Election losses unlikely to loosen Hezbollah’s grip on power

Election losses unlikely to loosen Hezbollah’s grip on power

Election losses unlikely to loosen Hezbollah’s grip on power
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah addresses his followers on TV on May 18, 2022. (Al-Manar TV/AFP)
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The results of the Lebanese parliamentary election were received with a collective sigh of relief by the Lebanese —those who voted and those who did not — as well as regionally and internationally as a sign that Lebanon, though still in intensive care, has the tools to resuscitate itself if all MPs find the political will to work toward solving the country’s multiple crises.

A closer look, however, shows that such political will has long eluded Lebanon and the talk that Hezbollah has been weakened will not affect the status quo. Lebanon’s domestic priorities have rarely featured in the calculations of Hezbollah, whose record over the past few decades shows how uninterested it has been in saving the country from its fate.

Holding a general election in a bankrupt country is an achievement in itself. And holding it in a country where most of the people have demonstrated against the corrupt political class that has ruled since the end of its civil war is a promising act. Holding such elections despite an electoral law that was tailored to preserve a majority for the Iran-backed and armed Hezbollah group and its allies led to abstention by many.

Listening to the debates in the run up to the elections — especially those involving the reform and change candidates, who have been demanding the departure of the country’s corrupt, traditional leadership — made one feel as if these people had been living in a full-fledged democracy, in which change is not resisted by violence in the street, where parliament is not shut down to please one force or another and where the president’s seat could remain empty indefinitely unless a specific candidate preferred by the armed group is elected.

Hezbollah, a militia that became a political and military player domestically and regionally and a key mover and shaker in Lebanon’s precarious representative system, and its main Shiite ally the Amal Movement have retained their seats. But their Christian ally, President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, has suffered considerable losses, bringing into question the size of the bloc allied with Iran and Syria in the next parliament.

Despite that, it is unlikely that compromise will be the name of the game in the country’s efforts to form a government — an affair that is usually mired in months of haggling and political paralysis. In the meantime, the country is in desperate need of a financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund and others if it is to have a chance of remaining a non-failed state.

It is doubtful that compromise will be the name of the game in Lebanon’s efforts to form a government

Mohamed Chebaro

The Lebanese Forces, led by former warlord Samir Geagea, fared better, replacing Aoun’s party as the dominant Christian force in the next parliament. New opposition candidates also enjoyed some electoral successes, despite their failure to organize and rally their forces to present a cross-sectarian, cross-tribal and cross-religious option capable of capitalizing on the slogans they raised during the October 2019 street protests.

Turnout was 41 percent, 8 points less than that recorded at the 2018 elections. This turnout was even lower in Sunni Muslim areas after former Prime Minister Saad Hariri triggered a de facto boycott of the vote in his community by pulling his Future Movement out of the race. With that, he removed the Sunni block, which had often tilted toward a national agenda of reform and a Lebanon free of Syrian and Iranian influence, from the Lebanese political equation.

Regardless of the calculus attached to the election results, the Lebanese must breathe a sigh of relief that Hezbollah and its allies have failed to win anything close to two thirds of the parliamentary seats — a milestone that, if reached through whatever future alliances are agreed, might allow them to amend the constitution and change the country for good.

But this does not mean that Hezbollah will be any less dominant and assertive in the weeks and months ahead. The group’s leadership often reminds the Lebanese that their fight is an existential one. It is an endless fight to regain the so-called occupied Lebanese land from Israel — and that of the Palestinians of course — and, more recently, to prevent an alleged large-scale offshore oil and gas robbery by “Western powers,” let alone the party’s continued presence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq under the premise of fighting within Iran’s supreme leader’s army.

Domestic economic reform and rebirth, the empowerment of the Lebanese state to fight corruption, guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary, and rebuilding and reinventing a role for Lebanon are the least of the Hezbollah bloc’s concerns. It is also not concerned by the triviality of repairing the damaged Lebanese-Arab relations, fending for Lebanon as a result of the potential fallout from further Arab-Iranian discord or the success or failure of Western efforts to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal.

These elections were held two years after Lebanon defaulted on its international debt, while its currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leaving the majority of its people living below the poverty line. The formation of a new government will be the first test of the new parliament and its legitimacy will be tested further when it is time to elect a new president of the republic in the autumn.

Against this backdrop, the hoped-for presence of several new independent or reform-minded members of parliament must be applauded, as this could disrupt the horse trading between political barons that has characterized Lebanese politics for decades. However, their presence is unlikely to effect any serious change to the business-as-usual approach of the bloc that has had the upper hand in Lebanon for the past three decades, eroding the sovereignty of the state and its institutions or simply manipulating them to serve its agenda.

Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist, media consultant and trainer with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy.

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