Iran-Backed Hezbollah and Allies Win Lebanon’s Election
Iran-backed Hezbollah, Amal and their allies claimed victory in Lebanese parliamentary election last Sunday, the first ballot after 2009, preliminary results showed.
Hezbollah and Amal dubbed a “Shia duo” by local media outlets gained 67 seats in the country’s 128-seat parliament, according to various reports. Many analysts expected other parties aligned with the duo would take more than 11 seats.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah described the result a”national achievement” in Monday’s televised speech.
A Sunni coalition (Future Movement) was reported to win 21 seats, as revealed by Lebanese Prime Minister and the coalition leader Saad Hariri on Monday. Despite acknowledging the losses in the election, The Western-aligned Hariri stated that “it is not the end of the world” and vowed to work closely with President Michel Aoun, who is from the Hezbollah-backed group.
Hariri is expected to retain his position as the Prime Minister despite losing control over the parliament.
Lebanon should have had an election in 2013, two years after the outbreak of war in Syria. But Beirut postponed the ballot due to security concerns in neighboring Syria, forcing the parliament to extend its term.
According to Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk, the turnout in Sunday’s election reached 49.2 percent, lower than 54 percent when the last election was held in 2009.
In a press conference, the minister explained that not all Lebanese people were familiar with the new electoral law.
“Voting operations were very slow,” the minister said.
The new regulations are seen as complicated. For example, voters must cast their ballot, not in their residence, but based on the origin of their ancestors. Under the new regulation, the number of districts is reduced. The law also bans a quick count being displayed during the election process. Unofficial results are published after the voting closes. The official result is published a few days after the ballot.
In the Lebanese government, parliamentary seats are distributed evenly based on religions. As many as 64 seats are for Muslims lawmakers, while 64 for Christians.
The country’s president, the prime minister, and the parliamentary speaker must come from certain religious backgrounds. The president of Lebanon must be a Maronite Christian, the country’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the parliamentary speaker must be a Shia.
How has the world reacted?
Israel stated the victory of Hezbollah has made Beirut an enemy to Tel Aviv. Therefore, Israel will not distinguish between Hezbollah, branded as a terrorist organization, and Lebanon, should a war break out in the future.
“Hezbollah=Lebanon,” said Israeli Education Minister, Naftali Bennett.
Hezbollah retaliated by accusing Israel, the U.S, and Saudi Arabia of meddling in the electoral process, as stated by Hezbollah’s Executive Council member Ali Da’amoush.
The victory of Hezbollah, formed in the 1980s to fight against Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, shows Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, sending a strong warning to traditional rivals such as Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon is still facing economic hardship and corruption problems. But, the most urgent issue is the influx of Syrian refugees. According to the U.N official data, Lebanon is now home to around 1.5 million displaced Syrians, swelling the country’s population by 25 percent and affecting public services.
By now, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have left Lebanon. The U.N agency overseeing refugees, UNHCR, cast doubt that those refugees are doing it voluntarily.
The problem is Hezbollah supports Syria’s Assad regime and most Syrians have left their country because they want to escape from Assad’s rule.
The results indicate that the upcoming government must work hard to win domestic and international support to tackle difficult challenges like the economy and the refugee issue.
“They (Hezbollah) don’t want to control Lebanon. The country is facing many challenges, and Hezbollah is in need of international and outside support,” said a political expert close to Hezbollah, Kassem Qassir.