Hezbollah and allies lose absolute majority in Lebanese general elections

The Shiite grouping and other like-minded parties will not repeat their absolute majority in a deeply divided parliament in the midst of an economic, political and social crisis

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 Iranian-backed Hezbollah-led bloc has lost its parliamentary majority in Lebanon, after suffering a loss of support in the general elections held on 15 May.

The official results, announced this morning by Interior Minister Bassam Maouloaui, reflect a fall of Hezbollah and its allies, obtaining 62 seats, 3 below the parliamentary majority, which they did achieve in 2018 with 71 MPs. 

Hezbollah, which in addition to being a political party also has a powerful military wing, is the main Lebanese Shiite grouping, which, since its origins in the civil war (1975-1990), has been a key player for Iran in consolidating its influence in the country and countering its regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States. While Hezbollah and its main ally, the Shia Amal, have not suffered significant losses, several of its parliamentary partners have. 

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

Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces, a Maronite Christian party close to Saudi Arabia, which also has its roots in the civil war, was reportedly one of the winners of the elections. On election day, LF reportedly beat President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, which is close to Hezbollah, to become the largest Christian party in the country.

The FL, which promises "radical change", is one of Hezbollah's main rivals and has made calling for the guerrillas' disarmament one of its main objectives. "We do not accept that a single party monopolises the concept of resistance, while the real resistance is that practised by the whole state supported by the people. What Hezbollah says is false, as they only want to preserve their weapons," party leader Samir Geagea said on the campaign trail.

Hasan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's secretive leader, referred to the arms controversy that the militia maintained after the civil war, stating in a speech that "is it Hezbollah's weapons that have prevented the implementation of the electricity plan or the operation of dams? is it Hezbollah's weapons that have allowed the transfer of money abroad? 

PHOTO/REUTERS -  Lebanese parliamentary elections

Moreover, responding to the rise of LF, Hezbollah's number two, Mohammad Raad, stated that "we will accept you as adversaries in parliament, but not as shields protecting the Israelis. Do not fan the flames of civil war," the Shi'ite politician warned.

These elections leave behind a parliament divided into two antagonistic blocs, led by Hezbollah and the LF, with neither having a majority, making governability difficult in a country in need of a stable government to face a serious economic, political and social crisis.

These elections have taken place in a very difficult context for the country. Up to 80 per cent of Lebanese live below the poverty line in the midst of a severe economic depression. The COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020 have only worsened a situation that has led to mass demonstrations and growing public disaffection with the stagnation of a political class in which practices such as corruption and clientelism are endemic. 

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

This is worsened by the sectarianisation of Lebanese politics, whereby parliamentary seats, as well as key positions, are divided by quotas between the country's confessions. Thus, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim, and political parties are also highly sectarian.

In between, as many as 13 reformist candidates have entered parliament, a surprising result that reflects the climate of contestation in Lebanese society against the factions and warlords that have dominated the country since the civil war. These new MPs could now hold the key to the new government. In addition, 8 women have entered parliament, 2 more than in 2018, but still far from equality.

Voter turnout was 41%, 8 points lower than in 2018, but much higher among the overseas vote, reaching 63%. According to the head of the EU election mission, György Hölvényi, the elections were a "success", although the process was "overshadowed by widespread practices of vote-buying, clientelism and corruption".