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Lebanon’s elections: a short guide

The Lebanese people will elect their representatives on May 15, in an election that is seen as key for the generation of young people that was at the forefront of the October 2019 uprising, when thousands protested against corruption, and the deteriorating economic situation.

The Lebanese living abroad will cast their vote on May 6 to 8.

The small Mediterranean country is currently facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history, amid a financial meltdown that saw the country’s currency lose more than 90 percent of its value since 2019. 

It has since triggered high inflation and shortages of fuel, medicine, food and other commodities. 

In early April, the country reached a staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to release around $3 billion of financial assistance in return for a series of key structural reforms – which the incoming government will be tasked with implementing.

More than 70 percent of the population in Lebanon now lives below the poverty line, according to the UN. 

Here’s what you need to know more about the upcoming polls. 

The electoral system

Parliamentary elections take place in Lebanon every four years. 

The electoral system works on a confessional basis, and sees Lebanon’s religious communities vote in a proportional representation system. 

Critics say the sectarian nature of the voting system has been one of the reasons for Lebanon’s inability to effect change through the ballot box and its entrenched political elite.

In Lebanon, the president must always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shia.

Fragmentation of the thawra (revolution) opposition candidates

Alongside candidates from Lebanon’s traditional parties, a large number of independent and young contenders have registered to run in the upcoming polls, many linked to the 2019 uprising – known as ‘thawra’, or revolution. 

Some have reported getting harassed or even beaten to prevent them from running their campaigns. 

The interior ministry has registered 103 lists including 718 candidates – 20 percent more than in the last election in 2018.

Critics say that dozens of groups that sprung up in 2019, in opposition to the political class that brought Lebanon to bankruptcy, have failed to capitalize on popular discontent and form a united front for the upcoming election.

Risk of high abstention rates

Last January, three-time former Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced he was retiring from politics and that his Future Movement – the country’s largest Sunni bloc in parliament -wouldn’t contest the elections.

It left a vacuum in Sunni leadership, with some of the party’s MPs resigning to run as independents, while others called for a boycott of the elections.

Until 2017, Hariri was backed by Saudi Arabia, pitting him against the Iran-backed Shia movement Hezbollah – a rivalry that has long shaped the country’s politics. 

Hezbollah counts tens of thousands of members across the country, but with many now struggling amid the economic crisis despite direct support from the movement, they could decide to abstain. 

The other main Shia party, the Amal Movement of Nabih Berry, could also lose seats. 

One party that could benefit from abstention is the Christian Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea, which is expected to increase its parliamentary presence.

Diaspora vote

Nearly four million Lebanese are eligible to vote, including 225,000 people living abroad. 

Compared to previous elections, there has been a surge in the number of Lebanese people living abroad registering to vote. 

Many have left Lebanon in the last two years to work abroad and act as a lifeline for their families in the beleaguered small country. 

Research from the 2018 election showed that most of the Lebanese living abroad voted for traditional parties, while campaigns for the diaspora vote this year were led mostly by opposition groups.

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