Saad Hariri is expected to form the next government, despite his party losing a third of its seats [AP]
Beirut, Lebanon – The dust has finally settled in Lebanon’s parliamentary election, after most of the 128 winning candidates were announced on Monday.
Yet, as election fever cools in the country, analysts continue to dispute the significance of the results, especially when it comes to Hezbollah‘s gains.
Until Sunday’s vote, the country had not held a general election since 2009, due to regional crises, security concerns and internal political wrangling.
Overseen by security forces, the vote was largely peaceful, yet monitors reported some 7,000 “documented violations”.
Just under 50 percent of Lebanon‘s approximately 3.8 million eligible voters cast ballots – a drop from the last election’s 54 percent turnout, which observers have attributed to “voter apathy” and politicians blamed on a “confusing” new electoral system.
Unofficial results calculated by parties’ electoral machines began to emerge on Monday morning amid silence from the interior ministry, which had planned to release final numbers at dawn.
By the time Nouhad Machnouk, the interior minister, announced the official results after 8pm on Monday, political leaders had already held press conferences in which most declared “victory”.
Early analysis of these preliminary figures indicated that Hezbollah and the Amal were the biggest winners, along with their allies.
The morning after, pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al Akhbar declared the election a “slap” against Prime Minister Saad Hariri‘s Future Movement (FM) on its front page.
FM lost seats in its three strongholds of Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, to Hezbollah-backed Sunni candidates.
In a televised speech on Monday, aired hours before the official results, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, called the result a “very big political, parliamentary and moral victory for the choice of resistance”.
Israeli officials were also quick to weigh in – commenting on Twitter on Monday, Naftali Bennett, a hawkish member of the Israeli cabinet, said: “Hezbollah = Lebanon,” signalling that Israel will not differentiate between the state and Hezbollah in any future war.
Official results were largely consistent with preliminary numbers, which only called a few seats incorrectly.
Lebanon’s leading English daily, The Daily Star, broke down the outcome as follows:
Hezbollah and Amal, which ran unified lists as Al Amal Wal Wafa (Arabic for Hope and Loyalty) but also ran joint lists with parties and political figures across the country, took 28 seats, 13 and 15 seats respectively.
Hezbollah and Amal currently hold 13 seats each.
President Michel Aoun’s Christian-majority Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) increased its numbers from 18 MPs up to 22 seats, including allied independent candidates.
Geagea to the fore
To the surprise of some, Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces (LF), traditionally Hezbollah’s biggest critic, nearly doubled its number of MPs from eight to 14.
That puts the Christian-majority LF party in a position to challenge FPM.
The Azm Party, led by former PM Najib Mikati, also made gains, electing four MPs up from a single seat.
Mikati said on Monday that he was “most definitely a candidate for premiership” in the new cabinet.
The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and Tashnag, the leading party in the Lebanese Armenian community, both won an additional seat. SSNP now has two, and Tashnag has three MPs.
A veteran journalist, Paula Yacoubian, was the sole victorious candidate who ran with a coalition of civil society groups named Kollouna Watani (Arabic for We Are All for the Nation).
Another Kollouna Watani candidate, Joumana Haddad, was announced a winner in the preliminary results only to be overturned later on Monday, when the seat was called for an FPM candidate.
The news provoked an immediate protest, staged by anti-establishment activists and voters.
Hariri’s Sunni-majority FM party saw a drop from 33 seats to 21. FM’s biggest symbolic loss was in the capital Beirut, a long-time stronghold of the party, where pro-Hezbollah candidates gained a few traditionally Sunni seats for the first time.
Another establishment party, Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), the largest in Lebanon’s Druze community, lost two seats, dropping from 11 MPs to nine.
The Kataeb Party, a family-dominated party also known as the Phalanges Party, currently headed by Samy Gemayel, dropped from five MPs to three.
The Marada Movement, led by Sleiman Frangieh Jr, maintained its three seats.
Based on this count, 14 seats remain, seven of which the Daily Star identified as “pro-March 8”, four as “pro-March 14” and the remaining three as independent.
Following the assassination of the late PM Rafik Hariri in 2005, widely attributed to pro-Syrian elements, two major protests in the country’s capital marked a split of the political arena into two broad camps: the pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc and the anti-Syrian, Western and Saudi-backed March 14 bloc.