Hezbollah and allies win majority in Lebanon election
Gains for Shia group further boosts Iran’s influence in the region
Unofficial results from Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in almost a decade show that Hezbollah and its political allies have won just over half of the seats.
Big gains in Sunday’s vote will boost “an Iranian-backed movement fiercely opposed to Israel and underlining Tehran’s growing regional clout”, says Reuters. Hezbollah has been branded a terrorist organisation by the US.
The interior ministry reported turnout was less than 50% in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election since 2009, despite an estimated 800,000 voters under the age of 30 who were expected to cast ballots for the first time.
Trying to hold back Hezbollah’s growing influence is incumbent Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who leads the Mustaqbal, or Future, bloc. Mustaqbal is backed by Saudi Arabia, Iran's Sunni rival, CNN reports, and also favoured by Western governments.
The unofficial tally indicated sharp losses for Hariri, but he is still set to emerge as the Sunni Muslim leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat house, “making him the frontrunner to form the next government”, according to Reuters.
Under Lebanon’s complicated sectarian power-sharing constitution, the prime minister must be a Sunni, who presides over a government consisting of all main parties.
Lebanon’s ballooning state debt levels, among the highest in the world, and an influx of over a million refugees from neighbouring Syria are among the most pressing issues facing the new government.
Yet it is Iran’s growing influence in the country, primarily manifested through its support of Hezbollah, that is seen by many abroad as the biggest threat to long-term stability in the region.
However, while they made gains, Hezbollah and its allies fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to make changes to the country’s constitution.