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Lebanon's vote and the possible national political turnaround

According to initial results, the Lebanese vote may have punished traditional forces that have led the country into the worst economic and social crisis since the civil war that ended in 1990
A Lebanese woman casts her vote at a polling station

PHOTO/AFP  -   A Lebanese woman casts her vote at a polling station

The Lebanese were called to the polls this Sunday to see if there will be a radical change in the power structures that have marked the last decades in the Middle Eastern country, which is going through a deep economic, political and social crisis, the worst since the civil war that took place between 1975 and 1990.

The result of these elections is key to the formation of a Parliament that will elect the next president of the Republic and participate in the formation of a new government that will be able to unblock the economic aid planned by the International Monetary Fund, which is of great importance due to the great financial crisis that Lebanon is going through, and to manage the money raised by the international donors' conference organised by France, Lebanon's former metropolis. 

Polling stations were crowded on Sunday amid popular discontent over national management in recent years. The head of the European Union (EU) election observation mission, György Hölvényi, confirmed a "growing" voter turnout, according to EFE news agency. On the other hand, the election day was calm and there were no notable incidents.

Elecciones parlamentarias del Líbano
PHOTO/REUTERS - Lebanon's parliamentary elections

Popular discontent has been very high in recent years due to alleged political corruption and a serious economic crisis that has caused a large part of the population to live below the poverty line and the value of the Lebanese currency to fall by up to 90% in recent times, all of this in the face of instability and a lack of opportunities for citizens that mark a difficult day to day life for the population. 

The votes will be counted on Monday, although the initial results may indicate partial victories for independent parties that ran an election campaign aimed at the necessary reforms in the nation, which has had to suffer the absence of a stable government due to the lack of agreement between the various political factions and tragedies such as the explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020, from which the capital is still recovering. 

The Lebanese political landscape is complex due to the system of power sharing between the different religious denominations, between Shiites, Sunnis and Christians, who share the presidencies of Parliament, the Head of State and Government and a certain number of parliamentary seats; the scenario is also complicated by endemic corruption, which has been denounced by various analysts, international organisations and the Lebanese citizens themselves. This situation has plunged Lebanon into a major economic crisis. 

Hezbollah, a Shiite group backed by Iran, may have lost electoral support due to the fall of similar groups, according to media outlets such as Arab News. It should be recalled that the Islamic Republic of Iran is accused by various experts of meddling in the affairs of other states through the actions of Shiite collaborating groups, which generates instability in the Middle East. Hezbollah is an example of this in Lebanon, as are the Houthis in Yemen and the Popular Mobilisation Forces in Iraq. 

Simpatizantes del grupo Hizbulá, apoyado por Irán, levantan los puños y aplauden mientras escuchan un discurso del líder Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
AP/HUSSEIN MALLA - Supporters of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group raise their fists and clap as they listen to a speech by leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The armed group Hezbollah won a majority of 71 seats in the last elections in 2018 and would be aiming for a landslide in the 2022 elections.

Up to five reformist formations could have done well thanks to their campaign against the excesses of the traditional groups that have been in power for the past decades. Meanwhile, the party that held the majority, Hezbollah, would seek to remain in power as the most voted political force by taking advantage of the supposed fall in the number of Sunni seats, representatives of the other branch of Islam opposed to Shia Islam, represented by Hezbollah and of which the Ayatollahs' regime is the main standard-bearer in the region. 

Early results until the final vote count is known could indicate victories for five independent formations that have campaigned on a platform of reform, holding to account politicians accused of leading Lebanon into the worst crisis since the country's civil war.

The Lebanese Forces, which opposes Hezbollah, and the Free Patriotic Movement, an ally of the ruling Shiite party, chaired by the current President of the Republic Michel Aoun, which is currently the Christian party with the largest presence in the Lebanese Parliament, are expected to make a breakthrough. According to data from the Lebanese Forces party, the group would have won at least 20 seats, compared to 15 in 2018. The Lebanese Forces, which during its election campaign has called for the disarmament of the Hezbollah Shiite militia. 

Michel Aoun
AFP/DALATI AND NOHRA - Michel Aoun, President of the Republic of Lebanon

According to experts and analysts, Hezbollah, an enemy of Israel and backed by Iran, and its allies, and the opposition Lebanese Forces and its supporters will vie for a significant number of seats in the spheres of power. The Lebanese Forces are hoping to wrest votes from the other dominant Christian party, Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement. 

The next parliament must appoint a prime minister to form an executive, a process that could take months. Any delay would affect reforms to address the crisis and unlock financial support from the International Monetary Fund and donor nations.

Meanwhile, there is hope among the opposition that power can be wrested from Hezbollah, as the militia has destabilising Shia backers in the region such as Iran, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and the Houthis in Yemen's civil war, relations that distance Lebanon from Gulf states that had given significant financial support to the country.