Voter apathy triumphs in historic Lebanon poll

  • Voter apathy and distrust of candidates have resulted in poor turnout at the polls in past elections
  • 3,746,483 registered voters in this year’s elections

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s streets and buildings have been swathed in political banners in the lead-up to historic elections on Sunday, but voter turnout is expected to be low, according to observers.

Voter apathy and distrust of candidates have resulted in poor turnout at the polls in past elections.

In the last parliamentary elections, held in 2009, just over half the 3 million registered voters placed their ballots, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Voter turnout in Sunday’s poll is expected to be slightly higher, but still too low to bring significant political change.

In the 2016 municipal elections, independent group Beirut Madinati lost to Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. Although it amassed 40 percent of the votes, only 20 percent of the registered electorate voted.

“Historically in Lebanon, voter turnout is not high, except in certain places where people are forced to go,” the advocacy group Sabaa’s executive board member Walid Hallassou said.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for public holidays to encourage voting. But Middle East Airlines’ flights to Dubai, London and Paris from Beirut are fully booked at the weekend, suggesting the Lebanese are more interested in spending their long weekend away from the election rather than being part of it.

Sectarian strife and political tension in past years have destroyed the hopes of the country’s citizens.

Since the Taif Agreement was signed signaling the end to the decades-long civil war, Lebanese politics has been ruled by previous warlords and a government formed of the two reigning coalitions.

Lebanon’s new electoral system merges proportional representation with quotas for each religious group to maintain the country’s sectarian balance among the 128 seats in parliament.

Under this arrangement, the majority system has been replaced and the threshold needed to win an election lowered — a plan that should benefit independents and reformers, easing the grip on the power of the country’s main clans.

Voters will cast ballots both for their favored list of candidates and a preferred candidate on that list.

“The new law just complicates things even more with the new system,” Tala Doghman, an artist, told Arab News.

“There’s a lot of barking and not a lot of biting.”

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