VOTES are being counted today after people in Lebanon went to the polls for the first time in almost 10 years. The six million-strong population last voted in 2009, with electoral reform and the war in neighbouring Syria resulting in an extension to the last parliament’s four-year term.

The general election also came six months after Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri fled to Saudi Arabia, quit, then cancelled his resignation over what he said was a threat of imminent danger.

POSSIBLY today, possibly tomorrow. Voters showed their ink-stained thumbs leaving polling stations yesterday.

The election was the first in which Lebanese citizens living outwith the country have been able to participate. Tens of thousands of ex-pats took part in an election with the potential to change the face of the country’s politics.

A RECORD number of women – 86 – were amongst the 583 candidates vying for the parliament’s 128 seats. Proportional representation has been introduced for the first time, with new electoral boundaries also introduced.

The changes resulted in the formation of local alliances between parties, the results of which are yet to be seen.

But however the votes fall, the rest of the region will be watching. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have worked to extend their influence over Lebanon, with a Russian arms deal also prompting speculation that the Kremlin is seeking to extend its reach there.

HALF of all seats will go to Christian groups, with the other half to Muslims representatives. The multi-faith nation has a long-established tradition of political power-sharing between religious denominations, with firm rules in place to ensure no-one group dominates.

Rules established in 1989 after a 15-year civil war mean the holders of the three highest political offices – president, prime minister and speaker – must be a Maronite Christian, a Sunni Muslim and a Shia Muslim respectively.

Despite the significance of the changes – and major issues facing the country, including the refugee influx created by the Syrian war and a serious debt warning by the International Monetary Fund – turnout was said to be low.

Early reports suggested only 30% of eligible voters attended in most districts.

HARIRI had already left the country when he told the nation he was stepping down. The live TV address also included allegations that Iran and Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, which hopes to pick up more seats in this election, were responsible for creating tensions in the Arab world.

Claims of coercion by Riyadh followed and Hariri denied being under house arrest in the Gulf kingdom.

However, he returned to Beirut and put his resignation on pause following talks with President Michel Aoun a fortnight later before cancelling it completely in December.

The danger Hariri said he was trying to avoid is unclear, but, appearing on The Alex Salmond Show after Hariri retook his position, Aoun declared: “The political crisis is over.”

Yesterday, he rejected any notion of mandatory voting, but described electoral participation as a “sacred duty”, adding: “The Lebanese should not neglect this right.”