Lebanon Moves On after Parliamentary Election – But In What Direction?

A number of sources have compiled lists of Sunday’s winners, and Annahar grouped them by likely alliances so it is quite helpful to see districts by winner and affiliations. What the results actually mean, going forward, is the subject of a great deal of discussion and speculation. Those who have the most experience in the region are loath to predict how the new government will reflect the election outcomes since the number of members does not necessarily translate into ministerial posts. Even the Jerusalem Post opined that early assessments that painted the results as a black and white victory for Hezbollah may be quite off-track. “It is a victory for Hezbollah but it is far from the ‘Hezbollah swept the election’ story that some are putting forward. Hezbollah is only stronger after the election because its allies are stronger.” The question is whether the allies will remain in lock step with each other.

What we do know is that the election took place under a new law and with a relatively low turnout – some under 50% of qualified voters, that both Hezbollah and its allies and Christians opposed to Hezbollah strengthened their core support, and that it was relatively free of violence although a number of complaints have been filed contesting outcomes in Beirut and elsewhere.

According to Washington Post reporting, PM Hariri’s Future Party lost some 11 seats but at 21 is still the largest Muslim party in Parliament, which bodes well for his return as prime minister in a new government. Hezbollah and its various allies stand at some 67 seats if one includes Sunnis who support the Assad regime in Syria, and Amal, the oldest Shia party. This alliance now has a blocking minority that can prevent passage of any significant legislation, if it holds together.

Interestingly, the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, which almost doubled its number of seats to 15, and Hezbollah, have called for combating corruption a priority for the new government.

Perhaps one of the more useful assessments of the election outcome was penned by Nabeel Khoury for the Atlantic Council. He wrote that given the results so far that “The internal balance of power has been jostled and shaken a bit but not basically altered. He notes that any tally of potential winners “Does not take into account the labyrinths of alliances that were struck during the election campaign.” Earlier alliances, dating back to the 2005 elections, effectively grouped parties into two major blocs, March 8, which included current President Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement as well as Hezbollah and its allies, and March 14, based around Hariri’s Future Movement and its allies. “Western media analysis that Hezbollah came out a winner is based on the two-bloc system holding.  Hezbollah’s gains are real only if their alliance with Aoun remains solid. The same goes for the March 14 bloc; their losses are only real if the two-bloc system remains static.”

So if anything, it is better to wait to see the composition of the new government, to see which parties gain what ministries, and the overall statement of priorities adopted by the new government and Parliament. As Khoury points out, “The National Pact’s principle [established between Muslims and Christians in 1943] of no winners and no losers remains in effect, and the notion of trying to do everything via consensus instead of majoritarian votes also remains.”

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