Something seems to be moving in Lebanon. After the parliamentary elections on Sunday, the reform camp at least has new hopes for changes in the crisis-ridden state in the eastern Mediterranean. The first results on Monday indicated that the pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia and its partners had lost their majority in parliament. Opposition forces in the new parliament were strengthened.
The Arab Reform Initiative organization predicted that the victory of opposition candidates in several constituencies would bring new and competent representatives to parliament. Opposition politicians could become kingmakers when forming a government and make it difficult for the traditional elites to divide power among themselves as they have up until now.
Lebanon has been in a deep economic crisis since 2019, which has left millions poor. Demands for fundamental changes have so far gone unheeded, even after the Beirut explosion in August 2020: the accident has not yet been dealt with. Frustrated with the situation, many of the 4.9 million voters boycotted the election, the first since the crisis began three years ago. Participation was only 41 percent. Many Sunni Muslims were among those who refused to vote because the so-called Future Movement of ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri – the strongest Sunni party – did not take part in the election.
The political system in Lebanon is based on a power-sharing between Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and other religious groups. The president is always a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni, the speaker of the parliament a Shiite. Dating back to the 1940s, this order was meant to bring stability to the country, but it has led to corruption and nepotism.
Sunday’s election shakes that system. Hezbollah, which was founded by Iran, and the Amal movement allied to it by President Nabih Berri are likely to continue to occupy all 27 parliamentary seats that are reserved for Shiites in the 128-seat plenum.
However, because of the losses of its non-Shia partners, such as President Michel Aoun’s Christian FPM, the “Party of God” lost the majority. According to a report by the Reuters news agency on Monday, the Hezbollah alliance estimated that the number of its seats would fall from 71 to a maximum of 64.
A government majority against the Hezbollah camp could not initially be identified. The Christian LF party, a Saudi-backed opponent of the Shia militia, said it gained five seats and now has 20 seats. Aoun and LF boss Samir Geagea were rivals in the 1975-1990 civil war.
The successes of politicians who stood up as opponents of the existing system could be decisive. Nadim Houry, head of the Arab Reform Initiative, wrote on Twitter on Monday that up to 13 seats could go to opposition candidates and groups. In his estimation, the new parliament will be marked by sharp antagonisms between Hezbollah and its opponents, while supporters of reform between the two warring camps could play an important role in forming a government.
Some reform politicians were able to beat well-known MPs. The Christian politician Assaad Hardan, who is close to Hezbollah and has been a member of parliament since 1992, lost his seat to the ophthalmologist Elias Jradi from the opposition platform “Together for Change”. According to media reports, reform candidates also received many votes from around 130,000 Lebanese voters abroad. Whether the fragmented opposition camp will be strong enough to implement fundamental changes or whether the traditional elites will find a way to maintain their position of power remains to be seen.
The parliamentary elections could have an impact on the upcoming presidential election this year, because the people’s representative body elects the head of state. So far, FPM boss Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of 88-year-old President Aoun, has been considered the most promising candidate. However, FPM’s losses could end Bassil’s ambitions.