Lebanese vote tomorrow in the first election since their country’s economic collapse, a test of whether Hezbollah and its allies can preserve their parliamentary majority amidst soaring poverty and anger at ruling parties.
Expectations are however low for a big shake-up of Lebanon’s sectarian politics and government, despite the severity of a crisis which the World Bank says was orchestrated by the ruling class, and fury over the devastating Beirut port blast of 2020.
The meltdown marks Lebanon’s most destabilising crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
It has seen the currency sink by more than 90%, left about three quarters of the population in poverty and frozen savers out of deposits in paralysed banks.
Analysts believe reform-minded candidates could win some seats this time, but reformers have long struggled to penetrate a sectarian system that divides parliament’s seats among 11 religious groups and is skewed in favour of established parties.
The 2018 vote saw Hezbollah and its allies - including President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian party — win 71 out of parliament’s 128 seats.
Hezbollah has said it expects few changes from the make-up of the current parliament, though its opponents — including the Lebanese Forces, another Christian group — say they are hoping to scoop up seats from the FPM.
Adding a note of uncertainty, a boycott by leader Saad al-Hariri has left a vacuum which both Hezbollah allies and opponents are seeking to fill.
Riyadh, Hariri’s regional backer for years before their ties soured, has not declared support for a new leader ahead of the vote.
Raising the stakes, the parliament is due to elect a new president to replace Aoun, whose term ends on Oct 31.
Whatever the outcome, analysts say Lebanon could face a period of paralysis that could further delay reforms needed to address the crisis, as factions barter over portfolios in a new power-sharing cabinet - a process that can take months.
The outgoing government clinched a draft agreement with the IMF in April - conditional on long-delayed reforms.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a tycoon serving his third stint as premier, could be named to form the new government, sources from four factions told Reuters.
Supporters of the Hezbollah attend a campaign rally in Baalbek in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley yesterday, ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections on May 15.