Political observers see the election as hard-fought and unpredictable. Earlier this year, three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the leader of the country’s largest Sunni Muslim parliamentary bloc – quit politics and put the Sunni votes up for election.
Hariri urged people in his constituencies to boycott the race. But voters in Beirut’s second constituency — one of Hariri’s main strongholds — turned out in relatively large numbers for the polls, and many told CNN they voted for “change.”
Long lines snaked Sunday morning outside a polling station in Beirut’s Tareek el Jdeedeh neighborhood, where turnout is typically one of the lowest in the country.
“The queues we used to stand in were queues of humiliation,” said Khaled Zaatari, referring to the long lines outside bakeries and gas pumps during some of the most difficult days of the economic crisis last year. “This queue is a pride queue.”
Ralph Debbas, a New York-based advisor and delegate for a reformist slate, told CNN he “felt it my civic duty to come to Lebanon to vote.” The 43-year-old added: “We need a wave of change. We need a wave of decent and responsible people in Parliament.”
The Iranian-backed armed political group Hezbollah has also become a hot topic in Lebanon’s elections. Several political groups have vowed to try to disarm the Shia party – which they believe dominates the political sphere – although it still enjoys broad support among its constituents.
Hezbollah’s election rallies – during which the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah urged people to vote in droves – attracted thousands of supporters this week.
A Hezbollah-backed coalition — which includes other Shia and Christian allies — has the majority of seats in the current parliament.
The small eastern Mediterranean country has had a system of sectarian power-sharing since its founding a century ago. Parliament is divided evenly between Muslims and Christians, with the office of prime minister reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament for a Shia Muslim.