‘We want change’: Lebanon poll raises hopes of reform

  • Lebanese voters return to the polls on Sunday after nine years for an election that many hope will help the country shrug off one of the region’s darkest periods.
  • Election has been greeted with a mix of apathy, enthusiasm and weariness

BEIRUT: Since the last parliamentary vote, Lebanon has been shaken by the Syrian war, with an influx of refugees and major security challenges.

Breakdowns in government services at times have sparked large-scale protests in Beirut and other cities.

But a return to democratic process, with a new electoral system designed to open up opportunities away from the main political power bases, has been welcomed both by those inside the country and by Lebanon’s allies in the region and the West.

For the Lebanese, the election has been greeted with a mix of apathy, enthusiasm and weariness at the relentless campaigning.

Increasingly, there is also fear that the election may spark instability in a country where sectarian strife and political violence have taken a heavy toll in the past.

In recent days, fighting has broken out in Sunni-dominated Tarik Al-Jadeedeh between opposing political parties running in the Beirut 2 district.

Supporters of Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement list clashed with rivals backing the Shiite Hezbollah and Amal party lists.

“These elections are a joke,” Ahmad, a former army official, said. “Have you seen these fights going on around the country? It’s like sheep following their shepherds.”

Since the 1989 Taif Agreement signaled an end to the decades-long civil war, Lebanese politics has been ruled by previous warlords and a government formed of two reigning coalitions — the Sunni-dominated March 14 bloc and the Shiite-dominated March 8 bloc.

A new electoral law in 2017 merged proportional representation with quotas for each religious group to maintain the country’s sectarian balance among the 128 seats in Parliament.

But many remain apathetic to the political system, whatever reforms are introduced. “I’ve been working in my store for 68 years and still no change,” car mechanic Marwan Hamaoui told Arab News. “God willing, this year there will be change, or I fear for the worst,” he said.

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