Lebanese streamed to their hometowns on the Mediterranean coast and high in the mountains on Sunday to vote in a crucial election that could unseat a pro-Western government and install one dominated by the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah.
The race for the 128-member parliament will set Lebanon's political course for the next four years, with repercussions beyond this tiny Arab country's borders. A win for the Shiite militant group, which the United States considers a terrorist organisation, and its allies could bring isolation to Lebanon and possibly a new conflict with Israel.
It could also set back U.S. Mideast policy and boost the influence of Hezbollah's backers Syria and Iran.
“I voted for the first time in my life today simply because these elections will decide in which direction the country will go,” said Elie Yacoub, a voter in his 30s who cast his ballot in Beirut.
Lebanon has long been a main front in what many see as a power struggle between two main camps in the West Asia — the U.S. and its moderate Arab allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt on one side, and Iran and Syria and militant groups such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas on the other.
Voters lined up outside polling stations in government buildings and public schools across the country after polls opened. There are some 3.2 million eligible voters out of a population of 4 million. Early unofficial returns were expected late Sunday and official results as early as Monday afternoon.
Authorities have deployed some 50,000 soldiers and police.