Lebanon Elections: Hezbollah Poised to Expand Clout in Parliament

Lebanon votes in first election in a decade

Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced the turnout figure at a news conference shortly after midnight and appeared to blame it on the new electoral law agreed past year. It was also the first time in Lebanese history that expats were allowed to vote.

The country has periodically been an arena for the intense regional competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A politician accused a rival party of assaulting her supporters.

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.

But some other voters were sceptical the election signalled an improvement in Lebanon's political climate.

Lebanon's Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk says provisional voter turnout figure of the country's parliamentary elections was 49.2 percent.

Machnouk said official results were expected at 4 a.m. local time Monday (9 p.m. ET Sunday).

Under the new proportional system, parliamentary seats are distributed among candidate lists in proportion to the votes cast for the relevant lists.

Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to back President Bashar Assad's forces, a move that has been criticized by many Lebanese, mainly Sunni Muslims and Christians, who see the group as dragging the country into regional conflicts.

Lebanon held a much-delayed general election Sunday, with a new civil society list hoping for a breakthrough but traditional parties expected to renew their fragile power-sharing bargain.

Mona Fayed, who was voting in the gritty, working-class Zaqaq Al-Blat area, said she knew people in her area who had been paid by election campaigns to go and vote.

Voters are registered not where they live, but in the district their ancestors came from, meaning large numbers of voters have to travel from the capital Beirut to villages across the country.

In an interview with leading Hezbollah candidate Ali Ammar Sunday morning, a Lebanese journalist grilled him on corruption allegations against a political ally.

As Hariri entered a public college in Beirut to vote, a lady in a wheelchair complained that polling stations weren't geared up for disabled voters.

Rival blocs in parliament could not agree on a new president between 2014-16 and repeatedly made a decision to delay elections, partly because of disagreement over moving from a winner-takes-all to a proportional voting system. They wore yellow shirts with the slogan "We defend and construct" written on them.

Outside polling stations, Hezbollah supporters displayed a replica of the voting ballot on a big board and explained to voters which among the color-coded lists was theirs and how to vote for it. Last November, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman summoned Mr. Hariri to Riyadh, where, under pressure, he resigned for the apparent sin of having accommodated Hezbollah. Prior to now, the successful checklist took all of the seats within the electoral district.

The change cracked open the door for more outsiders to compete in elections, challenging political titans who have long ruled Lebanon based on a sectarian and family patronage system.

As the agency specified, the queues have been so long that some people have urged for voting hours to be extended.

More than 3.7 million Lebanese are eligible to vote, and will choose from 597 candidates who are running on 77 closed lists for a seat in the 128-strong Parliament.

The legislature's term was supposed to expire in 2013, but lawmakers approved several extensions since then, citing security concerns linked to the spillover from Syria's war. That, along with the new electoral law, has injected some unpredictability to the process.

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