The Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah and its political allies looked set to win more than half the seats in Lebanon's first parliamentary election in nine years, according to preliminary results cited by politicians and Lebanese media.
The result, if confirmed by the final count, would boost Hezbollah politically, with parties and individuals aligned with the heavily armed group securing a simple majority in parliament in Sunday's election.
Hezbollah's powerful position in Lebanon reflects Iran's regional ascendancy through Iraq and Syria all the way to Beirut. It is classified as a terrorist group by the United States and an enemy of neighboring Israel.
The unofficial results also indicated that Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri would emerge as the Sunni Islamic leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat parliament, making him the frontrunner to form the next government even though he lost seats.
Lebanon's prime minister must be a Sunni according to 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.
Less than half of Lebanon's electorate voted in the general elections, according to a provisional turnout figure of 49.2 percent announced by Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk.
The figure marked a drop from the 54 percent of voters who cast a ballot in 2009, the last time Lebanon elected its parliament.
"This is a new law and voters were not familiar with it, nor were the heads of polling stations," Machnouk said in a news conference. "Voting operations were very slow."
Lawmakers had extended their own mandate three times since 2009, ostensibly over security concerns linked to neighboring Syria's war and political divisions that led to long and crippling institutional crises.
A higher turnout had been expected after the long electoral hiatus but the vote was the first to follow a law passed in 2017 and the pre-printed ballots used Sunday appeared to confuse some voters.
With an hour to go before polling stations closed, several senior political leaders appealed for an eleventh-hour rush to the ballot boxes but stopped short of extending polling hours.
Experts differ on who would benefit the most from a low turnout as alliance scenarios varied across the country's 15 districts, whose size and sectarian fabric are all different.
(With Reuters and AFP)