The best thing that could be said about the Lebanese parliamentary polls was that they took place on time and largely without a glitch. This was Lebanon’a first election in nearly 10 years after continual postponements, largely due to the country’s domestic squabbles and its precarious security situation emanating from the Syrian conflict next door and potential overspill that continues to threaten the beleaguered state.
Luckily, on election day, no security breach occurred and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. However, despite its electoral ‘languidness’, characterised by the fact that less than 50 per cent voted, it can now surely be said that Lebanon’s democratic trappings have been saved. The campaign leading up to the elections has been robust to say the least with 583 candidates in the fray, including 86 women in 77 lists through a proportional representation system.
Despite the sensationalising that went on after the election results, with many claiming a Hezbollah spree and a Shiite free-fall, with Iran gaining another foothold in the messy quagmire of Middle Eastern politics, the situation was clearly over-played by the warmongers. The poll results should be understood within the domestic context. The fact of the matter is that Hezbollah got only 13 seats — the same number they had in the previous parliament after the 2009 elections.
The Shiite parliamentary contingent only increased to 28 seats if one considers their electoral allies — the Amal Movement under parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri. In the last poll, it had secured a handsome 15 seats, making it a major force to be reckoned with. This time around, Hezbollah and Amal fought under a “united list”, for practical, pragmatic, even opportunistic reasons to pool together the Shiite vote, but it doesn’t mean that they will continue to be bedfellows in the next parliament.
Judging from the previous parliament — and nothing has changed to indicate otherwise — Hezbollah’s cushy alliance with President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement would continue in the next parliament. The movement gained 22 seats in this elections, up four seats from the previous parliament. Because of the “wheeling and dealing” nature of Lebanese politics, the “short-term” gains of each party and the tactical alliances as a result, the relationship between Hezbollah and the FPM is likely to stay in a ‘business as usual’ manner. Similarly, it’s the same scenario with Amal. Having got the election out of the way, it is going back to supporting its traditional Sunni allies, the Future Movement. Berri already said he will back Sa’ad Hariri to continue as Prime Minister despite the fact that his party lost a third of its seats, going down from 33 to 21. This should be interpreted as disastrous for Hariri, but he is not unduly worried because under the country’s 1943 pact, he still gets the honour to be the country’s prime minister as it is the largest “Sunni” party, with the president’s post being reserved for Christians and the parliamentary speaker for Shiites.
The election to the 128-seat parliament represented a hodge-podge of candidates, bearing in mind that Lebanon has officially 18 sects ranging from the Druze Walid Junblatt Progressive Socialist Party, which went down from 11 to 9 Seats, Phalanges (Kataeb) Party, down from five to three seats, Najeeb Mikati’s Azem Party, up four seats (who had once served as prime minister), Syrian Nationalist Socialist Party and Tashnaq, with two seats each, and the Merida Movement with three seats. In theory, all these parties would now try to turn their electoral gains into ministerial berths in the next Lebanese government and are likely to give their votes to the highest bidder. This highest bidder is likely to be Hariri.
Outside this set-up, a seat for the first time went to an independent. Paul Yacoubian, a journalist, fighting under the banner of so-called civil society groups, was one of six women who won the elections. The civil groups would have gained another seat had it not been contested by an FPM candidate. Women remain in a minority despite the nature of Lebanese society, which is seen as liberal and outward, but obviously with its own special elements and maybe prejudices.
Aside from that, it is the Lebanese Forces (LF) under Samir Geagea that is gaining attention. In this election, he doubled his parliamentary seats from eight to 14 — indeed a meteoric rise to power, emerging as a potential challenger to Aoun’s own Christian party. The Lebanese Forces have traditionally been trenchant critics of Hezbollah dominance and aligned themselves with Hariri’s Future Movement — which no doubt they will continue to do.
What this shows also is that Lebanese society is becoming polarised and vocal alongside extreme Christian parties such as the LF, who are worried about the politicisations of their state and Syrian spillover, with more than one million refugees stationed in their country.
Marwan Asmar is a commentator based in Amman. He has long worked in journalism and has a PhD in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK.