The Hezbollah group and its allies are expected to take just over half the seats in Lebanon’s parliamentary elections. Fights near polling stations marred Lebanon’s first parliamentary vote in nine years.
Preliminary results from Lebanon’s parliamentary elections on Monday suggested that the Hezbollah group and its political allies would secure a simple majority.
Such an outcome would not only cement the Shiite group’s dominance in Lebanon, but also underline Tehran’s growing influence in the area and likely draw ire from its regional rivals, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Hezbollah has grown in strength and regional influence since joining the war in Syria in 2012 in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Its growing influence in turn reflect Iran’s territorial ascendancy in the Middle East, which stretches through and Iraq and Syria to Beirut.
Hezbollah, which was founded in the 1980s to fight against Israel, has been branded a terrorist group by the US. The European Union, meanwhile, only lists Hezbollah’s military wing as a terror group, differentiating between its militaristic and political activities.
If confirmed, the preliminary results could put at risk billions of dollars in US military help to Lebanon, as well as international aid and loans the country needs to revive its stagnant economy.
The election marks the first vote under the new proportional system, which replaced the structure where the winning party would carry all the seats in a particular district.
The final tally was set to be announced later on Monday.
‘Hezbollah equals Lebanon’
A member of the Israeli government said that the preliminary results confirmed the Israeli government’s perception; that Lebanon and Hezbollah were equals.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said on Twitter that following these results, “the State of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign State of Lebanon and Hezbollah.”
The right-leaning minister also said that Israel would hold Lebanon responsible for any possible Hezbollah action that would originate from its territory.
Hariri to keep his seat?
While Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his pro-Western Future Movement were expected to go down as the biggest losers from the elections, he is still set to emerge as the Sunni Muslim leader with the strongest bloc in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament, making him a frontrunner to form the next government.
Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing system dictates that the prime minister must be a Sunni.
Experts also believe the complicated balance of power between various religious factions is set to remain mostly unchanged, with lawmakers representing Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims and Maronite Christians likely to be re-elected.
‘Voting operations were very slow’
Following a day of voting on Sunday, the Lebanese government said only 49.2 percent of voters took part in the long-delayed election for the country’s parliament. According to several political analysts, potential voters were discouraged by the stagnant economy and widespread corruption.
Observers reported a higher turnout in some areas of Lebanon that are known as the strongholds of the Hezbollah movement.
Announcing the turnout figures on Sunday evening, the country’s interior minister, Nouhad Machnouk, said the new electoral system had caused difficulties at the polls.