Lebanese Election: Early Results Point to Losses for Iran-backed Hizbullah, Allies
Independent candidates, Saudi-backed Lebanese Forces party gain seats
The Lebanese voted Sunday, in the first legislative election since the country plunged into a profound economic crisis.
With the final results still not counted, Hizbullah and its allies appeared at risk of losing their majority in the 128-seat parliament.
Voter turnout hit a record low at around 41%, down from 49.7% in the previous election three years ago. However, participation in the Lebanese diaspora reached 63.05% of registered voters, up from 56.4% in 2018.
Mona Alami, a Lebanese consultant and senior analyst, in explaining the high international participation, told The Media Line, “A lot of the people outside Lebanon are new members of the diaspora who are upset with the system because they had to leave the country in recent years.
“They feel that a lot of injustice has been done, and they think that the economic crisis was triggered by the political establishment,” she continued.
Sami Zoughaib, an economist and research manager at The Policy Initiative, a Beirut-based think tank, told The Media Line, “People [still in the country] have to deal with the daily hardship of navigating through the current crisis. Most of them are completely disillusioned with the political life in Lebanon. Many have lost faith.”
Zoughaib added that many in the Sunni community boycotted the vote in protest against the political system because former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement − the biggest Sunni party − boycotted the election.
Alami added that lack of faith in the possibility of change, and fear, were also responsible for the low participation rate.
She said that when she voted in Aley, a city 8 miles southeast of Beirut, she felt intimidated.
“When I went to vote there were [representatives of the] the two main parties a meter away from the ballot box, checking what you’re doing. You feel pressure,” she said.
Zoughaib said that based on the early results, major breakthroughs of opposition and emerging political groups can be seen in multiple districts.
Alami agreed that some traditional parties such as Hizbullah seem to have experienced considerable losses.
She cited the example of Hasbaya, a town situated at the foot of Mount Hermon, where Hizbullah used to enjoy majority support. “They are saying that there are one or two independent candidates who won,” Alami said. This is a clear sign that the broad support for Hizbullah in the area is cracking.
Even in the Mount Lebanon area, where Maronite Christians and Druze predominate, some reformist candidates will take seats from the traditional parties, she said.
“I think that the reformists and the independents have done a good job given everything that they were against, and given the fact that they were so fragmented. If they wouldn’t have been as fragmented I think that they would have done much better,” Alami said.
Still, Zoughaib believes that despite these impressive breakthroughs, the traditional parties will retain their overwhelming majority in parliament.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about a very small bloc of independent or reformist candidates in parliament. It could be 10 parliament members, tops,” he said.
However, he believes this is enough to make a difference. “Ten out of 128 can’t make a big change, but they can do great damage to the system, and they can really create cracks in the system and try to change some of the policies,” he said.
On the other hand, they will not have a great say on what Zoughaib called “the larger battles” being fought in Lebanon, for instance on who will take responsibility for the $100 billion that has “disappeared” from the financial system.
Alami agrees. “I think that the independent legislators are going to try to change things, but the system is completely controlled by the establishment parties. However, I do think that there is room for change in the new parliament,” she said.
Even among the traditional parties, changes are going to be seen, she explained.
“[Samir] Geagea [the head of the Lebanese Forces, a Saudi-backed Christian party that opposes Hizbullah and Syrian influence] completely obliterated [President Michel Aoun’s] Free Patriotic Movement [a Christian party aligned with Hizbullah], which will no longer be able to say that it is the biggest Christian party,” she said.
The Lebanese Forces party is expected to receive around 20 seats, up from 15 in 2018.
Analysts cautioned that it was still early to know the final results of the election.
“The results are very initial and things can totally change; corruption can take place,” said Zoughaib.
“We have to check and see what the final results are and how much the establishment parties are going to try to cheat,” said Alami.
There are rumors about ballots getting lost or misplaced, and on Sunday there were cyberattacks by certain parties, she added.
“These parties are not going to let go of their power so easily and they are going to do everything they can to maintain it,” she said.
As for the European observers who were sent to supervise the elections, Alami said she did not see a single one and that there are certain areas, such as the south of the country where there is a multiplicity of weapons, where the observers could not operate.
Alami said that taking the new elements into account, forming a new government will be difficult.
“There is going to be a huge problem with the government formation,” she said. In Lebanon, she explained, this is generally an extremely long process, “and I think this time it is going to be even more difficult because of the change in the balance of power and because we are going to have new blood in parliament.”
Nevertheless, Zoughaib believes the election is “a really important step in our fight for change in the country; it is a step toward really forcing the political parties to reflect on the moral level.”
It is unlikely to drive the country to a dramatic change in the short term, but it shows popular demand and puts popular pressure on the elite, he explained.
“It will ease the way toward drastic political change in the country’s future,” Zoughaib said.
Alami is also optimistic. “It’s a start,” she said. “Democracy does not come in a day, a revolution does not happen in a day, it is a long process. I think that this is the beginning of something new.”