Polling begins in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in 9 years

In this Thursday, May 3, 2018 photo, campaign posters for parliamentary candidates elections adorn a street in Beirut, Lebanon.

:: Polling began in Lebanon’s parliamentary election on Sunday morning.

It’s the first time the Lebanese are voting for a parliament in nine years. It is also the first time elections are being held since neighboring Syria’s war began in 2011. The vote has been postponed a number of times over security concerns it would ignite tensions among Lebanon’s sects, already heightened by that war.

Lawmakers have haggled over election reform for years, finally passing a new law last summer to replace one in place since 1960.

The law allows expats to vote for the first time. Of 900,000 voters abroad, only 83,000 registered and just over half of them voted last week.

For the first time, women made up nearly 10 percent of the candidates, up from a meager 1.7 percent in 2009. Only four women made it to Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament in the last election, a dismal figure compared to other countries in the region. Also, a record number of civil society activists and independents are running, hoping to at least open a crack in Lebanon’s system.

Complicated law

The new election law is so complex that many have quipped they would rather stay at home because they can’t figure out how their vote will be computed.

The law implements a proportional system that awards seats by the share of vote received, instead of the former winner-takes-all system in each district. It reduces the number of electoral constituencies from 23 to 15, and allows voters to choose both an electoral list and a preferred candidate from that list.

In theory, it should allow candidates beyond traditional power players to win a seat in parliament. But it also preserves the sectarian divvying-up of seats in different districts; Muslims and Christians each get around half, and smaller communities the remainder.

Fresh faces

Many will undoubtedly find fresh faces on their ballots as independent groups attempt to challenge the country’s political elites and establishments.

Among those new names voters in eastern Beirut will read on Sunday will be Ibrahim Mneimneh’s, who is the founder of the Kelna Beirut, an off-shoot of the Lebanese grassroots campaign “Beirut Madinati” established in 2016 and contested the municipality elections then.

Back then, his group were part of many independent groups that rose up Lebanon’s 2015 garbage crisis but have split from the others leaving Mneimneh’s list to contest against seven other lists in Beirut’s second district.

“We [Kelna Beiru] see the upcoming parliamentary elections as a station to engage with the people and show them our policies. We are encouraging voters to go to the polls as we see this election more like a referendum battle. A political line is needed that is in opposition to the establishment and out list represents the second voice needed in Beirut; a dissenting voice that believes in the application of the constitution and any vote for Kelna Beirut is a vote toward this approach,” Mneimneh told Al Arabiya.

As the leader of his list, Mneimneh will go head-to-head with eight other lists including one lead by current Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and his Future for Beirut list of candidates.

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