Hezbollah’s grip — On Lebanon's parliamentary election

Parliamentary results sharpen divides in Lebanon, amid rising tensions in West Asia

May 14, 2018 12:02 am | Updated December 01, 2021 06:19 am IST

Results of Lebanon’s May 6 parliamentary election point to the mounting frustration among voters with the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. In recent years, Lebanon has had a host of administrative and regional challenges while the government remained largely ineffective in tackling them. There were protests in Beirut and elsewhere over a breakdown of waste management; there is an acute power shortage; the economy is in a shambles; and the inward flight of Syrian refugees over the past seven years has put public infrastructure under further strain. Regional tensions are high as Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful Shia movement that has been designated by the U.S. and Israel as a terrorist organisation, is involved in the Syrian civil war. In post-civil war Lebanon, the political class is largely divided into two blocs — the Iran-allied Shia bloc led by Hezbollah that has joined hands with Christian parties, and the Sunni bloc led by Mr. Hariri that has close ties with Saudi Arabia and the West. During the campaign, both sides whipped up this sectarian narrative — Mr. Hariri said Lebanon’s Arab identity was being threatened by Hezbollah’s Iran links, while the Hezbollah-allied parties targeted Saudi Arabia and the West besides attacking the government for its failures. In the event, Mr. Hariri’s Future Movement suffered a big setback. Its strength in the 128-member parliament shrank from 33 to 21. While Hezbollah will retain the 13 seats it had in the outgoing legislature, its allies have gained. President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement gained six more, while the number of independent candidates linked to Hezbollah doubled to eight, making the alliance the largest parliamentary bloc.


Lebanon has a unique, confessional system in which the Prime Minister must be a Sunni, the President a Christian and the Parliament Speaker a Shia. Being the leader of the largest Sunni bloc, Mr. Hariri could retain his job as Prime Minister despite the electoral setback. But Hezbollah and its allies will have a greater say in government-formation. Hezbollah could also stall government measures that target its clout, a key demand from Mr. Hariri’s regional allies. Mr. Hariri is in a tight spot. The Saudis are not happy with his inability to rein in Hezbollah. Last year Mr. Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, where he announced his resignation. Though he withdrew the resignation later, his ties with his Saudi patrons appear to be far from mended. With the regional fault lines between Iran and its rivals set to sharpen further after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and rising Tehran-Tel Aviv tensions, it is bound to reflect on Lebanese politics. Mr. Hariri has to find a balance between his domestic agenda and regional politics, provide basic services to the public, lift the economy and restore voters’ faith in him — a tall ask given Lebanon’s fractured polity and Mr. Hariri’s own record.

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