Lebanon’s crucial parliamentary elections held on May 15 saw wins for 13 reform-minded candidates from the “change forces” and civil society groups standing against entrenched political parties.
But, despite being blamed for the country’s economic collapse, for the political class overall the elections allowed many politicians to consolidate their positions.
The consensus is that these elections will bring little change while maintaining a prolonged political stalemate.
An associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University also predicted a prolonged political impasse in Lebanon due to the election outcome.
“For the first time since independence, the Lebanese political system has provided access to non-confessionally affiliated political groups and independent candidates. This reflects the deepening crisis of confessionalism and its corresponding political economy that has paved the way for a growing dissent,” Dr Imad Salamey told Al Arabiya English.
“Now parliament is driven by a new divide while split between confessional and non-confessional forces. This is bad news for Iran and its proxies as they confront a growing resentment against the Mullah’s regional influence. Their resistance against change will, most likely, prepare the ground for a prolonged state of political deadlock,” he added.
Salamey pointed out that the coming days will test whether Iran, which wields great influence in Lebanon through its proxy Hezbollah, will choose to pursue an “open confrontation” in Lebanon or, alternatively, choose to navigate its way through making “limited concessions.”
“This will be first unraveled in a new government formation, which is unlikely to be achieved before the presidential election, which is another critical battleground. Given all odds, I believe Iran and allies will choose political vacuum over making concessions,” he added.
No fundamental changes afoot
The May 15 vote did not lead to a significant overdue change to help steer Lebanon out of its worst economic meltdown in decades while undercutting the grip of the ruling political elite. But, the election results pointed to a shift in the balance of power as Hezbollah and its allies lost the parliamentary majority they had held since 2018 when they grabbed 71 of the 128 seats in parliament. It was in itself viewed as a significant victory by Hezbollah’s opponents.
According to results announced by the Interior Ministry, Hezbollah, the Shia Amal Movement, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement, and several other allied MPs now hold 62 seats that fell short of the 65 needed to retain a majority. Despite the setback to their allies, mainly the FPM, who lost several seats, Hezbollah and the Amal group led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri retained the 27 seats reserved for the Shia sect.
Notwithstanding the defeat Hezbollah and its allies suffered in the polls, experts warn of further turmoil in the crises-ridden country. They note that the election results herald a sharply polarized parliament split between pro and anti-Hezbollah blocs. It will find it difficult to cooperate to form a new government and pass the laws needed to enact vital reforms for putting the debt-ridden nation on the road to economic recovery.
The new parliament is divided between two main blocs – the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah group and its allies and the Lebanese Forces and its partners. Analysts voiced fears that the election outcome would plunge Lebanon into a prolonged political vacuum similar to that in Iraq, where rival factions have failed to form a new government since last October’s elections, where Iranian supported parties suffered a setback.
“Lebanon is headed for political and sectarian tensions as a result of the election outcome, which has split the new Parliament into two diametrically opposed camps: One is led by Hezbollah and its allies, and the other is headed by the Lebanese Forces and its allies,” Ibrahim Byram, a veteran political analyst with Beirut’s An-Nahar newspaper, told Al Arabiya English Monday.
Byram added that the “escalatory statements” made since the elections mainly by the two rival Christian parties – the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement – over the role of the new Parliament and the formation of a new government “have raised fears of a prolonged political paralysis similar to the Iraqi scenario.”
The feared stalemate would subsequently paralyze the new parliament in Lebanon and prevent it from implementing a string of critical reforms needed for unlocking billions of dollars in promised international aid and a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund to help the country overcome its devastating economic crisis.
Warnings from Iraq
On May 17, the United Nations envoy to Iraq urged leaders there to end a political deadlock that has kept parliament from forming a new government for over seven months, warning that the delay could spark civil unrest. “The streets are about to boil over in Iraq,” Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said after addressing the UN Security Council. More than seven months after parliamentary elections, Iraqi institutions remain at a standstill over legislators’ inability to elect a president, who selects the largest bloc in parliament to form a government.
A former member of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s parliamentary Future bloc warned that Lebanon faced the threat of sliding into prolonged political paralysis similar to what happened in Iraq.
“There is new blood that has been injected into the Lebanese political life and is manifested in a group of new faces either from some parties or from the civil society,” former MP Mohammad Hajjar told Al Arabiya English. Like many Future MPs, Hajjar did not run in the May 15 elections in line with Hariri’s decision to withdraw from political life.
Noting that the election results have deprived Hezbollah and its allies of the parliamentary majority, Hajjar said: “I hope that the fate of the Lebanese parliament will not be similar to what happened in Iraq, that is, not to reach the time when parliament, the government, and the presidency are unable to exercise their roles. I hope that constitutional institutions will be able to exercise their work in a complete and normal manner to lift Lebanon out of its crises, even though initial indications do not point to this.”