Lebanon went to the polls on Sunday for its first election as several crises dragged it to the brink of a failed state, with the ruling elite expected to comfortably face public anger.
Parliamentary elections are the first test for opposition movements sparked by an unprecedented anti-establishment insurgency in 2019 that briefly raised hopes of regime change in Lebanon.
Yet observers warn not to expect any seismic changes, as every lever of power is in the hands of traditional communal parties and an electoral system favors them.
After a groundbreaking campaign stifled by the country’s all-consumer economic plight, 3.9 million Lebanese will be eligible to vote when voting takes place at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT).
Independent candidates can expect more than the single seat they won in 2018, but most of the 128 seats in parliament will be held by the same political class that is blamed for the country’s woes.
The outgoing chamber was dominated by the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah and its two main allies: President Nabih Berry’s Shia Amal Party and President Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement.
“It seems almost impossible to imagine more turnout in Lebanon – and yet this seems to be the most likely outcome,” said Sam Heller, an analyst at the Century Foundation.
Since the last election, the country has been ravaged by an explosion at the port of Beirut that went down in history as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions and deepened one of the most spectacular economic downturns of our time. done.
The Lebanese pound has lost 95% of its value, people’s savings are blocked in banks, minimum wage won’t buy a tank of petrol and mains electricity comes on for only two hours a day.
With more than 80% of the population now considered poor by the United Nations, the most desperate are attempting to flee the increasingly dangerous boat crossing to Europe.
Once described as the Switzerland of the Middle East, Lebanon was ranked second to last behind Afghanistan in the latest World Happiness Index released in March.
Shocked by the daily hardships of the economic crisis, many registered voters seem apathetic to an election that they suspected would take place until a few days ago.
Despite international pressure to reform Lebanese politics, fraught corruption is still rampant in the country, including in the electoral process.
The crisis has only widened the gap in purchasing power between politicians who buy votes and voters who sell them.
At a candidate rally in the northern city of Tripoli, some well-wishers were disappointed by the lack of cash handouts made with plastic chairs.
While Sunday’s election may not topple his cynical leadership, some see the Lebanese vote as an important test for the principles that arose during the October 2019 uprising.
For Marianne Vodolian, the devastating August 2020 eruption that disfigured Beirut and killed more than 200 people makes voting an even more sacred duty.
“We are against the regime that ruled us for 30 years, looted and blew us up,” said the 32-year-old, a spokesman for the families of the blast victims.
Opposition parties, many of which descended from a now-defunct protest movement supporting secular and democratic change, have struggled to face a joint challenge, but can still secure a strong voice in parliament.
Vodolian said, “There is an opportunity to change the electoral system and hold it accountable in a way that makes this country livable.”
Top political heavyweights have halted investigations into the blast – the two main suspects are also running for a seat – and legal proceedings against the central bank governor over financial crimes are similarly faltering.
One of the most notable changes to the electoral landscape is the absence of former prime minister Saad Hariri, leaving parts of Sunni to be grabbed by new players.