Iran-backed Hezbollah has been dealt a blow in Lebanon’s parliamentary election with preliminary results showing losses for some of its oldest allies and the Lebanese Forces party gaining more seats.
One of the most startling upsets saw Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan, scion of one of Lebanon’s oldest political dynasties who was first elected in 1992, lose his seat to Mark Daou, a newcomer running on a reform agenda, according to the latter’s campaign manager and a Hezbollah official.
An opposition candidate also made a breakthrough in an area of southern Lebanon dominated by Hezbollah.
Elias Jradi, an eye doctor, won an Orthodox Christian seat previously held by Assaad Hardan of the Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party, a close Hezbollah ally and MP since 1992, two Hezbollah officials said.
“It’s a new beginning for the south and for Lebanon as a whole,” Jradi told Reuters.
The Christian Lebanese Forces party, which has been among the most vocal critics of the Iran-armed Hezbollah, says it won at least 20 seats, adding five members from the 2018 vote. This would make it the largest Christian bloc in parliament, replacing the Free Patriotic Movement that was founded by President Michel Aoun and has been a Hezbollah ally since 2006.
Independents also appear to be achieving some significant gains, but they remain far from making changes as the main winners of the vote are likely to be mainstream political group.
Despite limited resources, opposition groups seemed optimistic about their results. Several breakthroughs were reported, especially in a district in south Lebanon, a stronghold for Hezbollah and its allies.
One of the most salient factors in the vote was the absence of former prime minister Saad Hariri, which left parts of the Sunni vote up for grabs by new players and giving an unexpected advantage to Hezbollah and its allies despite their resentment by growing segments of the Lebanese public.
Nadim Houry, executive director of Arab Reform Initiative, said the results of 14 or 15 seats would determine the majority.
“You are going to have two blocs opposed to each other, on the one hand Hezbollah and its allies and on the other the Lebanese Forces and its allies and in the middle these new voices that will enter,” he said.
“This is a clear loss for the FPM. They maintain a bloc but they lost a lot of seats and the biggest beneficiary is the Lebanese Forces. Samir Geagea has emerged as the new Christian strongman.”
Initial results also indicated wins for at least five other independents who have campaigned on a platform of reform and bringing to account politicians blamed for steering Lebanon into the worst crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.
Whether Hezbollah and its allies can cling on to a majority hinges on results not yet finalised, including those in Sunni Muslim seats contested by allies and opponents of the Shia movement.
Despite the apparent setbacks, Hezbollah and its main Shia ally, the Amal group of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, are likely to retain the 27 seats allocated to the sect. The unofficial results show that independents, including those from the 2019 protest movement, made some gains by removing longtime politicians from parliament.
With votes still being counted, the final make-up of the 128-member parliament has yet to emerge.
“It seems almost impossible to imagine Lebanon voting for more of the same,” said Sam Heller, an analyst with the Century Foundation. “And yet, that appears to be the likeliest outcome.”
The closely-watched elections on Sunday were the first since a devastating economic crisis erupted in Lebanon in October 2019, triggering nationwide protests against the ruling class blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement.
It was also the first election since the August 2020 Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed parts of the Lebanese capital. The blast was set off by hundreds of tons of poorly-stored ammonium nitrate that ignited in a port warehouse. It was attributed to negligence and Hezbollah was widely blamed for keeping the explosive ingredient in the warehouse.
Voter turnout was 41%, with just a few polling stations still unaccounted for and no major changes expected, Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said in a news conference, Sunday.
Final turnout figures, which include votes by the Lebanese diaspora, would subsequently be released by electoral authorities, he said.
The next parliament must nominate a prime minister to form a cabinet, in a process that can take months. Any delay would hold up reforms to tackle the crisis and unlock support from the International Monetary Fund and donor nations.
Official results were expected to be announced later Monday.
Lebanon holds elections every four years and the new parliament will elect a new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.