Monday July 15, 2024

Lebanon’s Hizbullah suffers election losses

May 17, 2022

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hizbullah group and its allies appear to have suffered losses in this weekend’s parliamentary elections with preliminary results on Monday showing their strongest opponents picking up more seats and some of their traditional partners routed out of the legislature.

Despite the apparent setback, Hizbullah and its main ally, the Amal group of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, are likely to retain the 27 seats allocated to the sect. It was not clear, however, whether the Iran-backed group and its allies would hang on to the majority they have held since 2018, when they had 71 of the 128 seats in parliament.

Meanwhile, independents, including those from the 2019 protest movement, scooped up at least 10 seats, a major achievement considering they went into the vote fragmented and facing intimidation and threats by entrenched mainstream parties.

Their showing sends a strong message to ruling class politicians who have held on to their seats despite a devastating economic collapse that has plunged the majority of the country into poverty.

The mixed bag ensures a sharply polarized parliament with lawmakers who will likely find it difficult to work together to pass the laws needed to begin the financial recovery and support a government with enormous challenges that lie ahead.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is hoping to return as head of a post-election government, urged groups and independents who will be represented in the new parliament to move quickly “because what we are passing through cannot withstand (political) bickering at the expense of priorities.”

Mikati was apparently referring to consultations that are expected to begin soon to name a new prime minister whose government’s main mission will be to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund to work on getting Lebanon out of its paralyzing economic crisis. The legislature will have to draft new laws related to the economic crisis, such as a capital controls law.

With votes still being counted, unofficial results showed Hizbullah’s Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by President Michel Aoun, losing ground to its traditional Christian rivals, the rightwing Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Geagea.

The closely watched elections on Sunday were the first since a devastating economic crisis erupted in Lebanon in October 2019, triggering nationwide protests against the ruling class blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement.

The meltdown was exacerbated by the pandemic and the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of the Lebanese capital. The blast, widely blamed on negligence, was set off by hundreds of tons of poorly stored ammonium nitrate that ignited in a port warehouse.

Voter turnout was said to be at 41 percent — less than the 49 percent in the last election. Official results were expected to be announced later on Monday. Lebanon holds elections every four years and the new parliament will elect a new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.

According to early results announced by each of the groups, independents were able to remove several longtime politicians from parliament, including Hizbullah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan.

The Saudi-backed Christian Lebanese Forces party, which has been among the most vocal critics of the Iran-armed Hizbullah, appeared to be the biggest winner. The civil-war era faction said it won at least 20 seats, adding five members from the 2018 vote. This would make it the largest Christian bloc in parliament, replacing the Free Patriotic Movement that has been a Hizbullah ally since 2006. Asaad Hardan, a strong Hizbullah ally in south Lebanon, reportedly lost his seat to an independent, while another independent, Mark Daou, says “we are heading to a big victory.” Daou is running in the Mount Lebanon region of Aley against longtime Druze politician Talal Arslan.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker from the Iran-backed Hizbullah group on Monday warned rivals against becoming "shields for the Israelis", as Lebanon awaits election results likely to weaken the group’s bloc.

"We accept you as opponents in parliament, but we will not accept you as shields for the Israelis," said Mohammed Raad, according to Hizbullah’s Al Manar TV channel. In mid-2006, a 34-day war pitted Israel -- whose troops had withdrawn from southern Lebanon in 2000 -- against Hizbullah.

Raad headed the outgoing parliamentary bloc led by Hizbullah and was re-elected on Sunday in the first polls since the country’s economy was dragged to the brink of collapse and a mass anti-government protest movement sparked hope for change in 2019.

His comment raised fears of unrest as the country awaits results on Tuesday, which will show whether Hezbollah and its allies can keep an actionable majority in parliament. "Don’t become the fuel for civil war," Raad told opponents.-