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Lebanese politicians during a vote of confidence session at the parliament in Beirut. AFP

Lebanese citizens in the UAE began casting their ballots on Sunday, days before their country’s parliamentary election scheduled for May 15.

Voting opened early at 7am, at Lebanon’s diplomatic missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and registered voters have until 10pm to cast their ballots for 128 representatives in parliament.

The Lebanese parliament was for years based on a confessional system, which reserved seats for candidates from certain religious communities ― mainly Muslims, Christians and the Druze minority.

Since its independence and the end of the French mandate in 1943, Lebanon has adopted a winner-takes-all majoritarian system.

But in practice decades-old parties, many based on sectarian identity, have held sway.

In 2017, election laws were reformed to adopt the more inclusive proportional representation system and preferential voting, which gives independent candidates a better chance to compete against established parties and win in parliament.

Nevertheless, traditional parties have still kept their parliamentary influence as their religious sects enjoy a majority and are entrenched in the country’s 15 districts up for grabs.

The traditional parties are still led by warlords from the 1975-1990 civil war. The new contenders, largely from civil society groups, hope they might be able to challenge the decades-old sectarian political system.

Lebanon is gearing up for its first national election since a devastating explosion in Beirut on August 4, 2020.

The disaster at Beirut’s port killed at least 200 people, injured about 5,000 others and led to the resignation of the government amid growing public anger at the political class.

Since 2005, politics has been divided across two rival blocs, the first being a broadly pro-West alliance known as March 14, and another alliance called March 8 which is aligned to Syria and includes Hezbollah and several other Shiite and Christian parties.

Lebanon had its last national election in 2018, the country’s first vote since the outbreak of the 2011 civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Politicians have ratified several extensions to parliament’s term on the basis of security concerns but also due political and legislative gridlock.

The election also comes at a difficult time for Lebanon. The country is enduring an economic disaster and a financial crisis triggered in 2019 by years of mismanagement and corruption, according to analysts.

Former colonies such as France and regional heavyweights and trade partners including Saudi Arabia have long tried to press the ruling class to introduce sweeping economic and political reforms.

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