The Lebanese parliamentarian elections ended on May 6, but its repercussions will not be contained by the end of the parliament term 4 years from now – May 2022. At a national level, the new electoral law, the non-ideological-political coalition, the sectarian based electoral campaigns and the high level of corruption have had major influence on the elections. At a regional level, the elections were conducted for the first time after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. The elections were also accompanied by a solid Iranian presence in Syria, including Hezbollah and its allies in the face of the sharp decline of pro-gulf axis. Finally, they were conducted during a sensitive time in the region since 1967, which could lead to an overall blow up between Iran and Israel in Syria or Lebanon, or anywhere else in the region.
According to many Lebanese politicians and analysts, this election is quite different compared to previous ones. Despite the fact that up until now the Lebanese Ministry of Interior has not issued the overall electoral percentages, yet most political parties and many journals have had approximately the same results. In general, only 49.2 percent of the population casted their ballots on the electoral day, with a decrease of around five percent from the last election that was held in 2009. At first sight, the decrease is a clear sign of the dissatisfaction of the Lebanese voters with their ruling parties and elites.
Notwithstanding the many irregularities that were registered throughout the election days and the fraud criticism that surrounded the results, nevertheless this election was internationally acknowledged. A sudden computer breakdown, a hasty appearance and disappearance of ballot boxes, and the inaccessibility of Lebanese security forces to some voter centers in some remote areas were documented by many local and international civil society members.
However, if we analyze the overall election results, we can notice that the 128 seats of the Lebanese parliament, which are divided equally between Christians and Muslims, were filled by the traditional sectarian ruling parties and elites. Only one candidate supported by the civil society won a seat. At a Christian level, the Lebanese Forces headed by Samir Gaegae, doubled their representation from the previous election from 8 to 16, the Free Patriotic Movements (FPM) headed by Gebran Bassil and its allies from independent and well-known figures increased their bloc by two seats, reaching 29. At a Muslim Sunni level, the Future Movement headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri lost around one third of its bloc, giving them just 21 seats. Major losses were recorded in Hariri’s two stronghold Sunni cities, Beirut and Tripoli. At a Muslim Shiite level, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement coalition won 29 seats combined, 13 for Hezbollah and 16 for the Amal Movement. This Shiite “resistance” coalition took over almost all Shiite dedicated seats. By now Hezbollah and its allies, from independent pro-Syrian regime figures – among whom many are anti-Hariri Sunnis – along with the FPM and the Amal movement have the upper hand in parliament.
In fact, Hezbollah’s main power was never related to their number of seats in parliament. Yet with no doubt, controlling another official institution is an added value, not only for Hezbollah and its allies but also for the pro-Iranian axis in the region, including Syria. Indeed, Hezbollah’s main power is driven from its strong military capabilities, organized and well-trained fighters, direct military regional intervention, economic independence, street mobilization, foreign and regional support, robust coordination with Lebanese security institutions, and the upper hand in internal decisions.
Prior to the elections, there were many analysts and news outlets that doubted Hezbollah, and the Amal Movement’s ability to win the absolute Shiite seats especially in the Baalbek and Hermel districts (eastern-northern Lebanon). But the election results showed the opposite. It is true that the number of voters were not as high as expected – also throughout Lebanon – but unlike Hariri, the “resistance bloc” did not lose major seats in their Shiite strongholds in the South and Baalbek-Hermel districts. In this context, Hezbollah’s victory is different than all other political parties due to the following reasons:
First, unlike most of the Lebanese political parties, Hezbollah is a religious ideological party. Meaning its members and somehow supporters have religious and existentialist obligations to protect and support their religion, the party and its leadership.
Second, Hezbollah is not a traditional political party. In fact, it has a very well structured social security system, military wing, and well-organized institutions. Hezbollah is known for its ability to mobilize people based on the social and security networks it has created. In fact, Hezbollah manages its own schools, hospitals, aid funds, and even courts.
Third, the structure of the new electoral law, which is based on proportional representation gave Hezbollah and its allies the upper hand. The nature of the proportional system was in favor of the party, which succeeded in securing, with the Amal Movement, full control over Shiite seats. In addition to securing decent representation to pro-Syrian figures.
Fourth, at a regional level, and more specifically in Syria, the so-called resistance axis that includes Hezbollah until now seems victorious. Despite their high military personnel casualties in Syria and the discontent of some of its followers, still Hezbollah succeeded in introducing its party as a powerful regional intragovernmental force that has saved Lebanon, and more specifically its Shiite community from the salafi-jihadism threat represented by Islamic State and the former Nusra Front (Al Qaeda affiliated in Syria). During the electoral campaign, Hezbollah openly asked voters to choose between either its candidates or radical terrorists. It is worth noting that Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria was against the Lebanese consensus, which was ratified in the Baabda agreement in 2012.
Fifth, and finally, the increased tension between Iran and Israel in Syria has forced Hezbollah to be in high-alert mode. Accordingly, some pro-Hezbollah media are stating that in any possible conflict between Iran and Israel, Hezbollah will definitely be engaged. As a result, Hezbollah voters had no choice but to vote for those who protected them.
However, for Hezbollah, Lebanon is already under their total control since May 7th 2008. On that day, his military personnel along with pro-Syrian militias invaded West Beirut and attacked pro-Saudi/American groups and parties headed by Hariri. Thus, the recent Lebanese election results will not change the fact that the country is somehow dominated by the Iranian regime. The only added value of this election for Hezbollah, is that they have the legitimate power to veto laws. By now the party will not resort to their weapons in order to reach political gains. The fact that they control the majority in parliament will allow them to control the government. Taking into consideration that Michel Aoun, the President of the Lebanese Republic, is a strong ally to Hezbollah – therefore, controlling the legislative, governmental and presidential powers.
In this event, Lebanon will face hard days ahead. The Israeli-Iranian clashes, the Saudi-Iranian tension, the new American policies towards the Middle East and especially Iran and its allies may possibly lead to an outbreak of a regional war in which Lebanon will be in the midst of the hurricane.
Dr. Anouti is an analyst and specialist in Middle Eastern politics and the Euro-Mediterranean region. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Pompeu Fabra University (2018). Prior to this, he earned a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy (2011) and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science (2007), specialized in International Relations, by the Lebanese American University in Beirut. Twitter: @HaniAnouti
Photo 1: Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah chief, delivered a speech to his supporters in Baalbek in August 2017 (Source: AFP).
Photo 2: Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s PM and Future Movement Party leader, during an election campaign in Tripoli, Lebanon, 01/05/2018 (Source: Reuters).
Photo 3: Hezbollah supporters attending a rally against Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in Alma al-Shaab, south of Lebanon, on the border with Israel, 28/01/2018 (Source: Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP).