Hezbollah gains more power
Lebanon PM Saad Hariri losses seats but still could form a unity government after elections
11 May, 2018
Iranian-backed Hezbollah group scored major gains in the parliamentary elections in Lebanon last Sunday, as the main Western-backed faction headed by PM Saad Hariri lost a third of its seats, news wires reported. The election, the first in nine years, was marked by a low turnout (49%), especially in the capital Beirut (between 32% and 42%), reflecting voter frustration over endemic corruption and a political establishment that fails to deliver on basic services, such as waste management and electricity. The drop came despite a reformulated electoral law designed to encourage voting through proportional representation.
“There is a major political, parliamentarian and moral victory for the choice of the resistance,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist group by the US, but its political wing has long held seats in Lebanon's parliament and was part of Lebanon's outgoing coalition government. Results showed that Hezbollah and its allies took at least 43 of the legislature's 128 seats, giving them the power to veto laws.
According to the official count, Saad Hariri, a Sunni politician with close ties to Saudi Arabia, has lost at least five seats in Beirut, once considered his party's stronghold. In total, Hariri's Future Movement won 21 seats in Sunday's vote, a decline of 11 from the last election in 2009. However, it remains the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, facilitating Hariri's return as prime minister to form the next cabinet. In order to receive $11bn pledged at an April conference in France, the incoming government will have to take steps to control the world's third-biggest debt burden, including cuts to public spending and a crackdown on corruption, Bloomberg noted.
Hariri acknowledged the losses but said that the international community should look at the results in a “positive way” because they reflect democracy in Lebanon. He said he would continue to work closely with President Michel Aoun, who is allied with the rival, Hezbollah-led bloc. Under the power-sharing agreement that ended the civil war, Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian, and parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.
Elections were last held in 2009, and parliament has since extended its own term twice, citing security concerns related to the Syrian conflict, which has forced 1.5m refugees into Lebanon, a country with a population estimated at around 4.5m. The war has divided Lebanon, pitting parties supporting Hezbollah's intervention in Syria against Saudi-aligned parties opposed to it. The divide reflects the region-wide rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The US urged Lebanon to uphold a policy of staying out of regional wars and to respect the UN Security Council resolutions related to the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon, the disarmament of all militias, including Hezbollah, and the terms of a 2006 ceasefire agreement between Lebanon and Israel.