Lebanese voters are to elect the country's first legislature since 2009. The election for control of the 128-strong parliament has been overshadowed by civil war in neighboring Syria.
Weeks of campaigning passed without any major security incidents across the country, which is threatened by spillover from the conflict in neighboring Syria. As the polls opened on Sunday, some 583 candidates were on the ballot papers for the 128-strong parliament of Lebanon, which is divided equally between Muslims and Christians. More than 3.6 million people are eligible to vote in the one-day election.
The vote is regarded as a test of a new electoral law, approved by the parliament in June 2017. The law reduced Lebanon's number of electoral districts and introduced a system of proportional representation.
The new legislation also introduced a female quota for the assembly. Only four women occupied parliamentary seats ahead of the vote, all of them related to long-serving male politicians. For Sunday's vote 111 women presented themselves as candidates and 83 are on the election lists - compared with just 12 candidates last time.
But despite the reforms, there is little hope for political newcomers to break through against Lebanon's entrenched ruling elites. Observers predict that the majority of lawmakers affiliated with powerful political factions will return to their places in the assembly.
Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time (0400 UTC) to 7 p.m. Official results are expected to be announced on Monday.
New law, old rivals
The election will once again highlight the decades-long power struggle between warring factions in a country divided along religious-sectarian lines. The two main groups are the Future Movement, and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) with its Hezbollah backers.
The Future Movement, headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, represents the Sunni Muslim community. The FPM, founded by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, represents Maronite Christians.
In the shadow of Syria's civil war
Lebanon's legislative polls have been postponed three times since 2009 due to political wrangling over the electoral law and security concerns related to Syria's civil war.
Posters of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
Lebanon hosts some 1.5 million Syrians displaced by more than seven years of war in their homeland, while Hezbollah is fighting in Syria along with the forces of President Bashar Assad.
"The issue of Hezbollah's involvement in Syria is linked to the Middle East. Hezbollah can not just leave the conflict, because it is now part of the balance of power," President Aoun said.
The polls mark the first time Lebanese voters will cast their ballots across the country in a single day. The previous elections were conducted each Sunday in one district.
The law also allows expats to vote for the first time, but of the 900,000 Lebanese voters abroad, only 83,000 registered and just over half of them voted.
bik,ss/jm (dpa, AFP, AP)