1 of 2 | Tuesday’s final election results showed that Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, the Amal movement, retained their 27 seats in the 128-member parliament but lost a coalition majority it held for the past four years after many of longtime allies were defeated. Photo by Dalal Saoud/UPI
BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 18 (UPI) -- Lebanon's first post-collapse parliamentary elections, which trimmed Hezbollah's influence after its main allies lost seats to opposition and reformist candidates, have opened a window of hope. But the threat remains of more divisions, increased tension and failure to introduce reforms.
Tuesday's final election results showed that Hezbollah and its main Shiite ally, the Amal movement, retained their 27 seats in the 128-member parliament but lost a coalition majority it held for the past four years after many of longtime allies were defeated.
President Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement lost 48% of its support compared to 2018.
The Christian Lebanese Forces party, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah and Iran's growing influence in Lebanon, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, other opposition groups and independent candidates scored unexpected significant gains that could allow them to secure the parliamentary majority if they come together.
Reformists representing the "forces of change" won 13 seats.
"The parliamentary majority is no more under the sway of Hezbollah and its allies," Marwan Hamadeh, a Druze politician and former parliamentarian who won a seat in the new parliament running on the PSP list in the Shouf district, told UPI.
He referred to the "humiliating defeat" of top pro-Syrian candidates and Hezbollah allies, saying "all those who were received by [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad [in Damascus] or took pictures with the Syrian ambassador at the Syrian embassy in Beirut are now out of the parliament."
Hamadeh, a staunch critic of Syria and of Hezbollah-Iran dominance, was severely injured in a car explosion in October 2004. He was the first on a long list of slain politicians, ministers, security officials and journalists targeted since then. They included former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was killed in a bomb explosion that targeted his convoy in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005. One Hezbollah member was convicted by an international court for Hariri's murder; a charge denied by the pro-Iran group.
Hezbollah and its allies downplayed reports of their loss of the parliamentary majority, although they acknowledged the defeat of some allies.
Kassim Kassir, an expert on Islamic movements and a political analyst close to Hezbollah, contested the Iran-backed party's loss, saying it was "inaccurate and exaggerated" as there was "no final and decisive majority as some liked to portray" in the outgoing parliament because of Hezbollah allies' different positions on several issues.
Kassir told UPI that in closed meetings before the vote, Hezbollah senior officials spoke about the possibility of not securing the majority in parliament and not guaranteeing the election of any one of their allies, instead focusing on giving the preferential vote to their Shiite candidates.
Many of Amal and Hezbollah followers, especially in southern Lebanon, refrained from voting, according to a Shiite woman who asked not to be identified. That reflects a changing mood and growing anger also among Shiite circles.
Opening for hope
Sunday's elections were the first since the Oct. 17, 2019 street protests demanding the ouster of the corrupt and inept political leaders, who have been in power for more than 30 years, turned into a popular, cross-sectarian uprising. Violent militia attacks and police crackdowns, coupled with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the August 2020 blast at the Beirut port had a toll on the popular movement and forced thousands to migrate.
The deep divisions and government failure to introduce reforms and reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund have pushed the country to economic collapse, with the national currency losing more than 90% of its value, poverty and unemployment rates reaching record levels, a dramatic decline in state services and an exhausted population struggling to secure basic needs amid skyrocketing prices for food, gasoline and diesel fuel.
"These elections opened the way for big hopes that the sovereign [opposition], changing, reformist and nationalist forces come together in the [new] parliament to change the economic and social conditions. This is the biggest challenge," Hamadeh said.
Saving Lebanon, he said, depends on the unity of these forces and those believing in preserving the country's sovereignty to help form a "different government that would pave the way for the election of a new totally different president" to replace Aoun, whose term expires in October, and proceed with "necessary legislations with the international community and in favor of social justice to regain financial balance."
Rescuing the country and securing its recovery requires confronting the heavily armed Hezbollah and Iran's dominance, said Fadi Karam, secretary of the LF Bloc in the outgoing parliament who retained his seat in Sunday's elections.
"We consider that Hezbollah received a big blow with our [LF] big victory ... which is in the interest of all Lebanese who want Lebanon to remain free and preserve its private sector and openness to the civilized world," Karam told UPI.
LF seats in the new parliament jumped from 15 to 19, replacing the FPM as the biggest Christian party and making it the Christians' strongest representative.
"Today, Lebanon has changed... Hezbollah needs to sit on the [negotiation] table like any other Lebanese party and needs to know that he is not the one to decide about Lebanon's strategy and policies. If they accept that, they will spare the Lebanese many more ordeals," Karam said.
He argued that if the militant group keeps holding onto its weapons "to use them against the Lebanese, this issue will blow up in its face."
Kassir acknowledged that the victory of the reformists and revolution forces reflects "a new mood" and shows that people want change and reforms.
"We are in a new phase...which requires dialogue and putting all the files on the table," he said. "It is either dialogue or war but who can start a war?"
Previous attempts to engage Lebanese conflicting parties in a dialogue and solve the country's multiple problems have hit a snag every time the issue of Hezbollah weapons is raised.
Nizar Ghanem, an activist and director of Research and co-founder of the Beirut-based Triangle Consulting firm, said the elections definitely showed "a swing in the mood toward reconciliation between the idea of sovereignty and reform."
"In my opinion, silence has been broken... it is a major success in the face of Hezbollah, which brought all the parties under its control by covering up corruption or worked on broiling them in corruption," Ghanem told UPI. "You cannot fight it with a confessional discourse or from a perspective of just sovereignty. It is also about a real social change... social justice that speaks to thousands of Shiites in the south."
The road ahead
There are fears the country is facing deadlock instead of breakthrough.
The immediate challenge is the re-election of a new house speaker and pushing out Nabih Berri, Hezbollah's prime ally, who has been in the post for 30 years, and the formation of a new Cabinet that will prepare for the election of a new president next autumn.
Hamadeh, who blamed Aoun for covering up on Hezbollah and leading the country to collapse, said Lebanon "is no more Iran's solid and fixed spot" in the region, not after Sunday's elections.
"The only danger is that Hezbollah, under advice by Iran or Syria, would push things to a situation similar to the one in Iraq: no government and no presidential election," he said. "We should avoid such a situation, especially that the difference between Lebanon and Iraq is that Iraq floats on a sea of oil and can wait while Lebanon is at the last breath."
To Amin Kammourieh, a journalist and an independent political analyst, developments in Lebanon are linked to the unclear settlement process in the region.
In case such a settlement is achieved in relation to Iran's nuclear talks or Saudi-Iran dialogue, that would reflect positively on the ailing country, bringing "a kind of solution and balance."
Otherwise, Lebanon would continue to face extremely difficult and dangerous times.
"The elections brought hope but also carries many dangers," Kammourieh told UPI.