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Lebanon crisis

Lebanon’s upcoming elections: Hezbollah opponents vow to end its ‘domination’

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Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary vote is being anxiously awaited by most of the Lebanese and the international community hoping that its outcome would bring an overdue political change and provide solutions to the country’s multiple crises, including the worst economic meltdown in decades.

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The elections, slated to take place on May 15, have been billed by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum as “crucial” and “decisive” because the next Parliament will elect a new president to succeed President Michel Aoun whose six-year tenure expires by the end of October.

This year’s elections are different from previous ones because of a hotly-contested battle among rival parties seeking to gain a majority in Parliament that would enable them to have a final say in choosing a new head of state.

Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (C-L) and President Michel Aoun (C) and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati (C-R) posing for a group photo with the newly formed government at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Lebanon's Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri (C-L) and President Michel Aoun (C) and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati (C-R) posing for a group photo with the newly formed government at the presidential palace in Baabda, east of the capital Beirut. (AFP)


The elections also come as Lebanon is wrestling with a financial downturn, caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement, and a crashing currency that has lost more than 90 percent of its value since 2019, putting more than half of the 6 million Lebanese population below the poverty line and causing prices of food, supplies and basic commodities to skyrocket.

The economic crisis was aggravated by the grave consequences of the massive August 4 explosion in 2020 that pulverized Beirut’s port, destroyed half of the capital, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands, left 300,000 people homeless and caused billions of dollars in material damage.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (ESCWA) estimates the crisis has so far propelled 78 percent of the population into poverty. The World Bank has described Lebanon’s financial and economic crisis as among the worst in the world in 150 years.

This year’s elections will be the first since hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets in an unprecedented nationwide uprising on October 17, 2019, protesting the deteriorating economic conditions, endemic corruption and waste of public funds. The protesters from various sects and provinces demanded the government’s resignation, the ouster of the entrenched political elite, holding early elections and implementing a string of key reforms to fix the crumbling economy.

In a move reflecting growing Arab and foreign concern with the elections, senior officials from the US, France and the Arab League who visited Beirut recently have underlined the importance for the polls to be held on time in a transparent and free manner without any delay.


Confrontation vote between Hezbollah, opponents

Still, the vote is being touted as a fierce confrontation between the Lebanese extremist organization Hezbollah and its opponents who see the elections as an opportunity to end what they call the Iranian-backed Shia party’s “domination” of the country’s political decision-making and “Iran’s occupation” of Lebanon through its powerful proxy.

Hezbollah members hold flags marking Resistance and Liberation Day, in Kfar Kila near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Hezbollah members hold flags marking Resistance and Liberation Day, in Kfar Kila near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2021. (Reuters)



Earlier this year, former MP Fares Souaid, an outspoken Maronite critic of Hezbollah who is running in the elections in the Jbeil-Kesrwan district, established “a national council for ending Iranian occupation” of Lebanon. The council includes Muslim and Christian politicians, academics and key figures of civil society opposed to Hezbollah’s influence.
“There are two opposing camps jockeying to gain the majority in the next Parliament: One camp is led by the Lebanese Forces party and its allies to confront Hezbollah’s influence and its dominance of the country’s decision-making, and another camp is led by Hezbollah and its allies that will fight to retain the majority they currently hold in Parliament, defend the group’s arms arsenal and prevent attempts to normalize ties with Israel,” a political source familiar with the matter told Al Arabiya English.

Although the elections are two months away, serious campaigning has yet to begin by rival parties, including anti-government candidates from civil society groups and the so-called “change forces” that emerged since the October 2019 uprising who will vie to win seats in the 128-member Parliament.

Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces party, which has the second largest Christian bloc in Parliament and is an arch foe of Hezbollah, has already named the party’s 15 candidates in various electoral districts under the slogan of “confronting” Hezbollah to regain the country’s sovereignty.

In this April 4, 2014 file photo, Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, enters a hall to meet with his senior party officials to announce his candidacy for the Lebanese presidency, in Maarab east Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)
In this April 4, 2014 file photo, Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces party, enters a hall to meet with his senior party officials to announce his candidacy for the Lebanese presidency, in Maarab east Beirut, Lebanon. (AP)


“Every vote counts. This election is [designed] to confront Hezbollah,” the Lebanese Forces leader told supporters recently.

Hezbollah’s opponents from both Christian and Muslim parties have accused the heavily armed group of running a mini-state within the Lebanese state. They contend that Hezbollah’s insistence on retaining its arms arsenal, its involvement in the 11-year-old Syrian war and its interference in other regional conflicts ran contrary to the country’s sovereignty.
Hezbollah, designated by the US and Gulf Arab states a “terrorist” organization, has staunchly rejected local and foreign calls, including UN Security Council resolutions, to disarm, arguing that its weapons are needed to defend Lebanon against a possible Israeli attack.

