Lebanon holds first parliament election since financial collapse, blast

Lebanese voted on Sunday in the first parliamentary election since the country's economic collapse, with many saying they hoped to deal a blow to ruling politicians they blame for the crisis even if the odds of major change appear slim. The election is seen as a test of whether the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies can keep their assembly majority amid soaring poverty and anger at parties in power. Since Lebanon last voted in 2018 it has suffered an economic meltdown that the World Bank says was orchestrated by the ruling class, and a massive explosion at Beirut's port in 2020. But while analysts believe public anger could help reform-minded candidates win some seats, expectations are low for a big shift in the balance of power, with the sectarian political system skewed in favour of established parties.  "Lebanon deserves better," said Nabil Chaya, 57, voting with his father in Beirut. "It's not my right, it's my duty – and I think it makes a difference. There's been an awakening by the people. Too little too late? Maybe, but people feel change is necessary." The meltdown has marked Lebanon's most destabilising crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, sinking the currency by more than 90%, plunging three-quarters of the population into poverty, and freezing savers out of bank deposits. In a symptom of the collapse, polling stations across the country suffered power cuts on Sunday. In southern Lebanon, a political stronghold for the Shia Hezbollah movement, Rana Gharib said she had lost her money in the financial collapse, but was still voting for the group. "We vote for an ideology, not for money," said Gharib, a woman in her thirties who was casting her vote in the village of Yater, crediting Hezbollah for driving Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000. Fistfights and other disputes disrupted voting in several districts, according to the state-run news agency, with security forces intervening so it could resume. Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said incidents remained "at an acceptable level." Tensions were particularly high between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces, a Saudi-aligned Christian party. The LF is vehemently opposed to Hezbollah's arsenal of weapons and tried to run Shia candidates in Hezbollah-dominated areas, although most withdrew before Sunday.

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