Top parties seek to protect monopoly as Lebanon votes

  • Top parties seek to protect monopoly as Lebanon votes

Top parties seek to protect monopoly as Lebanon votes

Lebanon's primary domestic election in two decades could create a more robust Hezbollah, preliminary results reveal, after a election cautioned by very low voter turn out amid aggravation across the country's endemic corruption troubles.

The election was held under a complex new law that redrew constituency boundaries and changed the electoral system from winner-takes-all to a proportional one.

Investors are keen to see a government in place quickly as a guarantee of economic stability.

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced the turnout figure at a news conference shortly after midnight and appeared to blame it on the new electoral law agreed past year.

"We hope we will open a new era", said Mahmoud Daouk, voting in Beirut in one of the areas where new faces were taking on the old sectarian elite. Analysts predict that influential Shiite movement Hezbollah, backed by Iran and wielding a formidable arsenal it refused to give up after the civil war, would retain or slightly increase its clout in the legislature.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have often battled for influence in Lebanon as part of their regional rivalry.

It also promises to shake things up by reorganising Lebanon's electoral map, consolidating 23 districts into 15, and awarding seats by share of the vote received, rather than victor takes all.

President Michel Aoun's position is not up for renewal but his Christian party is a key player in the vote, for which a reformed, more proportional electoral law is in force.A strong turnout is seen as crucial to the civil society list's chances of clinching even one seat, a result its leaders have said would be a founding moment for the fledgling movement.

Hezbollah and its allies are possible so as to add extra seats, whereas Hariri is more likely to lose a number of.

Donors pledged US$11 billion (S$14.7 billion) in soft loans for a capital investment programme last month in return for fiscal and other reforms, and they hope to hold the first follow-up meeting with the new government in the coming weeks.

Although the Lebanese Parliament's term expired in 2013, it has been renewed several times with officials citing security concerns linked to the Syrian war.

Though having enjoyed relative peace due to the delicate political balance reached among the Christians, Muslims and the Hezbollah since the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has always been ruled by traditional powers including previous warlords and influential families.

Fist fights broke out in and round polling stations across the nation, as rival partisans accused one another and election officers of poll stuffing and unlawful campaigning. "We want the situation to stay as it is. It is not fair that we have to be carried like bags of potatoes", the woman, Silvana Lakkis, said. The number of seats in parliament is split between Christians and Muslims, and the president, prime minister, and speaker of the parliament must each come from a specific religious background.

Brjawi, who walked the streets of Beirut's Ras el-Nabea neighborhood with her clown troupe before voting, said she was perplexed by voters who said they supported their satirical act, poking fun at the country's endemic corruption and political stagnation, while saying they would vote for establishment parties again. Party members bluntly asked voters who they were voting for, and told them why they should vote for their candidates.

As Hariri entered a public school in Beirut to vote, a woman in a wheelchair complained that polling stations were not equipped for disabled voters.