The political makeup of Lebanon’s Parliament has been reshaped after the country held its first elections in almost a decade Sunday with Hizbollah solidifying its presence in legislation.
Despite official results not being released, most political parties have publicised their victories and for which seats. Hizbollah and its Shiite ally, Amal Movement, took 16 and 13 seats respectively giving the duo 29 seats in Parliament without traditional Christian allies, Free Patriotic Movement and Marada Movement.
The FPM, which was founded by President Michel Aoun, will occupy 17 seats in Parliament. The group’s leader is Aoun’s son-in- law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil. While much talk has been focused on Hizbollah’s gains, the list backed by the Iranian-proxy won 4 seats in West Beirut, while it lost 2 seats in its stronghold Baalbeck-Hermel.
However, one of the list’s seats in Beirut was won by the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (Al-Ahbash) and another by the FPM’s Protestant candidate. It is unclear if they will be in Hizbollah’s parliamentary bloc.
The other two were Shia candidates, which comes as no surprise to the 70,000 plus Shia voters in the capital.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri will remain the undisputed Sunni leader, but “he has had his wings clipped,” one Beirut voter said.
“This is just what Hizbollah wanted – to keep him in power but limit his influence,” Ali K., the voter from Hezbollah stronghold of Beirut’s southern suburbs said.
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Beirut was perhaps the biggest blow to Hariri while he will maintain a strong representation in the north’s Akkar with 6 of the 7 possible seats.
He lost 4 seats to the Hizbollah-backed list and another seat to controversial businessman Fouad Makhzoumi, a Sunni, out of the 11 possible seats for Beirut.
Also in the north, the country’s second biggest city of Tripoli and its surroundings, Hariri’s Future Movement has retained five seats, former Prime Minister Najib Mikati with four and Faisal Karami with two seats.
The violence of the seven-year war in neighboring Syria has not spilled into Lebanon per se, but the political effects have been felt.
With parties divided over whether to resume direct communication with the Syrian government to discuss the return of Syrian refugees, close to 2 million refugees were in Lebanon at one point. This further hampered Lebanon’s already weak economy and dilapidated infrastructure.
But Hariri was not the only side to be affected by this as was evident by the country’s low voter turnout.
Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk announced that a meager 49.2 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots although 800,000 new voters were eligible since the last elections in 2009.
But experts say the percentage would be much higher if the eligible voters were filtered. A little over 3 million registered voters are on the voter registry; however, it is believed that just over 2 million of them live in Lebanon.
On the other hand, the low voter turnout proved to benefit the civil society who contested parliamentary elections for the first time in the country’s modern history.
Popular journalists Paula Yacoubian and Joumana Haddad shocked the public after winning two seats in East Beirut, which is predominantly made up Christian voters.
The two were running on the “Kilna Watani,” All for the Nation, list that composed 11 different civil society groups across the country.
Pollsters were pessimistic over the group being able to earn even one seat. A lower voter turnout meant a lower threshold needed for a list to be eligible to earn a seat.
The new proportional representation law, used for the first time in Lebanon, replaced a previous winner-takes- all system. This gave a slight, but real, chance for independent candidates to earn their way into Parliament.
Another positive from the elections was an increase in female representation. After previously having only 4 women in Parliament, the number jumped to 7, according to preliminary results Monday. The number remains embarrassing for a Parliament that has 128 seats.
As all eyes are of the international community are on Hizbollah and the Future Movement’s results – the two are de-facto representatives of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Lebanon – a strong opponent of Hezbollah made significant gains after Sunday’s voting.
The Lebanese Forces, a former Christian militia, almost doubled its current parliamentary bloc with 15 seats.
This puts them almost on par with their Christian FPM archrivals, who are expected to have 17 MPs.
This could mean the formation of a new government might drag on for months with new alliances set to be formed. The FPM has an MOU with Hizbollah dating back to 2006, but has formed a strong alliance with Hariri since the election of President Aoun. This has had a negative impact on Hariri’s alliance with the LF, a longtime western-backed ally and at times shaken the FPM-Hezbollah alliance.
Either way, Hizbollah and Amal Movement will have a significant say and potentially veto power in the next Parliament and Cabinet.