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Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, blast

People cast their votes at a polling station during general elections in Beirut, Lebanon on May 15, 2022. [Houssam Shbaro - Anadolu Agency]
People cast their votes at a polling station during general elections in Beirut, Lebanon on May 15, 2022. [Houssam Shbaro - Anadolu Agency]

Lebanese voted on Sunday in the first parliamentary election since the country's economic collapse, with many saying they hoped to deal a blow to ruling politicians they blame for the crisis even if the odds of major change appear slim, Reuters reports.

The election, the first since 2018, is seen as a test of whether the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority amid soaring poverty and anger at parties in power.

Since Lebanon last voted, the country has been rocked by an economic meltdown that the World Bank says was orchestrated by the ruling class, and by a massive explosion at Beirut's port in 2020.

But while analysts believe public anger could help reform-minded candidates win some seats, expectations are low for a big shift in the balance of power, with Lebanon's sectarian political system skewed in favour of established parties.

"Lebanon deserves better," said Nabil Chaya, 57, voting with his father in Beirut.

"It's not my right, it's my duty – and I think it makes a difference. There's been an awakening by the people. Too little too late? Maybe, but people feel change is necessary."

READ: A rival sits out Lebanon's election – Now Hezbollah could fill the void

The meltdown has marked Lebanon's most destabilising crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, sinking the currency by more than 90%, plunging about three-quarters of the population into poverty, and freezing savers out of their bank deposits.

In a symptom of the collapse, some polling stations suffered power cuts, local media reported.

"I voted in hope to change the whole government and to have a better situation, for people to find work, be able to eat and drink. Things are very expensive and there is no electricity, no water," said Khodr al-Ashi, 62, voting in Beirut.

In southern Lebanon, a political stronghold for the Shi'ite Hezbollah movement, Rana Gharib said she had lost her money in the financial collapse, but was still voting for the group.

"We vote for an ideology, not for money," said Gharib, a woman in her thirties who was casting her vote in the village of Yater, crediting Hezbollah for driving Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Hussein Ismail, 40, also said he had lost money in the meltdown but this would not stop him voting for the Hezbollah-allied Shi'ite Amal Movement, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. "Berri built us schools, roads, hospitals," he said.

Polls are due to close at 7:00 p.m. (1600 GMT), with unofficial results expected overnight.

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