Monday, May 7, 2018

Lebanon Elections: Lebanese Government 'Indistinguishable From Hezbollah'

Hezbollah allies gain in Lebanon vote, underscoring Iran sway 

Hezbollah and its political allies won just over half the seats in Lebanon's parliamentary elections, unofficial results showed, boosting an Iranian-backed movement fiercely opposed to Israel and underlining Tehran's growing regional clout.

Branded a terrorist group by the United States, the heavily armed Shi'ite Hezbollah has grown in strength since joining the war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad in 2012.

The apparent gains made on Sunday by a Hezbollah-backed alliance risk complicating Western policy towards Lebanon, a big recipient of US military support that is banking on foreign aid and loans to revive its stagnant economy.

An Israeli minister said the outcome, which has yet to be confirmed by official results, showed the Lebanese state was indistinguishable from Hezbollah, signaling the risk of Israel hitting Lebanon's government in a future war.

The unofficial tally in the first parliamentary elections in nine years indicated sharp losses for Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. But he was 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.

Iranian media appeared to gloat at Hariri setbacks; Iran’s hardline Tasnim news agency ran a report headlined: "Lebanese election result puts an end to Hariri’s monopoly among Sunnis."

Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni in the country's sectarian power-sharing system. The new government, like the outgoing one, is expected to include all the main parties. Talks over Cabinet posts are expected to take time.

"Hariri is going to be further weakened in any kind of government going forward," Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute said. "His ability to substantially tame or restrain Hezbollah... in Lebanon is going to be very limited."

"It will lead to more criticism of US military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces" in Washington, he added.

The election was held under a complex new law that redrew constituency boundaries and changed the electoral system from winner-takes-all to a proportional one. The official results were not declared on Monday morning as expected, and there was no new announcement of when they might be announced.

The staunchly anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, however emerged as a big winner, nearly doubling its MPs to at least 15 from eight, according to the initial indications.

Hezbollah, along with allied groups and individuals, secured at least 67 seats, according to a Reuters calculation based on preliminary results for nearly all the seats obtained from politicians and campaigns and reported in Lebanese media.

Hezbollah-backed Sunnis did well in Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon, strongholds of Hariri's Future Movement, the preliminary results showed. The pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar newspaper declared the election a "slap" for Hariri on its front page.

No comments: