Several new political groups have emerged from the protest movement and are competing in Sunday’s race against the establishment parties.
Political observers view the elections as highly competitive and unpredictable. Earlier this year, three-time Prime Minister Saad Hariri — leader of the country’s largest parliamentary bloc of Sunni Muslims — retired from politics, leaving Sunni votes to fend for themselves.
Hariri called on people in his constituencies to boycott the race. But voters in Beirut’s second constituency – one of Hariri’s main strongholds – turned out to the polls in relatively large numbers, and many told CNN they voted for “change.”
Long queues lined up outside one of the polling stations in Beirut’s Tariq el-Jdideh district, where voter turnout tends to be among the lowest in the country, on Sunday morning.
“The lines we stood in were lines of humiliation,” Khaled Zaatari said, referring to the long lines outside bakeries and gas stations during the worst days of the economic crisis last year. “This line is the line of pride.”
Ralph Debbas, a New York-based consultant who is a reformist electoral roll delegate, told CNN he “felt a civic duty to come to Lebanon to vote.” The 43-year-old added: “We need a wave of change. We need a wave of decent and responsible people in parliament.”
The Iranian-backed armed political group Hezbollah has also become a hot topic in the Lebanese elections. Several political groups have vowed to try to disarm the Shiite party, which they see as dominating the political arena while still enjoying broad support among its constituents.
Hezbollah’s election rallies, in which the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah urged people to vote in droves, drew thousands of supporters this week.
The Hezbollah-backed coalition, which includes both other Shiite and Christian allies, has the majority of seats in the current parliament.
The tiny Eastern Mediterranean country has had a sectarian power-sharing system since its founding a century ago. Parliament is divided equally between Muslims and Christians, with the post of prime minister reserved for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament for a Shiite Muslim.