Hezbollah Alliance Gain in Lebanon Vote

Hezbollah, along with allied groups and individuals, secured at least 67 seats.Hezbollah, along with allied groups and individuals, secured at least 67 seats.

Hezbollah and its political allies won just over half the seats in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, unofficial results showed, boosting an Iranian-backed movement opposed to Israel and underlining Tehran’s growing regional clout.

The apparent gains made on Sunday by a Hezbollah-backed alliance risk complicating western policy toward Lebanon, Reuters reported.

The unofficial tally in the first parliamentary elections in nine years indicated sharp losses for western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. But he was still set to emerge as the Sunni Muslim leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat house, making him the frontrunner to form the next government.

Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni in the country’s sectarian power-sharing system. The new government, like the outgoing one, is expected to include all the main parties. Talks over cabinet posts are expected to take time.

“Hariri is going to be further weakened in any kind of government going forward,” Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute said. “His ability to substantially tame or restrain Hezbollah ... in Lebanon is going to be very limited.”  

“It will lead to more criticism of US military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces” in Washington, he added.

The election was held under a complex new law that redrew constituency boundaries and changed the electoral system from winner-takes-all to a proportional one. The official results were not declared on Monday morning as expected, and there was no new announcement of when they might be announced.

  Hariri Receives a Slap

Hezbollah, along with allied groups and individuals, secured at least 67 seats, according to a Reuters calculation based on preliminary results for nearly all the seats obtained from politicians and campaigns and reported in Lebanese media.

Seats in the Lebanese parliament are divided according to a strict sectarian quota. The number of Hezbollah parliament members was the same or little changed at around 13, but candidates backed by the group or allied to it made significant gains.

Hezbollah-backed Sunnis did well in Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, strongholds of Hariri’s Future Movement, the preliminary results showed. The pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper declared the election a “slap” for Hariri on its front page.

Hezbollah-backed winners include Jamil al-Sayyed, a retired Shia general and former Lebanese intelligence chief. Sayyed was one of the most powerful men in Lebanon in the 15 years of Syrian domination that followed the 1975-90 civil war.

At least five other figures who held office then returned to parliament for the first time since Syrian forces quit Lebanon after the 2005 assassination of Rafik al-Hariri, Saad’s father.

Faisal Karami, the son of the late pro-Syrian prime minister Omar Karami, won a seat for the first time.

Hezbollah’s big allies include the Shia Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally since 2006 who has said its arsenal is needed to defend Lebanon.

While Hezbollah and its allies do not always see eye to eye, their support for its arsenal is vital to the group in Lebanon, where its weapons have been a major point of friction for years.

Hezbollah lost ground in Baalbek-Hermel constituency, one of its strongholds. Two of the 10 seats there were won by its opponents, one by the Lebanese Forces and the other by Future. It also failed to win a Shia seat in coastal Byblos town.

Hezbollah and its allies are not on course to win the two-thirds majority that would be required to pass big decisions such as changing the constitution.

Turnout was 49.2%, down from 54% the last time legislative elections were held nine years ago.

Independent candidates running against the political establishment may have won two seats in Beirut.

An anti-Hezbollah alliance led by Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia won a majority in parliament in 2009. But that “March 14” alliance has disintegrated. Hariri may have lost nearly a third of his 33 seats.

Lebanon should have held a parliamentary election in 2013 but members of parliament instead voted to extend their own term because leaders could not agree on a new parliamentary election law.

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