Lebanon prepares for parliamentary election

Lebanon's first vote in nine years is drawing global attention as it could shape politics in the region. CNN's Ben Wedeman has the details.

Posted: May 7, 2018 10:13 AM
Updated: May 7, 2018 10:13 AM

Showered with rice, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri takes the stage on the last day of campaigning.

In a predominantly Sunni area of West Beirut, he is received more like a rock star than a politician. Young and old decked out in the blue of his party's flag stream in from every street.

"Beirut! I love you!" Hariri bellows from the stage.

A celebrity for many on the Sunni street, the 48-year-old politician is seen as the man staving off Shia dominance in a country where Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia group, has grown rapidly in power. His Mustaqbal, or Future, bloc is going head-to-head with Hezbollah's political wing in a hard-fought election cycle.

Voters head to the polls Sunday in Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade.

Miles away from Hariri's West Beirut stronghold, hundreds covered in Hezbollah's signature yellow flock to an open-air rally in the city of Baalbek.

A hailstorm surprises supporters. The shouts of "Labayka ya Nasrallah (for you, Nasrallah)," a reference to Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, rise in crescendo with the downpour of hail. People eventually take cover under plastic chairs, but the chants are unrelenting.

Outside the power bases of Hariri and Hezbollah are a growing contingent of disenchanted voters. Nearly every Lebanese that CNN spoke to said they have little hope in politicians' ability to tackle the country's litany of economic and security woes.

"Nothing here is going to change, and I simply can't be bothered to make the trip to my hometown to vote," says a taxi driver from Hezbollah's stronghold in South Lebanon.

"I'm voting for the new candidates. I don't know if they're better, but they seem to be our last hope," says shop owner Abu Elie.

Some politicians, including one minister, said these voters will make it more difficult for parties to do business as usual.

Stability in a deeply divided country

A hero in his sectarian strongholds, Hariri is an altogether different figure on the national stage. Since becoming Prime Minister for a second time in 2016, he's managed to bring relative stability to a deeply divided country.

"What I did two years ago is we reunited the country around a political consensus," Hariri told CNN after a meeting with Sunni religious scholars Friday in Beirut.

This consensus involved forming a government that included ministers from Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

It was a marriage of convenience that didn't please everyone, particularly Hariri's Saudi backers who have publicly criticized the move, but Lebanon has been spared a significant spillover of the violence from neighboring Syria. For a country with vivid memories of its own 15-year civil war, that's no small achievement.

"I promote moderation. I promote speaking to everyone in the Arab world, in the rest of the world," he added, calling this election "historic."

The Saudi-backed Hariri and Iran-backed Hezbollah are vying for control of a parliamentary majority through highly complex coalitions with allies.

Both groups are dealing with shortages in campaign finances. Hezbollah's resources reportedly have been all but drained by the war in Syria, where they have fought hard to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, and Hariri's camp said it's received little financing from its usual patrons in the Gulf countries.

Unable to pay for extravagant marketing campaigns, both groups have rolled up their sleeves and campaigned aggressively. Hezbollah's Nasrallah has given televised speeches on a nearly weekly basis. Hariri's exhausting four-hour convoy tours have made rounds across the country over the last month.

Still, many voters seem unimpressed, pointing to rising debt, decaying infrastructure, poor public services and perennially high unemployment.

Pressure from young voters

Sunday is Lebanon's first election in nine years after Parliament renewed its mandate several times, citing a string of political crises for doing so.

The repeated delays may have inadvertently brought on a challenge to Lebanon's politicians. Anyone under 30 is voting for the first time, bringing 800,000 new voters to a country of 4 million, according to Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, who predicts change is afoot.

"I think (young voters) will make a real pressure on the political life, not only in the elections," Machnouk, a close political ally of Hariri's, said in an interview with CNN.

"Most of them are part of the civil society, which is becoming more and more of an influence in the political life of all the parties. That will make a difference in the governance of Lebanon."

Civil society groups have put forward more than 70 candidates -- the largest number of independent candidates in any Lebanese election. They say they are banking on young voters to choose public servants of a different kind.

A new election law has opened the door to more independent candidates, many eager to shake off Lebanon's legacy of sectarian politics. The largest coalition of civil society groups and new political parties is Kollouna Watani, which has campaigned on improved human rights -- notably for women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- as well as programs to alleviate economic woes.

