BEIRUT: An unforeseen low voter turnout marred Lebanon’s first parliamentary elections since 2009 as Lebanese expressed their discontent with the broader political system by boycotting the vote.
Renewed hope in the political process was reignited following the ratification of a new electoral law, yet voters from across the political and religious spectrum elected to disengage from their civic duties.
Pollsters were taken aback as the numbers of ballots cast began emerging, which were surprisingly low given that experts had predicted an increase in participation under a proportional representation system compared to the winner takes all of 2009.
Voter turnout across Lebanon was recorded at 49%, down around 4% from the last election.
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouq told reporters that his Ministry is currently tallying the votes, saying that results would be finalized in the early hours of Monday morning.
In Beirut's first district, 32% of registered voters cast their ballot, down 9% from 2009, the lowest out of all the 15 newly formed districts; while 47.64% voted in Mount Lebanon's second district.
Despite the political class’s partisan rhetoric, bravado and innuendos, Lebanese voters could not be swayed to hit the polls on a bright Sunday morning.
Gilbert Doumit of Koulouna Watani, the civil society movement that came about as an alternative to the decade-old establishment, described this low turn out as evidence of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the ruling elite.
“This is a shock reaction on behalf of all Lebanese,” he said as the clock wound down.
Political leaders from across the board called on their supporters to make their way to polling centres, including President Michel Aoun, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and MP Sami Gemayel.
The vote could be best characterized as a tug of war between Iranian-backed groups and their Saudi-backed rivals, an extension of the region's volatile political landscape.
Scuffles erupted across several districts, most notably in Baalbek and Zahle, where supporters of Hezbollah clashed with Lebanese Forces and Future Movement followers.
Tight security measures were put in place in an effort to contain the fracases, as Lebanon's confessional sensitivities took center stage.
Pierre Saab, one of the many disenfranchised Ashrafieh locals, decided against voting “given the fact that the same people in power will get re-elected.”
“It’s a vicious cycle.”
In the wake of polling stations closing down, political leaders began trading swipes, accusing rivals of using dirty tactics to try and influence the vote.
Bassil, speaking from the Free Patriotic Movement's headquarters in Sassine, Beirut, lambasted "the many bribes that were paid out over the past weeks."
Machnouk also said that 7,300 voter complaints were filed with the Interior Ministry during the election, with numerous pictures and videos circulating on social media and local TV stations showing clear violations of proper electoral procedures.
Campaign representatives from Amal, Hezbollah and the Future Movement were seen entering the voting booths to pressure voters to cast their ballot in their favor.
The vote comes a week after Lebanese living overseas voted in 39 countries around the world. It was the first time Lebanon’s large expatriate community was allowed to take part in the vote, with the Interior Ministry announcing that 60 percent of registered expats cast their ballots.
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