Lebanese politicians appeal for higher turnout as polls set to close
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Lebanese politicians appeal for higher turnout as polls set to close

Seven hours after polling begins, interior ministry says just 24.47% of eligible voters cast their ballots

A Lebanese woman casts her vote at a polling station in Ain al-Rummaneh on the southern outskirts of Beirut on May 6, 2018,  as the country votes in its first parliamentary elections in nine years (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)
A Lebanese woman casts her vote at a polling station in Ain al-Rummaneh on the southern outskirts of Beirut on May 6, 2018, as the country votes in its first parliamentary elections in nine years (AFP PHOTO / JOSEPH EID)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Lebanon’s top political players made a last-minute call for citizens to vote on Sunday, with an hour left before polls close in the country’s first parliamentary elections in nine years.

At 2:00 p.m. (11:00 GMT), seven hours after polling began, the interior ministry said just 24.47 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.

Just moments before polls were set to close, the ministry had yet to issue an updated number.

President Michel Aoun said on Twitter that he was “surprised with the low turnout,” and encouraged voters to head to polls before they close at 7:00 p.m. (16:00 GMT).

“If you are there, then of course the time will be extended so you can all vote,” he said in a televised address.

After casting his vote in a Beirut district, deputy head of the Shiite movement Hezbollah Naeem Qassem said: “We are discussing extending the voting period with the interior ministry.”

“We suggest voting be extended for two hours,” he said.

Ahmad Hariri, the secretary-general of the Future Movement, on Twitter urged members of the electorate to vote to protect “all of Lebanon and its people.

“No one should underestimate the importance of their vote or think that heading down to the ballot box is too much to ask,” he said.

Druze chief Walid Jumblatt used a bird metaphor to rally last-minute voters.

“In the last quarter of the hour, we have to raise the voter turnout to the maximum, like the beautiful partridges of our mountains,” he tweeted, and then referred to his political rivals as “black crows.

Joumana Haddad, a writer and activist running for a minority seat in Beirut with the Kulluna Watani list, also urged Lebanese voters to turn up.

“We still need more people to vote because the voting percentage is still low,” she told AFP.

“I think many of those who are disgusted are not aware enough that a change can be done this time by voting, so they decided not to vote.”

Lebanon’s last parliamentary election was in 2009, when national voter turnout was at an estimated 54 percent. The legislature was since extended three times.

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