Lebanese voters elect new parliament

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett

Despite the big hopes built around the participation of the civil society in the upcoming elections, many Lebanese people still find themselves mired in the sectarian strife gripping the country, as it is most likely that they will have to wait for another four years to see any change in the parliament. The toll forced officials to demand that an apparently disenchanted public get out and exercise its right to vote.

Mohammed Merhi, 30, said he would not vote.

The last election was in 2009.

The 128 parliamentary seats are split evenly - 64 for Christians and 64 for Muslims including Druze, with the two halves further divided among 11 religious groups.

Hezbollah's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, has given televised speeches on a almost weekly basis.

Samir Geagea, the Lebanese Forces leader, said the results showed there was a "popular ground" that backs March 14 and would "give us strength and a push to fix the path much more than we were able to in the past years".

For many younger Lebanese, Sunday brought a first chance to vote in a national election after parliament twice extended a term that expired in 2013, but Interior Ministry figures from early in the day suggested turnout would be low.

"Had it not been for the resistance we wouldn't be here", said Zahraa Harb, 24, as she and her husband entered a polling station in the southern Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh.

A man casts his vote in a polling station in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 6, 2018.

The new, pre-printed ballots used on Sunday perplexed some voters, causing delays in polling stations.

Extensions were given to those who were already waiting at voting centres when the clock hit 7pm.

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The Lebanon vote is to be followed on May 12 by an Iraqi election that is also set to underline Iran's reach, with one of three pro-Tehran Shi'ite leaders set to become prime minister.

"No one should underestimate the importance of their vote or think that heading down to the ballot box is too much to ask", he said. Turnout was notably low within the Christian-dominated areas such because the Beirut I district, which incorporates Ashrafieh.

The voting was held under a new proportional system, which divides the country into 15 separate electoral constituencies. Exterior polling stations, Hezbollah supporters displayed a duplicate of the voting poll on an enormous board and defined to voters which among the many color-coded lists is theirs, and the way they'll vote for it.

"In the last quarter of the hour, we have to raise the voter turnout to the maximum, like the attractive partridges of our mountains", Druze chief Walid Jumblatt tweeted.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have often battled for influence in Lebanon as part of their wider regional rivalry.

Hezbollah-backed winners include Jamil al-Sayyed, a retired general and former Lebanese intelligence chief who is a close friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, according to the unofficial results.

It is a move that has drawn criticism from Sunni and Christian quarters in the country, who say that it risks embroiling Lebanon in a wider regional conflict.

At the same time, independent parties and female candidates had high hopes they could put even a crack in the wall of the political dynasties that have ruled the small, crisis-prone country for decades. In May 2013, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah began openly sending its fighters to back Assad and since then has taken part in nearly every major battle in the country.

It is also the first election where social media came on strong and the first in which women played a prominent role.

After the last election in 2009, the onset of Syria's civil war, the arrival of over a million refugees and a series of militant attacks aggravated internal political rifts.

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