The candidates say they lack the resources to run flashy campaigns -- many also report being asked for thousands of US dollars in exchange for an interview on local TV stations. Doing away with traditional media, they have taken to social networks, and to the streets, to rally support.

In quiet mountain towns and on Beirut's congested streets, the candidates have been driving for miles in campaign buses and distributing leaflets to voters.

Even with the odds stacked against them, the little-known candidates say they have already won.

"The moment we decided to have this new platform and run for elections, knowing that we have limited resources and knowing what we're facing ... it means that we are optimistic and doing something good," Kollouna Watani candidate Laury Haytayan said.

"Regardless of the result, we think this is a historic victory."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 20573

Reported Deaths: 878
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin6918534
Ramsey231697
Stearns192312
Nobles14572
Anoka116455
Dakota105935
Olmsted55110
Washington50626
Kandiyohi4541
Clay36623
Rice3652
Scott3462
Wright2401
Sherburne2081
Todd1970
Benton1662
Carver1612
Mower1501
Steele1400
Martin1245
Blue Earth1121
St. Louis11113
Pine850
Freeborn840
Winona7715
Carlton730
Nicollet683
Cottonwood620
Polk582
Otter Tail550
Itasca527
Goodhue522
Watonwan500
Chisago481
Dodge430
Meeker420
Crow Wing421
Le Sueur411
Chippewa400
Jackson390
Morrison380
Murray350
Becker320
Lyon310
Douglas290
McLeod260
Isanti250
Waseca240
Rock210
Unassigned199
Fillmore171
Mille Lacs161
Wabasha160
Swift150
Sibley120
Beltrami120
Wilkin113
Norman110
Kanabec111
Cass113
Faribault110
Brown112
Pipestone100
Marshall80
Pennington70
Pope70
Aitkin60
Wadena60
Yellow Medicine50
Koochiching50
Lincoln50
Mahnomen51
Renville50
Lac qui Parle30
Red Lake30
Big Stone30
Redwood30
Traverse30
Grant20
Houston20
Clearwater20
Hubbard10
Kittson10
Lake10
Roseau10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 17227

Reported Deaths: 456
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3714108
Woodbury255524
Black Hawk167639
Linn92775
Marshall86611
Dallas84914
Johnson5987
Muscatine54339
Wapello5004
Crawford4772
Tama39023
Louisa3347
Scott3319
Dubuque31916
Jasper25616
Buena Vista2310
Pottawattamie2106
Sioux1990
Washington1798
Allamakee1184
Wright1170
Plymouth1080
Warren1060
Story941
Poweshiek888
Bremer676
Henry611
Clinton601
Boone540
Des Moines531
Mahaska526
Cedar451
Guthrie433
Taylor370
Benton371
Jones360
Monroe334
Iowa320
Clarke320
Osceola320
Shelby310
Buchanan310
Clayton303
Marion290
Webster271
Fayette260
Hamilton260
Madison241
Monona230
Cerro Gordo221
Lee220
Winneshiek210
Davis200
Lyon190
Grundy190
Harrison190
Floyd181
Jefferson150
Cherokee150
Butler150
Mills140
Delaware140
Humboldt130
Sac130
Greene130
Keokuk130
Hardin130
Howard120
Hancock120
Appanoose123
Audubon111
Jackson110
Cass110
Ida100
Page100
Clay100
Winnebago100
Carroll90
Van Buren80
Franklin80
Dickinson80
Adair80
Chickasaw80
Kossuth70
Emmet70
Lucas60
Montgomery60
Union60
Adams50
Ringgold40
Fremont40
Pocahontas40
Mitchell40
Palo Alto30
Worth30
Unassigned30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur00
Rochester
Clear
74° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 74°
Mason City
Overcast
70° wxIcon
Hi: 78° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 70°
Albert Lea
Broken Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 73°
Austin
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 79°
Charles City
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 72°
Storms a brewin'
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Will Memorial Day cause a coronavirus spike?

Image

Can you catch Covid-19 from mosquitos?

Image

125 Live Restaurant partnership

Image

Taps in City Park

Image

100 Most traveled days in MN have begun

Image

Parade in the park

Image

Field of Flags

Image

Pausing the pandemic to remember the fallen

Image

Memorial Day Dinner

Image

Salvation Army Dental Care Needs PPE

Community Events