Thousands of Lebanese residing in Arab and Muslim nations began voting in the country’s parliamentary elections on Friday, nine days before the polls open at home.

In the first session of voting on Friday, almost 31,000 Lebanese citizens from ten countries registered to vote. Nearly 195,000 Lebanese citizens will vote in various countries around the world on Sunday, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, European Union member states, and many African countries.

It is the first time that members of Lebanon’s diaspora are able to vote, as they were previously barred from doing so. On May 15, Lebanese citizens living in Lebanon will vote.

This year’s election for the 128-member legislature is the first since the country’s economic crisis began in October 2019, sparking nationwide protests against the political class, which has been blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement. It is also the first vote since a catastrophic blast at Beirut’s harbor on August 4, 2020, which killed over 200 people, injured hundreds, and caused widespread damage in the capital.

Thousands of people have fled Lebanon since the catastrophic events, and some of those voting abroad on Friday and Sunday are among them.

Many political opponents are standing in the election, intending to challenge established political parties and leaders who have held their posts for decades. However, the opposition is splintered, and many believe that the election will bring little change.

30929 registered voters from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman, and Egypt were the first to vote in this year’s elections on Friday at 13 voting sites, the most of which were set up at Lebanese diplomatic posts.

Parliamentary elections are held every four years, with the powerful Shiite Hezbollah organization and its allies winning a majority of seats in the most recent contest in 2018.

This year’s election comes after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a major Sunni politician, announced his retirement from politics. Some have expressed concern that this could assist Hezbollah’s Sunni allies win additional seats.

Christians and Muslims are equally represented in Lebanon’s parliament. After President Michel Aoun’s term ends in October, the next legislature will elect a new president.

The president is a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister is a Sunni, and the parliament speaker is a Shiite, according to Lebanon’s power-sharing system. Muslims and Christians have equal representation in the cabinet.

As a result of the crisis, which the World Bank labeled as one of the worst since the 1850s, more than 70% of the country’s 6 million residents, including 1 million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty.

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