Lebanon's first national elections in nine years were marked by a tepid turnout Sunday, reflecting voter frustration over endemic corruption and a stagnant economy. Politicians had urged citizens to vote, and security forces struggled to maintain order as fights broke out in and around polling stations.
President Michel Aoun broadcast an appeal to voters to participate in a televised address an hour before polls closed in the evening. "If you want change, you should exercise your right" to vote, he said in a message published on Twitter at the same time.
The elections were the first since war broke out in neighbouring Syria in 2011, sending over one million refugees to Lebanon, a small country with a population estimated at around 4.5 million. The war has divided the country, pitting parties supporting the Iran-sponsored Hezbollah's intervention in Syria to aid President Bashar Assad against Saudi-aligned parties opposed to it.
Early results were expected to start coming in late Sunday, but official results were not expected to be announced before Monday. The low turnout — between 32 percent and 42 percent in Beirut precincts, according to Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk — betrayed widespread voter apathy for the main political currents governing the country and left open the possibility that outside candidates could win seats in Parliament.
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