Geagea and other Hezbollah adversaries hope to overturn the majority won by the group and its allies, including the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun, and the Amal Movement led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in 2018.
Geagea has repeatedly blamed Aoun and his son-in-law, MP Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement – which has the largest Christian bloc in Parliament – and Hezbollah for the economic collapse. He argued that a solution to the economic crisis begins with defeating the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah in the ballot boxes.

According to an associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, “The elections will involve many battles.”

“It will be fierce against Hezbollah in few districts, but in general Hezbollah and its allies will sweep the majority of districts as the opponents are engaged in fragmenting internal side battles,” Dr. Imad Salamey told Al Arabiya English.
“The elections will most probably present new independent faces, with seats drawn from those that were previously controlled by [former Prime Minister Saad] Hariri’s Future Movement. But it is highly unlikely that existing political and sectarian elites will be implicated,” Salamey said. “After all the electoral system is customized to reproduce the same political regime along its ruling elites. Mostly the Sunni seats will be up for grabs, favoring elites attached to the Syrian regime.”

Lebanon's leading Sunni Muslim politician and Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivers a speech in Beirut, Lebanon January 24, 2022. (Reuters)
Lebanon's leading Sunni Muslim politician and Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri delivers a speech in Beirut, Lebanon January 24, 2022. (Reuters)


Citing Iranian influence in Lebanon – a reference to Hezbollah’s growing influence – among other reasons, Hariri declared on January 24 he was stepping away from the political life and would not run in the parliamentary elections. His move plunged Lebanon into further political turmoil and threw into disarray the Sunni community which his family has dominated for 30 years. Three times prime minister, Hariri also called on his Future Movement not to field any candidates in the elections.

In a move seen aimed at filling the vacuum left by Hariri’s withdrawal, his elder brother, Bahaa Hariri declared he was entering Lebanese politics, saying he would join a battle “to take back the country” and follow in the footsteps of his slain father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. He also vowed to end Hezbollah’s sway in Lebanon.

“Through partnership and solidarity, we will enter the battle to take back the country and the sovereignty of the country from its occupiers,” said Bahaa, in a recorded message a few days after Hariri’s withdrawal in an apparent reference to Hezbollah of which he is a fierce critic.

Bahaa’s media advisor previously told Al Arabiya English that the elder Hariri would not run personally. “He will be supporting lists of candidates all over Lebanon under Sawa Li Lubnan (together for Lebanon),” Jerry Maher, the advisor, said.

Political analyst Kassem Kassir said there are several camps standing against Hezbollah in the electoral battle.

“There are several camps contesting the elections. The first camp is the Lebanese Forces, the second camp is the Kataeb Party, the third camp is the civil society forces, the fourth camp is the Islamic forces and the remaining forces of the Future Movement. This is in addition to Hezbollah’s camp and its allies,” Kassir told Al Arabiya English. “But the forces opposed to Hezbollah are not united.”

Fighters with the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group, carry flags as they parade in a southern suburb of the capital Beirut, on May 31, 2019. (AFP)
Fighters with the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah group, carry flags as they parade in a southern suburb of the capital Beirut, on May 31, 2019. (AFP)



Kassir said expectations indicate that the “change groups and the opposition forces” will not succeed in gaining a majority in Parliament because of their splits and differences. “Even if they succeed in gaining a majority, they will not be able to govern the country alone. In this case, we will be facing a new balance of forces with no party being able to govern the country alone,” he added.

Analysts said the Lebanese Forces party is widely expected to make gains in the elections, while its main Christian rival, the Free Patriotic Movement, a Hezbollah ally, is expected to lose seats.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has accused the US of interfering in the upcoming elections through its ambassador in Beirut. He said in a televised speech last month US Ambassador Dorothy Shea was meeting with several Lebanese politicians opposed to Hezbollah to discuss the elections and electoral lists.

A Hezbollah flag and a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are pictured along a street, near Sidon, Lebanon July 7, 2020. (Reuters)
A Hezbollah flag and a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah are pictured along a street, near Sidon, Lebanon July 7, 2020. (Reuters)



Shea did not comment on Nasrallah’s accusation, but she recently told Reuters, “The international community is unanimous that the elections must be held on time in a fair and transparent manner. There's no wiggle room.”

The UN Security Council has also “underlined the importance of holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections as scheduled on May 15, 2022.”

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