “Voting operations were very slow.”

Machnouk said a total of 7,300 complaints from the polling stations had been filed with the Interior Ministry, but did not provide details.

Other sources reported fistfights breaking out at numerous polling stations around the country, as rival parties accused each other of ballot stuffing. In the district of Choueifat south of Beirut, a crowd rebelled against a station supervisor and smashed a ballot box. Security forces also intervened in the clash between rival Christian parties in the eastern town of Zahle.

Hariri to keep his seat?

Official results are expected on Monday. However, experts believe the complicated balance of power between various religious factions is set to remain mostly unchanged, with lawmakers representing Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Maronite Christians likely to be re-elected. The current prime minister, Saudi-backed Saad Hariri, remains the most likely candidate to form the next government.

Around 54 percent of voters took part in the last parliamentary vote in 2009. Instead of organizing another vote in 2013, lawmakers prolonged their terms on several occasions, citing security concerns over the war in neighboring Syria. Lebanon, with its population of 4.5 million, hosts more than 1.5 million refugees from the war-torn country. The Shiite Hezbollah militia is also directly involved in the war, supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Hariri and the country’s Christian president, Michel Aoun, both urged voters to come to the polls on Sunday. However, many political analysts believe potential voters were discouraged by the stagnant economy and widespread corruption.

dj/cmk (dpa, AP)

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