BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — Thousands of Lebanese living in nearly 50 countries cast their early votes Sunday for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections.
Some 195,000 Lebanese have registered to vote in 48 countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, European Union member states and several African nations.
The vote in Lebanon will take place on May 15.
Many Lebanese have left their country in the last two years due to the historic collapse of the national economy. The recession has been blamed on decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political class that has run the small nation since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
Parliamentary elections are held once every four years and the last vote in 2018 gave majority seats to the powerful armed group Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and its allies.
This year’s vote for the 128-member legislature is the first since the economic and financial crisis began in October 2019, which sparked protests across the country. It is also the first to take place since the August 4, 2020 explosion at the Beirut port that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and caused widespread damage in the capital.
In the United Arab Emirates, dozens braved the heat to vote at the Lebanese consulate in Dubai on Sunday.
Although many of the Lebanese have migrated to the Arab financial hub to escape the crisis at home, the atmosphere was joyous, with voters taking photos of themselves showing inked fingers and listening to patriotic pop music.
In other countries, there were some minor disturbances. In France, several voters nearly came to blows when one yelled at two supporters of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, a Hezbollah-allied group.
“You have brought the country to collapse. They have no honor or national sentiments,” the man yelled. The tense standoff reflects Lebanese divisions along sectarian and ideological lines.
The Lebanese Parliament is equally divided between Christians and Muslims. The new legislature will elect a new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.
More than 70% of the country’s 6 million people — including 1 million Syrian refugees — now live in poverty as a result of the economic crisis, which the World Bank describes as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s.
Thousands have lost their jobs and the pound has lost more than 90% of its value since the start of the crisis.