Lebanese voters have hit out at Hezbollah allies

Former Lebanese Foreign Minister and current parliamentary candidate Jibran Basil’s supporters (unseen) are waving the orange flag of his “free patriotic movement” Christian party and the yellow flag of Lebanon’s Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah at his residence after the parliamentary election. The northern city of Batrun on May 16, 2022. (Photo by Ibrahim Chalahoub / AFP) (Photo by Ibrahim Chalahoub / AFP via Getty Images)

Ibrahim Salhub | AFP | Getty Images

Lebanon has voted in the country’s first parliamentary elections since the economic downturn in 2019 and the Beirut port explosion the following year.

Facing a major blow to Iran-backed Hezbollah, preliminary results from Sunday show the group has lost seats in the long-occupied territories south of the small Mediterranean nation by their allies.

“People have spoken, and they have said: ‘We are against Hezbollah, against the establishment, and that is what we want.’ Opposition leader Takaddam Lori Hayatyan told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Monday.

‚ÄúToday, we see that we have 11 MPs [members of Parliament] Those are from civil society, or newly formed political parties, and traditional opposition parties, so we have a big bloc in parliament that is going to take action, “Hayatian added.

Lebanon, a country of about 7 million, is home to 18 different religious communities. For this reason, its unique but widely criticized consensus government relies on a power-sharing structure where the prime minister, president and speaker of the house must come from the country’s three largest religious groups: Sunni, Maronite Christian and Shia, respectively.

The final results of the make-up for Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament have not yet been determined, but there have been reports of gains for Lebanese forces by a Christian group opposed to Hezbollah. The party, led by Samir Giag, won at least 20 seats in parliament, defeating Hezbollah’s ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, the country’s largest Christian party.

At least 11 seats are expected to go to reform politicians, part of an independent list aimed at liberating the political elite. However, more established parties are likely to retain control of the country. The economic crisis has prompted many voters to vote against traditional parties, which the United Nations has blamed for the country’s “deliberate frustration”.

Karim Bitar, an associate professor of international relations at St. Joseph’s University in Beirut, told CNBC on Monday that the victory was “significant” for Lebanon’s opposition parties.

“The playing field is unequal because they did not have the clientlist network, foreign support or financial means that normal establishment parties have,” he said. He added, however, that it could be the beginning of a “reformist, non-sectarian opposition” in Lebanon.

Voter turnout was 41% lower than in 2018, with nearly 50% voter turnout, according to Interior Ministry figures. Tripoli, one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, has a voter turnout of about 3%. Rising energy costs and overall frustration with the political system could be responsible for lower levels of voting.

Many Sunni voters, allied with former prime minister and leading Sunni politician Saad Hariri, boycotted the vote, setting up pool parties in strongholds to show their dissatisfaction with the election.

Hariri has moved away from the limelight, leaving a gap between Sunni politics and his Future Movement Party without a leader. Lebanon’s expatriate vote took place last weekend, and has tripled the turnout since the 2018 election, marking for the first time that citizens can vote outside Lebanon.

Meanwhile, there were reports of voter intimidation and coercion across the country on Sunday. The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections has reportedly had to leave polling stations in the south and in the town of Balbek after threats from Hezbollah and Amal supporters.

EU election observers also reported that it was difficult for physically challenged voters to enter two-thirds of the polling stations.

The economic crisis accelerated

In 2019, the Lebanese pound depreciated sharply and is now trading at around US 27 27,000 on the black market. In February, Lebanon’s inflation rate rose to 215% year-on-year, and the country’s minimum monthly wage, once 450, is now roughly equal to $ 25. The World Bank says Lebanon has been in the world’s worst financial crisis since the mid-19th century.

Lebanon is also facing a food crisis, accelerated by the war in Ukraine that has crippled global wheat exports, hitting countries in the Middle East and North Africa directly.

The new parliament will be responsible for implementing key economic reforms, including the need to unlock $ 3 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund, which signed a “staff-level agreement” with Lebanon last month.

The funds released over a four-year period depend on the government’s economic reform plan, which includes reforms to Lebanon’s banking sector, an independent audit of the country’s central bank and, in particular, a solution to Lebanon’s huge financial sector deficit. At $ 72 billion.

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