Tue, May 08, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Lebanon’s vote appears to cement Hezbollah’s power

BIGGEST LOSER:A new electoral law and confusing ballots were blamed for the low voter turnout, while Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s party could suffer the most

AP, BEIRUT

Supporters of Oussama Saad late on Sunday night in Sidon celebrate his apparent victory in the Lebanese general elections.

Photo: AFP

The Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies scored significant gains in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon while the Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement sustained losses, according to preliminary and unofficial results published in Lebanese media yesterday.

The results, which are more or less expected to match the official count, show that Hariri, a Sunni politician with close ties to Saudi Arabia, has so far lost five seats in Beirut, once considered his party’s stronghold.

This indicates Sunni voters are losing faith in Hariri’s party amid a stagnant economy and general exasperation over the civil war in Syria, which has brought 1 million refugees to Lebanon.

Hariri would still have the largest Sunni block in parliament, facilitating his return as prime minister to form the next government despite the losses.

Official results were expected to be announced by Lebanese Minister of the Interior Nouhad Machnouk later yesterday.

The next government, like the outgoing one, is likely be a unity government that includes Hariri’s opponents from the Shiite Hezbollah group.

Hezbollah and its allies appear set to take at least 47 seats in the 128-seat parliament, which would enable them to veto any laws the group opposes.

The group is considered a terrorist organization by the US, while the EU lists Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorist, differentiating between its military activities and political.

The election, the first to be held in nine years, was marked by a lower turnout than before, reflecting voter frustration over endemic corruption and a stagnant economy.

Machnouk put national turnout at 49.2 percent, compared to 54 percent in 2009. In Beirut precincts, the turnout was between 32 percent and 42 percent.

The drop came despite a reformulated electoral law designed to encourage voting through proportional representation.

However, many, including Machnouk, blamed the new, complex law which redrew constituency districts for the tepid turnout particularly in Beirut.

“This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations,” he said shortly after midnight. “Voting operations were very slow.”

A higher turnout had been expected after the long electoral hiatus, but the new pre-printed ballots used on Sunday appeared to confuse some voters.

Some voters also said that the sometimes absurd web of local alliances that saw some parties work together in one district and compete in others had put them off.

The preliminary results show at least one candidate from a civil society list — a woman journalist — won a seat in parliament.

The new contours of parliament could leave Lebanese President Michel Aoun in the position of kingmaker.

“The biggest swing vote will be President Aoun’s group, which will move among the other blocs. Hezbollah will benefit from the lack of a broad coalition against it,” political analyst Imad Salamey said.

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