BEIRUT (AP) – The Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies scored significant gains in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon while the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement sustained losses, according to preliminary and unofficial results published in Lebanese media Monday.
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 neighboring 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 are expected to be announced by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk later on Monday.
The next government, like the outgoing one, will likely be a unity government that incorporates 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 Shiite militant group opposes.
The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, while the European Union lists Hezbollah’s military wing as terrorist, differentiating between its military activities and political. Hezbollah has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to shore up President Bashar Assad’s forces. That, and its intervention in Iraq and Yemen, has led several oil-rich Gulf states to also name it as a terrorist group.
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 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. But many, including Machnouk, blamed the new, complex law which redrew constituency districts for the tepid turnout particularly in Beirut.
The preliminary results show at least one candidate from a civil society list – a woman journalist – won a seat in parliament.
The main race was between a Western and Saudi-backed coalition headed by Hariri and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah, part of a region-wide power struggle that is tearing apart the Middle East.
The elections were the first since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, sending over 1 million refugees to Lebanon, a small country with a population estimated at around 4.5 million. The war has divided Lebanon, pitting parties supporting Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria to aid President Bashar Assad’s forces against Saudi-aligned parties opposed to it.
According to the unofficial results, several hardcore pro-Assad politicians allied with Hezbollah also won seats in the new parliament