Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Hizbullah triumphs in Lebanon

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections have given more political weight to the Shia group Hizbullah, leaving the future of other forces hanging in the balance, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi


Hizbullah triumphs  in Lebanon
Hizbullah triumphs in Lebanon

The results of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections met commentators’ expectations, with the Future Movement losing a quarter of its parliamentary seats, being dethroned as the majority bloc in the Lebanese parliament, and the political weight of the Shia group Hizbullah and its allies increasing.

A day after the elections and before the official results were announced, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri announced that the Future Movement had won 21 seats, eight fewer than in the outgoing parliament. “We have won on all fronts, thanks to the voters who can lift their heads up high at this great achievement,” Al-Hariri said.

“I will remain an ally of President Michel Aoun because this means stability. These elections are the government’s greatest achievement, and I have no problem with the results,” he added. “Political harmony and Aoun at the helm have protected this country.”

Al-Hariri said that Aoun would discuss defence strategies after the full election results were announced. “It is well known that I stand against illegal arms,” Al-Hariri said, alluding to the weaponry possessed by Hizbullah.

Foreign Minister Jibran Bassel, head of the Free Patriotic Movement and Aoun’s son-in-law, said the “preliminary results indicate that the movement has won 29 or 30 seats. It won 21 seats in the previous elections [held in 2009], making it the majority bloc in parliament.”

He said that “before the elections the movement existed in five districts. Today, we are present in 15 districts across Lebanon.” He added that “every group must know its real political weight. Show time is over.”

Bassel also said that “a new parliamentary bloc by the name of Strong Lebanon will be formed to lead reform in the country, before a national front is formed comprising all the political figures and forces that stood by our side during the elections.”

Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizbullah, said the new parliament would give major strength to what he described as the “resistance”.

“The party-list proportional representation system used in the elections meant that no one was excluded. It provided the chance for many political figures and forces to participate in the elections. We have to build on the elections law and fix its flaws,” Nasrallah said.

Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces won 15 seats, as opposed to eight in the outgoing legislature, according to the preliminary results.

During the elections of 128 MPs, 49.2 per cent of eligible voters headed to the ballot boxes. The majority of parties had expected the party-list system to draw more voters to the polling stations.

Interior Minister Nehad Al-Mashnouk said that the results in the Akkar governorate would be announced later due to disputes that had resulted in a manual recount of the votes. The results would be sent to the speaker of the parliament and the president of the Constitutional Council, he said.

“The elections were conducted with few mistakes. We don’t deny there were mistakes because the elections law is new,” he said.

The retreat of the Future Movement in the elections was expected, but less than the results indicated. The reasons do not only have to do with crises in the movement, or the Sunni community’s frustration at the weakness of the 14 March camp.

More importantly, the Future Movement fared better when an individual-list system was in place in the elections, because the movement, popular in Sunni districts, wins more than half of Sunni votes in such areas. Under the individual-list system, if a party wins 50 per cent plus one of the votes in a given district, it wins the whole, with other votes being discounted.

Sunni forces allied with Hizbullah benefited from the new party-list system based on the “election sum” in which political forces keep the percentage of the votes they secure in a given district, thereby having a larger opportunity to see their candidates elected to parliament.

The preferential voting system in which each voter votes for competing lists and is then entitled to cast a preferential vote for a single candidate was adopted in this year’s elections.

The preferential vote can only be applied if the candidate hails from the same district or constituency the voter comes from. The system benefited Christian voters who do not form the majority in many constituencies, and it did more harm than good to the Future Movement.

The results of the election would normally be considered a victory for the 8 March Alliance led by Hizbullah and its allies and a defeat for the 14 March camp. However, the two foes suffer from internal disputes, and these have vitiated their victory.

The Free Patriotic Movement had been leaning more towards the Future Movement than Hizbullah, and the Future Movement’s relationship with traditional allies such as the Lebanese Forces and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, had soured.

The loss of Hizbullah’s candidate in the Jbeil constituency, Hussein Zeitar, will raise tensions between Hizbullah and the Shia Amal Movement and their former ally Bassel.

Media reports said that Bassel had given instructions that preferential votes in the Keserwan constituency should go to Roger Azar instead of Chamel Roukoz, another son-in-law of Aoun’s. Roukoz then dropped to the bottom of the list of elected MPs.

Some observers interpreted Bassel’s instructions as being a way of controlling the movement and delivering a message to Roukoz that the latter was not popular in Keserwan, a Maronite Christian stronghold.

While it is obvious that there is an understanding that Al-Hariri will be re-appointed as prime minister, based on the deal that brought Aoun to the presidency, this did not stop Hizbullah from insinuating that Al-Hariri’s re-appointment is not a foregone conclusion.

Naguib Miqati, Al-Hariri’s competitor for the prime minister position, won a seat in Tripoli and announced that he would be running for Al-Hariri’s post.

It remains to be seen whether the Future Movement will make concessions to remain in power, with these possibly being more important than those that led to Aoun becoming president.

Many commentators are asking whether the political forces in Lebanon will turn out to be grateful to the Future Movement for its role in ending the political vacuum in the country and facilitating an elections law it knew would lead to its regression in parliament.

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