LIVE: Lebanon holds first parliamentary election since 2009
Lebanon heads to the polls for the first time in nine years to vote in Sunday's parliamentary elections.
From the Syrian civil war sending shockwaves through its diminutive neighbour to the temporary resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Riyadh, a lot has happened in Lebanon since the last general election and much has changed.
Our man on the ground, Ali Harb, will be driving across Beirut, speaking to voters and bringing you all the colour of polling day, with Chloe Domat doing the same up in the north's Tripoli.
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Photo: A woman shows her ink-stained finger after casting her vote during the parliamentary election in Beirut, Lebanon, (Reuters)
The interior ministry has announced that voter turnout stood at 46.88 per cent at 6 pm.
Though the number will surely rise somewhat, that's significantly lower than the almost 54 per cent in 2009, and perhaps surprising for Lebanon's first parliamentary election in nine years, though apathy over politics in the country shouldn't be underestimated.
Chloe Domat has left Tripoli and headed down the coast to the predominately Christian town of Batroun, which is witnessing a fierce contest between some of Lebanon’s most prominent Christian politicians.
Batroun, along with Bcharre, Zghourta and Koura, make up the North 3 electoral district, where three major lists are competing: the FPM vs the LF and Kataeb vs the Marada Movement and independent politician Boutros Harb. Each list has a heavyweight politician behind it who not-so-secretly hopes to become president one day.
All eyes are on Gebran Bassil, President Aoun’s son-in-law, foreign minister and president of the FPM. Bassil has previously failed to gain a seat in parliament, and is desperate not to repeat the trick this time around. Things seemed to be going in his favour in Batroun, where the participation rate stood a little above 50 per cent at 6 pm.
"I voted for him because he is a heavy worker and I am sure he will improve a lot of things in Batroun," Dany, a 40-year-old supporter of the FPM, told MEE.
Some voters believe the new electoral law was designed to make him win.
"It’s impossible for him to lose with the proportional system and that is unfair. I voted for the Lebanese Forces, my family always supported them, but this time I don’t think we can win," said Dana, a 22-year old-waitress from a village nearby.
An election in Lebanon wouldn't be an election without some elements of scandal.
As mentioned before, things in a polling station in Choueifat got heated, to say the least, with voilence breaking out and a polling box being smashed. A short video of the scene can be seen here:
Meanwhile, another video has emerged from north Lebanon which appears to show Future Movement supporters handing out cash in order to encourage people to vote for the party. As reported earlier, Chloe Domat spoke to people in the northern city of Tripoli who predicted such behaviour. The video in question can be seen here:
Elsewhere, Myriam Skaff, who leads the Popular Bloc, accused the Lebanese Forces of systematically targeting and physically assaulting her supporters in the Beqaa Valley city of Zahle.
In a news conference, Skaff accused the Lebanese Forces of reverting to its civil war-era practices, when the group operated as a brutal right-wing militia.
She said she had been submitting complaints to the state all day long, but security forces did not respond.
"We had hoped for this day to pass in a civilised way, but unfortunately we have seen some unacceptable things," she fumed.
The Lebanese Forces dismissed Skaff's accusations, saying that its own members had been hospitalised after being assaulted by supporters of the Popular Bloc.
Voting has ended across Lebanon, except for those still queueing in polling stations, as assured by President Michel Aoun.
The interior ministry has not offered any nationwide information on voter turnout since 2 pm Beirut time. It wasn't looking good at the time.
In east Beirut, Kollouna Watani candidate in Gilbert Doumit told Ali Harb that he rejected the proposal to extend voting time because of low turnout, likening the idea to renewing the mandate of the political establishment.
"It's true that turnout is low. But in this low turnout, we are very close to them," the civil society candidate told MEE. "There's high participation from our end. That's why they want to extend two hours for themselves."
Indeed, in a Gibran Tueni high school, which is serving as a polling station, campaigners were more numerous than voters.
Doumit said "our lives" are at stake tonight.
"We are going through the worst time economically, politically, socially, democratically. We cannot repeat four more years like the years that have passed, no matter what happened," he said.
Doumit spoke of massive organisational lapses on election day.
With voter turnout struggling, Hezbollah's deputy head Naim Qassem said his party is in contact with the interior ministry over the possibility of extending the voting deadline beyond 7pm.
Hezbollah's number two was speaking in Beirut's Zoqaq al-Blat as he cast his vote.
In other news, MEE's Ali Harb has noted the amount of waste left by campaigners across Beirut.
Lebanon is suffering under a severe trash crisis, which spiralled into large, violent protests in 2015. All parties, particularly civil society ones, have promised to tackle the country's inability to deal with its own waste.