Hezbollah and its political allies are the biggest winners in Lebanon’s first general election in nine years, an analysis of the preliminary results show.
Hezbollah and Amal – dubbed the “Shia duo” by local news media – are predicted to have won 29 seats in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament during Sunday’s vote, according to unofficial tallies cited by politicians and local media reports.
More than 11 seats are predicted to have been won by other political parties aligned with the duo.
The long-awaited elections were marked by a voter turnout of just under 50 percent, down from 54 percent in the last legislative election in 2009, Nouhad Machnouk, Lebanon’s interior minister, said on Monday.
Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, declared the outcome a “national achievement” in a televised speech on Monday.
Sunday’s elections were Lebanon‘s first in nearly a decade of turbulent politics.
Since 2009, the Lebanese have watched their government collapse twice – in 2011 and 2013 – the presidency sit vacant for 29 months – from 2014 to 2016 – and their parliament extend its mandate several times.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah achieved what it was hoping to in the elections.
Posters torn up
Commenting on the contest between the Hezbollah-led bloc and the Future Movement party of Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s prime minister, in Beirut, a Sunni stronghold, Nasrallah said the results will show that “Beirut is for all the Lebanese” and that it is “a capital of the resistance”.
Images circulating on social media on Monday showed Hezbollah supporters tearing up posters of Hariri and his late father and former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, the previous evening in Beirut.
Hezbollah, Amal and their allies appear to have secured more than the “obstructionist third” needed to block the most important actions of parliament, Kemal Feghali, a veteran Lebanese pollster, told Al Jazeera.
Explaining that a two-thirds quorum vote is required in crucial matters, such as amending the constitution or electing a president, Feghali said: “Because they have more than a third [of parliament], they can block the quorum.”
In typical legislative sessions, only a simple majority of 65 members is required to vote, something Hezbollah, Amal and allies can obtain by renewing their alliance with President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).
Hezbollah and FPM signed a memorandum of understanding in 2006, after Aoun returned from exile, and have been close allies since. It is the first such alliance between a major Maronite Christian and Shia political parties in Lebanon’s history.
Alliances of convenience
Hypothetically, a continued alliance with FPM, which reportedly won 17 seats in Sunday’s elections, could give Hezbollah and Amal “an absolute majority in parliament”, Feghali said.
However, it is not entirely certain that Hezbollah and FPM will maintain their 12-year alliance.
Throughout the electoral campaign, establishment parties navigated the country’s strict sectarian quota by hastily striking deals to produce a new patchwork of local alliances.
FPM’s strategy appeared to be aimed at cobbling together “coalition lists” of convenience depending on the local electoral calculus – that is, entering into alliances with political parties in certain districts and simultaneously running against them in others.
|The biggest loser in Sunday’s vote was Hariri’s Future Movement [Jamal Saidi/Reuters]|
As such, FPM could very well constitute a separate bloc “on the side”, and “depending on the topic, they will decide on who to side with,” Feghali said.
Sami Nader, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera Hezbollah and Amal “don’t even need the Aounists (FPM) to form a bloc [in parliament] or to obtain the veto power”.
“They can do it without them,” Nader said.
Hezbollah and Amal ran unified lists under the name Al Amal Wal Wafa (Arabic for Hope and Loyalty) across the country, but also ran candidate lists with allied parties such as the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), the Marada Movement, the Arab Liberation Party (ALP) and the Majd Movement.
Hezbollah and Amal further allied with prominent yet controversial figures: one, who emerged victorious at the unofficial polls, was Jamil al-Sayyed, a Shia former intelligence chief with strong ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Shia Duo swept the polls in Lebanon’s South District II, composed of Zahrani and Tyre, and South District III, made up of Nabatiyeh, Marjayyoun, Bint Jbeil and Hasbaya.
Per the strict sectarian quota that long governed the country, the two districts together are allocated 18 seats in total: 14 Shia, one Greek Catholic, one Greek Orthodox, one Druze and one Sunni – all of which were won by Hezbollah, Amal and their allies.
“They were able to consolidate the full control of the Shia constituency,” Nader said.
“This is very important. They did not have any breach or breakthrough from their competitors.”
This consolidation came in spite of a new electoral law that introduced proportional representation and redrew the country into 15 electoral districts, which had been expected to improve the chances of minority parties but, in fact, entrenched the traditional sectarian distribution of power.
“Here, Hezbollah proved smarter. It is smarter, but also the winner in this battle,” Nader said.
By all accounts, the biggest loser in Sunday’s vote was Hariri’s Future Movement party, which won only 21 seats, compared with 34 seats in the previous election, Nader said.
Hariri lost to Hezbollah and Amal-backed Sunni candidates in his party’s strongholds of Beirut, Saida and Tripoli.
Hariri has served as prime minister twice: from 2009-11 and from December 2016 until now.
In a bizarre episode late last year, Hariri abruptly announced his resignation during a trip to Saudi Arabia, only to walk back on his resignation upon returning home.
“The bet that Hariri is unavoidable is not true any more,” Nader said.
“You can come up with any Sunni personality, like Mikati, who has the credentials and legitimacy to make a prime minister, or even Karami.”
Nader was referring to Najib Mikati, a former prime minister and leader of the Majd Movement, and Faisal Karami, the leader of the Arab Liberation Party (ALP).
Division of spoils
In a press conference on Monday in advance of the final results, Hariri declared he would have been triumphant under the old majoritarian system.
“The problem with this electoral law is that a lot of people did not understand it,” he said.
“Lebanon can only be governed by all its political constituencies. Those who say otherwise are [deceiving] themselves, and we should work with each other to build the country.”
FPM won 17 seats, a drop from 19 in the outgoing parliament that many analysts attribute to FPM’s various alliances, especially lists where it ran with Hariri’s Future Movement party, a match otherwise at odds with FPM’s alignment with Hezbollah.
FPM lost a few seats to Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces (LF), which did notably well, nearly doubling its number of seats from eight to 16.
“They [LF] emerged as a strong Christian bloc and broke the monopoly that the Aounists had,” Nader said.
Still, FPM remains the largest Christian presence in parliament, with Gebran Bassil, the party’s head and foreign minister, winning a seat for the first time, after failing to do so in the 2009 elections.
“The landscape is fragmented,” Nader said. “How will they form a new government? Who will be assigned to form a new government? The balance of power has tilted in favour of Hezbollah.”
Clearly divided blocs
For the first time in more than a decade, parliament will not have “two clearly divided blocs like in the past”, Feghali said, alluding to the duelling March 8 and March 14 camps that dominated Lebanese politics since 2006.
March 14 – an anti-Syrian, pro-Western and Saudi-backed bloc – and March 8 – a pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led bloc – emerged following the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and the ensuing protests in Beirut.
Lebanon has long been stuck in the middle of a regional power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
To complicate matters, tensions have been rising between Israel on the one hand and Iran and Hezbollah on the other hand.
In recent months, analysts and onlookers have begun warning of the inevitability of confrontation between the three, and Monday’s elections results, if confirmed, are likely to raise yet more concerns.
Indeed, even before the release of the official results, Israeli ministers weighed in on the prospects of a stronger position for Hezbollah in Lebanon’s politics.
“The state of Israel will not differentiate between the sovereign state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, and will view Lebanon as responsible for any action from within its territory,” an Israeli security cabinet minister was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.
Separately, commenting on Twitter on Monday, Naftali Bennett, a hawkish member of the Israeli cabinet, said: “Hezbollah = Lebanon.”