Lebanese went to 6,800 polling stations across the country Sunday to vote in their first general election for nine years with the Shitte resistence Hezbollah group and its allies expecting to emerge stronger, while Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri stands as frontrunner to keep his job and form a new coalition government after an election seen as vital to Lebanon's economic stability, but his Future Movement was widely expected to lose seats.
For many younger Lebanese, Sunday brought a first chance to vote in a national election after parliament twice extended a term that expired in 2013, but Interior Ministry figures from early in the day suggested turnout would be low.
President Michel Aoun appeared on television late in the afternoon to urge people to vote. Voting ended at 7:00 p.m. local time to all except those already waiting in polling stations.
Over half of Lebanon's population or 3.8 million registered voters of the country's 6 million population were eligible to vote. Some 700,000 voters, ranging from age 21 to 30 years old, are first-time voters.
In some places queues to vote were so long that people waited over an hour, prompting calls to extend voting beyond 7:00 p.m local time. Up to 40 percent of voters had cast ballots in some districts by 2.30 p.m, the Interior Ministry said.
Unofficial results are expected to start coming in overnight. Election law makes it illegal on Sunday to publish forecasts of how the parties will perform before polls close.
Lebanese nationals went to the stations – which will remain open from 7:00 a.m until 7:00 p.m. – to fill some 128 parliamentary seats in 15 districts, from among 583 candidates of various religious backgrounds.
The seat divisions are as follows: Shiites (27), Sunni (27), Maronites (34), Greek Orthodox (14), Greek Catholic (8), Druze (8), Orthodox Armenian (5), Alaoui (2) , Protestant (1), Armenian Catholic (1), Christian Minorities (1).
Lebanon has a long history of power-sharing, involving different religious denominations, in the country's political system. The president, prime minister and speaker of the parliament must each come from a specific religious background, according to a BBC report.
While foreign monitors gave a generally positive assessment, tensions flared in several locations according to Reuters. Missiles were thrown during street clashes in Beirut, a candidate claimed her car was attacked in the Bekaa Valley town of Zahle, and rival groups clashed in the northern city of Tripoli.
The counting of the ballots will begin at the close of polls with official results of the election being expected on Monday. More than 80,000 Lebanese expatriates, across 40 countries, cast their ballots on April 27 and 28.