In a crisis situation, the Lebanese vote is seen as a last resort

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They hunt for medicine and fuel, and worry about securing the next meal for their kids.

Instead, a widespread sense of apathy and pessimism prevails, with most observers agreeing the vote is unlikely to make much difference.

On election day, he will stay at home, he says.

“Who should I vote for? Those who stole my money, plundered the country and exploded Beirut? Or those nobodies who cannot agree on anything?” said Samir Fahd, a schoolteacher whose once comfortable income of about $3,400 a month is now worth the equivalent of $200.

Story Highlights

  • Lebanese spend their days at the banks, waiting to see what meager amounts they will be allowed to withdraw for the month. They install batteries and solar panels at great cost so their family can survive the humid summer months without electricity from the grid.

  • It’s an economic meltdown and Sunday’s parliament elections are seen as a last chance to reverse course and punish the current crop of politicians who have driven the Mediterranean nation into the ground.

The vote is the first since Lebanon’s implosion started in October 2019, triggering widespread anti-government protests against a corrupt ruling class that has been in place since the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990.

It is also the first election since the August 2020 massive explosion at Beirut’s port that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of Lebanon’s capital. The blast, widely blamed on negligence, was set off by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate that ignited in a port warehouse after a fire broke out at the facility.

Nearly two years later, there are still no answers as to what caused the highly explosive material to ignite, or why it had been stored there for years. A judicial investigation has been suspended for months, amid a deluge of legal challenges by politicians seeking to block the probe. Today, huge billboards and posters of candidates line the highway along the still-wrecked harbor — a jarring sign how political parties still throw money around while the country is bankrupt. At least two of the politicians wanted in connection with the blast investigation are running for parliament.

Michel Murr, son of a former defense minister and grandson of a longtime powerful member of parliament and minister, is also running for a seat in the assembly — though he acknowledged the seeming futility of the election. He said he didn’t release an electoral program because he did not want to “deceive people by telling them I will do this and that” — promises he might not be able to keep. “It seems almost impossible to imagine Lebanon voting for more of the same — and yet that appears to be the likeliest outcome,” wrote Sam Heller, a Beirut-based analyst and fellow at Century International.

Fahd, the schoolteacher, believes it is futile to expect change in a system based on sectarianism and large-scale patronage that he said is “administered by an entrenched mafia.” “Elections don’t change anything, it’s all a joke and they are all coming back whether we like it or not,” said the 54-year-old.

Heavily armed and backed by Iran, Hezbollah is expected to retain or possibly boost that majority in Sunday’s vote, likely benefiting from a vacuum on the Sunni leadership scene after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri bowed out of politics last year. Many have traditionally chosen candidates based on family, sectarian or regional ties, and are wary of newcomers they fear would be powerless to stand up to entrenched politicians.

Some believe the party is the most most capable of standing up to the Shiite Hezbollah group, which dominates politics in Lebanon. Hezbollah holds the current parliamentary majority along with its allies, including the Lebanese Forces’ rival Christian faction founded by President Michel Aoun. While he’s staying home, he said other members of his family plan to vote for the Christian Lebanese Forces, a right-wing Christian party from the civil war believed to be receiving financial backing from Saudi Arabia.