Lebanon’s Hezbollah, allies likely to lose parliamentary majority

Three sources close to Hezbollah indicated on Monday that the heavily armed organization and its allies are likely to lose their majority in Lebanon’s parliament, in a severe blow to the group that reflects broad dissatisfaction at the ruling parties.

The Saudi-aligned Lebanese Forces (LF), a Christian party, and reform-minded candidates from all sects won seats in Sunday’s election, which was the first since Lebanon’s financial crisis and the Beirut port blast in 2020.

However, their victories risk splintering parliament and further polarizing it between Hezbollah’s allies and opponents. Those opponents do not now form a unified front.

The impasse could hinder measures needed to gain IMF backing for Lebanon’s economic problems, as well as postpone parliamentary decisions on a speaker, a prime minister to form a Cabinet, and a new president later this year.

Preliminary results show a reversal of Lebanon’s last election, in which Hezbollah and its supporters won 71 of the 128 seats in parliament, bringing Lebanon closer to Shi’ite-led Iran and further away from Sunni-led Saudi Arabia.

The outcome on Sunday might allow Riyadh to exert more influence in Beirut, which has long been a battleground in its struggle with Tehran.

Saudi Arabia has yet to respond, but Iran stated on Monday that it respected the referendum and had never interfered in Lebanon’s domestic affairs.

The United States, which has sanctioned Hezbollah, praised the elections and urged leaders to resume economic reforms.

CELEBRATION OF THE NATIONAL

The results for 12 of the 15 districts were announced by the interior ministry, although some parties said they would appeal.

Political sources close to Hezbollah had previously stated that preliminary results showed the party and its allies were unlikely to win more than 64 seats.

According to official results, top Hezbollah ally and deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, 72, was defeated in the Christian Orthodox seat in West Beqaa.

Ferzli was defeated by a candidate endorsed by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, although Jumblatt’s list also lost a Sunni seat to Yassin Yassin.

“After two-and-a-half years of directly facing off in the streets against a government of injustice, finally, we’ve begun the journey to change in Lebanon. This is a national celebration!” Yassin told Reporters.

Talal Arslan, a Hezbollah-allied Druze lawmaker who was first elected in 1992, is another shocking loss.

He was defeated by newcomer Mark Daou, whose opposition list gained three seats in total.

In Hezbollah’s traditional south Lebanon bastion, independent candidate Elias Jradi grabbed an Orthodox Christian seat from pro-Syria MP Assaad Hardan.

Firas Hamdan, a lawyer and activist, defeated Marwan Kheireddine, chairman of Lebanon’s AM Bank, which was one of many banks that restricted depositors’ access to savings during the financial crisis due to a severe dollar shortage.

The LF said that no single organization, including Hezbollah, had a majority, but estimated that it had won 20 seats, up from 15 in 2018.

It would then be able to surpass the Hezbollah-aligned Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which has been the largest Christian party in parliament since 2005.

According to a party spokesperson, the FPM, which was founded by President Michel Aoun, received up to 16 seats, down from 18 in 2018.

The loss of their representation, paired with defeats in the south and West Beqaa, would provide a “serious damage” to Hezbollah’s claim of cross-sectarian support, according to Carnegie Middle East Center’s Mohanad Hage Ali.

Nonetheless, according to forecasts from both parties, Hezbollah and the affiliated Amal Movement swept all Shi’ite Muslim seats.

Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, both facing accusations in connection with the fatal Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut blast, were among the winners. They both deny doing anything wrong.

Low participation for a faction once dominated by major lawmaker Saad al-Hariri, who has lost Saudi backing, appeared to be split between sympathizers and opponents of Hezbollah.

Hariri’s exit from politics shattered the Sunni political establishment and kept many potential voters at home.

Impoverished Tripoli, a Sunni-majority city, had the lowest voter turnout in the country.

Families waited for electoral bribes that never came, according to Mustafa Alloush, a former Hariri associate who ran unsuccessfully as an independent there.

“It’s such a depressing scene,” Alloush observed.

REUTERS

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