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Lebanon holds its first elections since the Beirut explosion and financial collapse

After months of uncertainty over the possibility of elections, polls opened at 7 am (0400 GMT) in 15 electoral districts. Citizens over the age of 21 will vote in their ancestral towns and villages, sometimes far from their current residence.

The country is reeling under the weight of an economic meltdown that the World Bank has blamed on the ruling class and a devastating explosion in Beirut’s port in 2020. Analysts say public anger over these two problems may push some reform-minded candidates to Parliament.

But expectations for a major change are slim in light of Lebanon’s sectarian system, which divides parliament seats among 11 religious groups and tilts in favor of existing parties.

The last elections that took place in 2018, witnessed the victory of the armed group Hezbollah and its allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement led by President Michel Aoun, with seventy-one of the total 128 seats in the House of Representatives.

These results pushed Lebanon further into the orbit of Iran and its political influence.

Hezbollah says it expects the composition of the current parliament to see little change, although its opponents, including the Christian Lebanese Forces party, say they hope to wrest seats from the Free Patriotic Movement.

Adding to the uncertainty in the Lebanese political scene, the boycott of Sunni leader Saad Hariri, which leaves a void that both allies and opponents of Hezbollah seek to fill.

With the election approaching, watchdog groups have warned that candidates are buying up votes with food packages and fuel vouchers being issued to families hardest hit by the financial meltdown.

The next parliament is scheduled to vote on major reforms requested by the International Monetary Fund to allow direct financial aid to ease the Lebanese crisis. The parliament will also elect a new president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on October 31.

Analysts say that regardless of the outcome of the elections, Lebanon is likely to face a period of political paralysis that will curb its economic recovery, as parties begin tough negotiations over ministerial portfolios in a new government, a process that may take months.

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