May 20, 2018

Top parties seek to protect monopoly as Lebanon votes

08 May 2018, 01:16 | Rufus Hill

Hezbollah and allies set to win more than half of the seats in Lebanon parliament

Lebanon's parliamentary election raises hopes for changes

The election is being held under a new proportional system that has confused some voters and made the contest unpredictable in formerly safe seats But it still preserves a sectarian power-sharing system and another coalition government including most of the major parties, like the one that has governed since 2016, looks likely, analysts say. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to shore up Assad's forces, and its alleged military involvement in Iraq and Yemen has led many Sunni Gulf countries to brand it a terrorist group.

Several Western countries, including the USA, have designated Hezbollah's military wing or the entire organisation as a terrorist group.

Hizballah and political forces close to it hope to have more than a half of the seats at the parliament.

The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, appears to have emerged as a big victor, almost doubling its MPs to 15 from eight, according to the initial indications.

Leading Hezbollah legislator Ali Ammar defended his group's involvement in Syria, saying it is protecting Lebanon from the "evil powers" of the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

His victory is also a setback for President Michel Aoun, the other Christian leader who also opposed the Syrian Army in Lebanon and spent long years in exile before returning home, also in 2005, after the forced Syrian withdrawal. He leads the Mustaqbal, or Future, bloc that is backed by Saudi Arabia, Iran's Sunni rival.

According to preliminary data, the unit of Hizbullah (including the Shiite movement Amal and the Christian "Free Patriotic movement") has received at least 67 of the 128 seats in Parliament.

But Hezbollah, a group backed by the Iranian regime, is expected to fare well in the vote amid reports of intimidation by the militia's supporters.

Official results of the Lebanese election are expected on Monday.

Hezbollah won a majority of seats in Lebanese parliamentary elections, which are still waiting to be confirmed by an official vote count, ousting the current prime minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement of a third of its seats Sunday. The rival sides are expected to recreate the unity government that now exists, which includes Hezbollah.

Lebanon's first parliamentary vote in nine years was held on Sunday, with over 500 candidates vying for seats. A doctor turned warlord and then politician, Gagegea is now establishing himself as leader of an impressive parliamentary bloc that will undoubtedly challenge Hezbollah within the Chamber - regardless of who controls the absolute majority.

And the Lebanese Forces party of former warlord Samir Geagea were set to score significant gains, with a projected 15 seats.

Debt ratings agencies had stressed the importance of Lebanon going ahead with the election after parliament had extended its term several times.

As for the so-called candidates for civil society: They have only won a few seats that will allow them to improve women's representation in the parliament, raising their number to seven.

The other heavyweight Christian party, Aoun's FPM, is projected to win 17 seats, which would make Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil an MP for the first time. The Director of the Lebanese Waqf Muhammad Anis al-Arditi called on Sunnis not to let Beirut became the fourth conquered by the Iranians, the Arab capital, along with Baghdad, Damascus and Sanaa.

Mr Hariri blamed the reduced turnout on the complexities of the new electoral law. Nasrallah said that he could not predict developments in the confrontation with Israel, but is confident that "we can't lose time" after winning the election.

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