Election in Lebanon: Hezbollah coalition loses parliamentary majority

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Reformist political groups that have emerged from the nationwide demonstrations have won around 10% of the country’s parliamentary seats, according to a CNN tally, a sign of growing dissatisfaction with a ruling elite widely blamed for the country’s economic collapse. Reformist parties won just one seat in the previous 2018 election cycle.

Critics of Hezbollah, which has held a coalition majority in parliament for four years, blame the group and its political allies for the country’s economic collapse. Hezbollah has repeatedly denied responsibility, citing widespread allegations of corruption among its political rivals.

Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia deteriorated significantly during Hezbollah’s time as the largest bloc of Parliament.

The group’s main Christian rival — Saudi-allied Lebanese forces — won new seats. Several prominent allies who have been longtime supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have also lost seats in parliament.

In the country’s third-largest southern constituency, where Hezbollah and its allies have steadily consolidated their political power since first contesting elections in 1992, a reformist candidate ousted a pro-Assad Hezbollah ally.

Hezbollah’s electoral alliances previously enjoyed almost unquestioned support in southern Lebanon, where the group led an armed resistance campaign that drove out a 22-year Israeli occupation in 2000 and is credited with developing much of the infrastructure in rural areas.

“Lebanese voters tactically voted to breach Hezbollah’s popular strongholds, weaken its key Christian ally and eliminate some of Syria’s notorious proteges,” election and government analyst Maroun Sfeir told CNN. “This vote has also led to the emergence of an independent political bloc that could influence the dynamics in a highly fragmented parliament.”

But the Tehran-backed Shia group recouped some of those losses by making gains among Sunni constituencies, which normally vote for candidates supporting former prime minister and Sunni leader Saad Hariri, who retired from politics earlier this year.

Hariri’s dramatic exit from the Lebanese political scene left the Sunnis’ strategic coordination open. Most of the new reformist MPs – who are largely socially progressive – were elected from Sunni-majority areas. Outside the capital Beirut, Sunni voters largely avoided voting, and many voiced displeasure with a political elite plagued by allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The United Nations and the World Bank blame Lebanon’s ruling elite for the country’s economic collapse, which has been described as one of the worst in the world since the mid-19th century.

Since October 2019, the majority of the Lebanese population has been plunged into poverty, inflation has soared to over 200% and deposits have largely evaporated amid a devastating banking crisis. A massive blast at the port of Beirut killed over 200 people in an incident blamed on improperly stored explosive ammonium nitrate that successive governments have been repeatedly warned about.

This economic crisis appears to have strengthened the electorate for reformists, who previously had difficulty breaking into political leadership. But the financial hardship also prompted large numbers of potential voters to stay away from the polls, and many said they had lost faith in Lebanon’s political system.

The election was also littered with allegations of voter fraud. The country’s top election observers — the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) — said they documented 3,600 violations.

As a new parliament is set to be sworn in, Lebanese citizens openly question whether new politicians can alleviate the country’s many economic and political woes. Later this year, the country’s president, Michel Aoun — a Hezbollah ally — will end his term in office, which could plunge the country into further political uncertainty. Negotiations over the formation of the country’s next government could also be marked by political turmoil, which could exacerbate the economic crisis.

“These changes signal the beginning of a new political phase,” Sfeir said. “(It is) one that could either put Lebanon back on the right reform path or further escalate its collapse due to political deadlock and potential violence.”

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