2022 Elections: Hezbollah’s Majority Loss Points to Decline of Iran’s Influence in Lebanon | International
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Hezbollah, the powerful pro-Iranian militia party, and its Shiite and Christian allies have lost their majority in Lebanon’s Parliament, according to the final results of Sunday’s legislative elections, announced at noon Tuesday. The first elections held after the outbreak of the biggest political and economic crisis in the Mediterranean country since the civil war that bled it dry between 1975 and 1990 mark a decline in Iran’s influence in its regional expansion. They also reflect the discontent of the Lebanese with the confessional distribution system of power established after the conflict. Abstention has reached 59% of the census and a dozen independent candidates, who emerged from the 2019 protests against the sectarian regime model, have defeated the candidates from the traditional parties in an unprecedented breath of fresh air.
The Party of God, the best-armed militia in the Middle East, and its Shia partners in Amal, led by the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, have kept almost all of their seats in the fiefdoms of Beirut and southern Lebanon, but their allies Maronite Christians of the Free Patriotic Movement, the formation of the head of state, Michel Aoun, have been relegated by the Lebanese Forces party, a Christian ultra-nationalist. Hezbollah now heads a block of 62 deputies in a 128-seat Chamber, compared to the 71 with which it won the previous elections in 2018. Only eight women will sit in the new chamber; half of them presented themselves as independent.
The turnout rate between the two legislatures has fallen eight points, in a display of the outrage of young urban voters against a system that has brought Lebanon to the brink of a failed state, with eight out of 10 citizens thrown out by below the threshold of severe poverty and with the Lebanese pound devalued by more than 90% in the last three years.
The explosion that devastated the port of Beirut in 2020, with a balance of more than 200 deaths and 5,000 million euros in material damage, has been the emblem of an unexpected mobilization in favor of independent candidates in a country that already only offers emigration as an alternative to poverty. 63% of Lebanese between the ages of 18 and 30 acknowledge that they are thinking of leaving the country, according to a survey.
10% of the new deputies have emerged from the opposition, within different territorial constituencies and religious communities. One of the biggest upheavals suffered by the bloc that supports Hezbollah has been the departure from Parliament of the historic leader of the Druze ranks (a religious minority in the Middle East) in the region of Mount Lebanon, Talal Arslan, who has not been able to revalidate the seat that had occupied for three decades. Environmentalist leader Marc Daou, a university professor who led the street protests of the tahura (Revolt) in Beirut in the fall of 2019, has taken away the deputy act in that constituency of the capital’s metropolitan area.
After the setback suffered by Hezbollah, which constitutes a separate State within the State, the Lebanese Parliament is even more divided and polarized, without a clear majority option. The far-right movement Lebanese Forces, linked to the extremist Christian Phalanxes of the civil war, has benefited from the retreat of the Sunni Muslim parties, forced by the withdrawal of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s policy.
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This bloc of parties is aligned with Saudi Arabia in the dispute between regional powers that it wages against Iran on the political scene in Lebanon. The veteran Michel Aoun, former rival of the Falanges in the civil war, also loses popular support after his alliance with the Shiite militia-party as the end of his term as head of state approaches, a position reserved for a Maronite Christian in the complex Lebanese interfaith balance of power.
The results of the legislative anticipate the prolongation of the political blockade to invest a prime minister, necessarily from the Sunni community. Without a stable government, the international community and the International Monetary Fund have already warned that they will not carry out the aid programs approved to rescue the Lebanese economy.
The Sunni billionaire Nayib Mikati, who already managed to form an Executive last September after months of chaos, will presumably try to head the government. Mikati, who had already served as prime minister in 2005 and from 2011 to 2014, it embodies the patronage model of power sharing that has led to ruin and misrule. He is also one of the richest Lebanese, having sold his telecommunications company in 2005 for 4.65 billion euros.
The European Union Observer Mission that has supervised the elections has warned this Tuesday that the legislative “have been marked by numerous cases of vote buying and intimidation of voters and candidates, in a climate of patronage and corruption,” according to the preliminary report presented at a press conference in a Beirut hotel. “Despite everything, the fact that the Lebanese have been able to vote in the midst of an extreme crisis can be described as a success,” acknowledged Hungarian MEP Gyorgy Holvenyi, head of the EU Observer Mission.
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