Absence has voters confused



Stuff NZ Newspapers



When Lebanon votes in parliamentary elections today, a major party will not be on the ballot – the Future Movement, headed by former prime minister Saad Hariri, with strong ties to the United States and Saudi Arabia. In January, Hariri announced his resignation from politics and said his party would not participate in the elections, citing what he said was increased Iranian influence in Lebanon, sectarianism, and ‘‘erosion of the state’’. His party currently holds 20 of the 128 seats in parliament. The Future Movement and its allies were part of a pro-Saudi bloc whose rallying cry is the disarmament of Hezbollah, a proIranian militant group and political party that, along with its allies, holds the majority of seats in parliament. Hariri’s withdrawal from politics has created a vacuum that could benefit Hezbollah while leaving Hariri’s significant base of supporters unsure where to cast their votes. The developments have cast uncertainty over elections with high stakes. Their outcome could determine whether Lebanon, in the midst of its worst financial crisis yet, receives aid from the international community – at a time when some governments have been hesitant to fund a government and politicians widely seen as corrupt. The polls are also being closely watched by millions of Lebanese at home and abroad, for whether they oust members of the country’s widely derided political class. But few in Lebanon expect much to change. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim monarchy, appears to have turned its back on Hariri, its longtime Sunni ally in Lebanon. A widely circulated op-ed published in early May in the Saudi newspaper Okaz said: ‘‘Abstaining from voting in the coming elections means Sunni seats will go to Hezbollah allies, the historical enemy of not only Sunnis but all the Lebanese who once trusted Saad.’’