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Hezbollah allies suffer blow in early Lebanon election results

by May 18, 2022Arab News

Partial results announced by Lebanon’s Interior Ministry from Sunday’s parliamentary elections suggest allies of Hezbollah have lost seats, with the Christian Lebanese Forces and independent candidates expected to make up unprecedented ground.

The Lebanese Forces, long-time critics of Hezbollah and Iran’s influence in Lebanon, have gained 10 confirmed seats so far, mostly at the expense of their Christian rival, the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM).

Lebanese Forces spokesman Marc Saad told The National that he expects the party to win at least 20 seats. In 2018, the party secured 15 seats.

If confirmed, that would mean the Lebanese Forces will have overtaken the Hezbollah-allied FPM as the biggest Christian party in the 128-seat Lebanese Parliament.

The FPM has taken at least 16 seats, down from 18 in 2018, Sayed Younes, head of the party’s electoral machine, told Reuters. Monday’s partial results indicate that they have obtained at least seven seats.

While he has urged supporters to wait for final results, Gebran Bassil, head of the FPM, has already blamed Israel and the US for undermining his campaign and accused the Lebanese Forces of buying votes.

The FPM has been the biggest Christian party in Parliament since its founder and the father-in-law of Mr Bassil, President Michel Aoun, returned from exile in France in 2005.

Simon Abi Ramia, an FPM member of Parliament who was re-elected in Mount Lebanon, told The National that “maybe because we have the president of the republic and were the bigger bloc, people are putting the responsibility upon us because of the terrible economic situation and their suffering”.

Mr Abi Ramia was referring to Lebanon’s economic meltdown that started in 2019.

The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently blasted Lebanon’s ruling elite for causing the crisis and doing little to find solutions.

“Political leadership is completely out of touch with reality, including with the desperation they’ve created by destroying people’s lives,” rapporteur Olivier De Schutter said last week.

Election turnout was only 41 per cent — eight points lower than in 2018 — suggesting that the traditional sectarian parties that have shared power for decades failed to mobilise their supporters.

First opposition MP to be elected in south Lebanon

Elsewhere, eye surgeon Elias Jradeh, 55, is set to become the first opposition MP elected in south Lebanon, taking the Orthodox Christian seat in a region dominated by Hezbollah and its ally Amal.

Mr Jradeh was running against Asaad Hardan, a Hezbollah ally and head of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party who has been in Parliament since 1992. His supporters celebrated at his home on Sunday evening, chanting slogans such as “revolution” and “Hasbaya, rise up”, in reference to Mr Jradeh’s home region.

The chants echoed slogans used during months-long nationwide protests in 2019 triggered by the country’s economic woes.

The campaign manager of Firas Hamdan, a Druze candidate on Mr Jradeh’s opposition list, told The National that they also expected a win but were waiting for official results to be announced for their district.

Monday’s results confirmed that several prominent Parliament members had lost their seats, including deputy speaker Elie Ferzli, who is backed by Hezbollah. He was first elected in 1992, when Lebanon held its first parliamentary election after the 1975-1990 civil war.

Talal Arslan, a Hezbollah-backed Druze politician who heads the Lebanese Democratic Party, also lost the seat he has held for 30 years to one of the new opposition candidates, a Hezbollah official and the newcomer’s campaign manager told Reuters, citing preliminary results.

Media reports indicate that Mr Arslan was defeated by University professor Marc Daou, member of newly founded nonsectarian political party Takaddom.

Despite the setback, Hezbollah and Amal could well retain all 27 Shiite Parliament seats.

Sunday’s parliamentary election was under intense scrutiny both in Lebanon and abroad. It came after the 2019 protests against Lebanon’s ruling classes, the economic collapse of the same year and the August 2020 Beirut port blast that killed more than 200 people.

Saad Hariri boycotts vote

Missing from this year’s elections was two-time prime minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement, long seen as a bastion of the Sunni community in Lebanon.

Mr Hariri’s withdrawal of himself and his party from the election led to some supporters abstaining and holding a pool party to publicise their abstention. A video of people playing in the pool went viral on Twitter.

Mr Hariri tweeted on Monday that his decision to boycott Sunday’s parliamentary election was “correct”. The withdrawal, however, left a void in the Sunni-dominated Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city.

The former prime minister withdrew from politics in late January, blaming political compromise for his failures, including accepting the election of Mr Aoun, who is allied with Hezbollah.

Preliminary results for the North ll region show that the two front-runners were lists led by Dignity Movement leader Faisal Karami — although it appeared Mr Karami himself could miss out on a seat — and former Hariri rival and ex-Internal Security Forces chief Ashraf Rifi.

“I’m feeling a lot of responsibility on a national level and I’m hoping I’m at the same level of this responsibility,” Mr Rifi told The National, as he appeared to be closing in on victory on Sunday night.

“The first priority is to relieve Lebanon from the domination of Iran and Hezbollah. The second is to provide the youth in Tripoli with jobs and better opportunities.”

But the former security chief was forced to take to the streets to calm some of his supporters as they fired automatic weapons into the air in celebration.

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