Turnout low in Lebanon's first parliamentary election in 9 years

Erika Holt
May 8, 2018

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that the results of the Lebanese election "strengthen what has been our approach for a while: Hezbollah=Lebanon". The latter is a good friend of the Saudis, and so is former prime minister Najib Mikati, who swept all seats in Tripoli in northern Lebanon, signaling that Saudi Arabia's long-time favoritism for Hariri has waned.

Hezbollah has also sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to support forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in battles against predominantly Sunni rebel forces and the jihadist group Islamic State (IS).

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, while the European Union differentiates between its political and armed wings.

The Shia militia-cum-political bloc's gains came at the expense of the Sunni prime minister, Saad Hariri, whose authority was weakened by a relatively poor showing in stronghold areas.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Lebanese Forces emerged victorious on Sunday, raising their parliamentary share from 8 to 15 seats across 13 districts.

According to the Lebanese Interior Ministry, the voter turnout was 49.2%.

These elections took place under a political settlement between the three major parties - Hariri's Future Movement, Hezbollah, and the Free Patriotic Movement of the country's most powerful Christian leader, Michel Aoun.

While returning many of Lebanon's power brokers to office, the elections also brought in new faces.

The Iran-backed Shiite movement and its allies look set to secure a parliament bloc large enough to thwart attempts for it to disarm, a longstanding demand of its political enemies.

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Observers said before the election that the country's youth is tired of a political elite laden with charges of corruption that has left voters with no viable alternatives, coupled with a new proportional voting system that has confused some of the Lebanese electorate. Informal results are expected to start coming in overnight and official tallies in the coming days.

Despite losing seats, Western-backed Sunni prime minister Saad al-Hariri - who leads the anti-Hezbollah alliance Future Movement - remains the front runner to lead cabinet.

The AP report also added that the new government would likely include Hariri's opponents from the Hezbollah group.

Hariri, who led years of political conflict with the group, says it is an issue to be resolved at the regional level through dialogue.

The election, the first to be held in nine years, was marked by a lower turnout than before, reflecting voter frustration over endemic corruption and a stagnant economy.

The elections were the first since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, sending over one million refugees to Lebanon, a small country with a population estimated at around 4.5 million.

Among the Christians, the right-wing Lebanese Forces party did particularly well, appearing to nearly double its number of seats from eight to 15. Although he remains a Saudi ally in Lebanon, he is no longer the only Saudi ally in that country.

Independent candidates running against the political establishment may have won two seats in Beirut. But many, including Machnouk, blamed the new, complex law which redrew constituency districts for the tepid turnout particularly in Beirut.

"After nine years, now it's the first time for the Lebanese to participate in this election, and to have the possibility to change or to continue the process of peace and democracy in Lebanon, and the Middle East as well", Risk said.

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