San Francisco Chronicle
Voters go to polls as nation battles economic crisis
BEIRUT — Lebanese voted for a new parliament Sunday against the backdrop of an economic meltdown that is transforming the country and low expectations that the election would significantly alter the political landscape.
A new crop of candidates from the 2019 protest movement are running against the country’s entrenched ruling class that is blamed for the collapse, hoping to unseat them. But they are divided and lack the money, experience and other advantages held by traditional political rulers with a decades-long grip on power.
People began casting their ballots shortly after the polls opened under the watchful eye of security forces that have fanned out across the country. Sunday’s vote is the first since Lebanon’s implosion started in October 2019, triggering widespread anti-government protests.
It is also the first election since the huge August 2020 explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of Lebanon’s capital. The blast, widely blamed on negligence, was set off by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate that ignited in a port warehouse after a fire broke out at the facility.
Sunday’s voting is seen as a last chance to reverse course and punish the current crop of politicians, most of whom derive their power from Lebanon’s sectarian political system and spoils taken at the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990. But expectations for real change were low amid skepticism and widespread resignation that the vote was sure to bring back the same powerful political parties.
“I did what I can do and I know the situation will not change 180 degrees,” said Rabah Abbas, 74, after casting his ballot in Beirut. He fears the vote is only symbolic and that Lebanon will be stuck again in post-election political bickering over the formation of a new government and electing a new president in October.
“We will hit a wall again. Lebanon is a hopeless case,” he said, echoing common sentiment. Polls close at 7 p.m. local time and official results were expected Monday.
The extent of Lebanon’s collapse was on full display Sunday. In the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon’s most impoverished city, several polling stations were without electricity and voters had to climb several flights of stairs to cast their ballots. Voters were seen using the light from their mobile phones to check names and lists before casting their ballot.
Lebanese parties have long relied on a system that encourages voters to cast ballots in return for favors and individual benefits. Money flowed, with political parties offering cash bribes, sandwiches, transportation and other favors to voters.