Middle East News

Lebanon to deploy 75,000 troops on eve of crucial poll

BEIRUT: More than 75,000 troops and security personnel will be deployed at polling stations and key sites around Lebanon from late on Saturday on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections in the country.

Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi announced the large-scale deployment after meeting with military commanders overseeing security arrangements for Sunday’s poll.

More than 3.6 million people are expected to cast their votes in 15 electoral districts around Lebanon, according to interior ministry estimates.

Friday was the final day of campaigning for the candidates’ electoral machines, with party leaders and the political forces supporting electoral lists seeking to convince hesitant voters to take part in the elections.

Mawlawi said that security chiefs will work with generator owners to ensure electoral stations have power on polling day.

The election is expected to redraw Lebanon’s political map after years of political and social upheaval, with a new president and the approval of a recovery plan to rescue the country from its severe economic crisis.

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Electoral messaging reached a peak before a moratorium on campaigning entered into force from midnight on Friday until the ballot boxes are sealed late on Sunday.

Amid persistent calls for an election boycott, religious leaders used their Friday sermons to urge Lebanese people to exercise their right to vote.

Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and the main ally of Hezbollah, said in his live appearances and on social media that “voting for the Lebanese Forces lists equals voting for Israel and its regional allies.”

The Lebanese Forces candidates and leaders said that “whoever votes for the Free Patriotic Movement is, in fact, voting for Hezbollah.”

Electoral expert Walid Fakhreddin told Arab News that voter turnout will be a major factor in the election.

“There’s a desire for change in people that was somehow positively received by the Lebanese Forces, the Phalanges Party, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Amal Movement,” he said.

Fakhreddin said the elections “have a high number of disruptive elements, and the Friday sermons were an attempt to change the stance of boycotters.”

However, he added that “people make up their minds in the last 15 minutes and we have to expect some tactical voting.”

Former prime minister Fouad Siniora, who is sponsoring an electoral campaign in Beirut and candidates in other regions, warned that the outlook for Lebanon would be “harsh and bitter” without serious reforms starting with the parliament.

“This compels every Lebanese to contribute positively to changing the situation, and building a strong state with its exclusively legitimate and official institutions and agencies,” he said.

“It also compels them to steer clear from drowning in the vortex of personal considerations and sectarianism, and to focus on the interests of Lebanon and its citizens.”

Siniora said that electoral lists he had partnered with in many regions had been targeted by a distortion campaign intended to discredit and divert the attention of Lebanese from the fundamental issues facing the country.

 “We want Lebanon to preserve its Arab identity, and remain free and independent,” he said.

“We don’t want to keep repeating statements intended to blind us from the catastrophic project that would put Lebanon under the Iranian domination through Hezbollah and its weapons.”

Siniora believes that “we are running under a poisoned electoral law. However, participating heavily in the polls will counter the fall of Lebanon resulting from the domination of Hezbollah and its allied sectarian parties on the state, its departments, institutions and agencies.”

In parallel with the election preparations, Maj-Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director general of the General Directorate of General Security, inaugurated a new GSS center at the Syrian border point of Mutrabeh.

The new crossing will mean the closure of 18 illegal border points used by Lebanese living in Syria to enter Lebanon, he said.

Ibrahim said that 25 Lebanese towns overlapping Syria and home to 10,000 people will also benefit from a more direct link.

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