The voting in the first Lebanese parliamentary election in nine years on Sunday proceeded smoothly in a calm and orderly manner, raising hopes for new changes and a better future.
The polling stations across the country opened doors at 7 a.m. local time (0400GMT) and were closed at 7 p.m. local time (1600GMT).
President Michel Aoun, speaking to the press before voting, urged every voter to exercise the “sacred duty” of choosing their representatives for the next four years.
“Hold on to your free will and do not allow any pressure to be exerted on you,” Aoun said.
This year’s election featured active participation of young voters, estimated at 800,000, who hoped for a major change to the status quo.
“Speaking as a college student, we need jobs, we need more respect, we need to be cured, we need to be helped, we hoped to have everything new, everything better than before,” Jalal Bukhari, a 23-year-old college student, told Xinhua at the polling station in the Omar Fakhuri Primary School in southern Beirut, the capital.
About 3.7 million registered voters are eligible for voting this year. There are 976 registered candidates, including 111 women, running for the 128 seats in this year’s election, which adopts a new system of proportional representation to replace the traditional winner-takes-all principle. About 580 candidates, including 86 women, were finally qualified for the race.
On the record number of female candidates running in the election, some voters felt very encouraged.
Sabah Darazi, a 65-year-old retired employee of the Education Ministry, told Xinhua at a polling station in Sidon (Saida), 45 km south of Beirut, that she hoped there will be more women lawmakers in the parliament, citing that Lebanese women are “full of aspiration and wittiness.”
Afaf Dabaghi, a French language teacher, told Xinhua that she even hoped there will be a female president in Lebanon one day in future. “Who knows,” she said.
Major players in this year’s election include the Future Movement, led by incumbent Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri; the Free Patriotic Movement, led by Christian President Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil; the Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed powerful Shiite political faction; the Amal Movement, led by incumbent Speaker Nabih Berri; and the Lebanese Forces, a Christian opponent of Hezbollah.
Though having enjoyed relative peace due to the delicate political balance reached among the Christians, Muslims and the Hezbollah since the 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has long been ruled by traditional powers including previous warlords and influential families.
In the recent years, the Lebanese public has been voicing discontent over the declining public services, as illustrated by constant water and power cuts as well as corruption, and the rising number of Syrian refugees in the country.
Gabriel Debbane, general manager of Debbane Saikali Family Holding, told Xinhua at a Sidon polling station that he was not satisfied with the way that things went in the past years, especially the power outages and garbage issue.
“During the last two or three years, it was a mess — no decision, no new law, no political life,” he told Xinhua, referring to the political deadlock within the government that failed to address the daily problems.
Despite the popular prediction that this year’s election is unlikely to fundamentally change the political division as most of the old guards are expected to retain power, many voters are still upbeat about it and the country’s future.
Samira Hejazi, a 70-year-old woman, told Xinhua that she voted for Hariri.
Though complaining about the “complicated” political system and diverged opinions in this small but religious diverse country, Hejazi said she still hoped this election would bring about some new changes.
“I’m optimistic about the future. Lebanon is a great country, and Lebanese people are very good people,” she said.
Lebanese analysts hailed the calm and orderly manner in which the voting was conducted on Sunday.
“What the Lebanese recognize is that consensus is the one rule that governs Lebanese politics and that no political change can happen if there is no minimum of understanding between the parties on the issues involved,” Mahmoud Raya, a political analyst in Beirut, told Xinhua.
Raya added that holding this election will give hope to the institutions, thus alleviating the tensions among different parties.
Imad Risk, general manager of the Isticharia Strategic & Communication Studies in Beirut, told Xinhua that whoever wins or loses in this election, Lebanon has set a good example not only for own domestic politics but also for the region.
“After nine years, now it’s the first time for the Lebanese to participate in this election, and to have the possibility to change or to continue the process of peace and democracy in Lebanon, and the Middle East as well,” Risk said.
He said currently there are a lot of problems in the chaotic Middle East, so the peaceful Lebanese election sets a good example for achieving new changes and reconciliation not in military ways, but in political ways.
“We can say that Lebanon now is giving itself a new image that democracy, freedom and also responsibility are possible in Arab countries,” he said.
To ensure the fairness of the election and prevent voting fraud, Lebanon has invited the European Union (EU) and the U.S.-based National Democratic Institute to monitor the voting on Sunday.
A group of 36 short-time EU monitors were deployed Friday across Lebanon to observe the voting, in addition to 24 long-term EU monitors and 40 Beirut-based staff members from the embassies of EU member states. Enditem