Political observers view the elections as highly competitive and unpredictable. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the leader of the country’s largest Sunni Muslim parliamentary bloc – quit politics, leaving the Sunni vote at hand.
Hariri urged people in his constituencies to boycott the race. But voters in Beirut’s second constituency – one of Hariri’s main strongholds – turned up at the polls in relatively large numbers, with many telling CNN they voted for “change”.
Long queues crept from a polling station in Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadida neighborhood, where voter turnout is usually among the lowest in the country, on Sunday morning.
“The queues we were standing in were queues of humiliation,” Khaled al-Zaatari said, referring to the long queues at bakeries and petrol pumps during some of the toughest days of the economic crisis last year. “This queue is a queue of pride.”
Ralph Debbas, a New York-based consultant and delegate for a reform electoral slate, told CNN he “felt it was my civic duty to come to Lebanon to vote.” “We need a wave of change. We need a wave of respectable and responsible people in Parliament,” the 43-year-old added.
The Iranian-backed armed political group Hezbollah also emerged as a hot topic in the Lebanese elections. Several political groups have pledged to try to disarm the Shiite party – which they believe has dominated the political sphere – although it still enjoys broad support among its constituents.
Hezbollah’s election rallies – where the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, urged people to vote in droves – drew thousands of supporters this week.
The Hezbollah-backed coalition – which includes other Shiite and Christian allies – holds the majority of seats in the current parliament.
The small country in the eastern Mediterranean has enjoyed a communal power-sharing system since its founding a century ago. Parliament is divided equally between Muslims and Christians, with the premiership for a Sunni Muslim, the presidency for a Maronite Christian, and the speaker of parliament for a Shiite Muslim.